AP Classes Ranked by Difficulty (2024)

AP Classes Ranked by Difficulty (1)

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What’s Covered:

  • How to Pick the Right AP Classes for You
  • Which AP Classes Do Students Find Hardest and Easiest?
  • The Three Hardest AP Classes
  • The Three Easiest AP Classes
  • How AP Classes Impact Your College Chances

Advanced Placement classes offer students the opportunity to try out college-level courses and explore advanced topics in an area of interest while they’re still in high school. In some cases, students can even earn credit for college classes, ultimately saving time and money as they pursue their degrees. To that end, choosing the right AP classes to take is extremely important.

With the College Board offering a large number of exams on an annual basis, it’s only natural that students sometimes struggle to decide which classes to enroll in. In addition to any concerns about the difficulty of the relevant exams, students may wonder which courses are the hardest to pass. After all, the grades they earn in AP classes will affect their GPAs and may impact their odds of getting into their dream colleges and universities.

Keep reading for tips on evaluating the relative difficulty of various AP classes and determining which ones to fit into your schedule. For more tips regarding AP classes, especially after you’ve chosen the ones you’re going to take, check out CollegeVine’s large collection of AP guides!

How to Pick the Right AP Classes for You

Consider Your Strengths

When choosing AP classes, your own strengths and weaknesses are the most important factors to consider. After all, you’re likely to perform better on a test in a field that interests and excites you. So, if you’re strong in quantitative subjects and enjoy physics, you might want to take the Physics 1 AP exam despite the fact that it’s reportedly challenging.

On the other hand, if you struggle in something like art history, you might not want to take a course in this subject even if many students earn passing scores on the AP exam. When in doubt, take AP classes in the fields you’re most passionate about and willing to work at, rather than those that leave you feeling uninspired.

Check the AP Policies of the Colleges You Want to Attend

You should also think strategically when it comes to earning AP credit. In college, AP credits can be especially helpful for getting general education course requirements out of the way, or for getting placed into higher-level courses. If you know which colleges you hope to attend, check their AP credit and placement policies.

Some schools offer credits for all scores 3 and above, while others may require a 4 or 5 for specific classes. Very selective colleges might not offer AP credit at all, and may only use AP exam scores for placement. Based on the policies of your potential colleges, you might decide to take, or to refrain from taking, certain AP courses.

For instance, if more than half of the schools on your list require a general education math course, and they allow a 3 or above on the AP Calculus BC exam to fulfill that requirement, it might tempt you to take the AP Calculus BC course. On the flip side, if you were interested in taking AP Latin for credit, but only a couple of your schools offer credit for it, you might consider another class.

Of course, this is not to say that you should base your course decisions only on credit and placement policies; your interests should guide your choices before anything else. If you’re having trouble deciding between potential classes though, checking college policies can help guide your decision in a more practical way.

Assess Educator Experience

While strengths are a key consideration when selecting AP classes, students should also evaluate the experience level of their respective teachers. In general, the longer a teacher has been providing instruction in a particular AP subject, the better their students perform on the test.

If you’re choosing between taking a “harder” subject like Physics with a teacher who has ten years of experience, and taking an “easier” subject like Art History with someone who has just two years of experience, you might want to go with the former.

Of course, students shouldn’t write off an AP class that interests them just because the teacher is less experienced. If you’re passionate about a class and confident in your talent in that subject, it’s still worth signing up. However, you should expect to do some extra studying on your own or with the aid of a tutor.

The Easiest and Hardest AP Classes

The College Board grades AP exams on a scale of 1 to 5, with 1 representing the lowest possible score and 5 representing the highest. In general, a score of 3 is considered to be passing. However, students should note that many colleges require a score of 4 or 5 for credit to be granted. Below is a list of the AP exams offered by the College Board, along with the percentage of students who received a passing grade on each:

AP Exam

Percentage of Students Who Scored 3 or Higher

Art and Design – Drawing

88.3

Chinese Language (Total Group)

86.9

Art and Design – 2D

86.6

Research

82.7

Seminar

82.6

Spanish Language (Total Group)

81.7

Spanish Language (Standard Group)

78.4

English Literature

77.9

Calculus BC

76.9

Japanese Language (Total Group)

75.5

Art and Design – 3D

73.6

Physics C Mechanics

73.4

French Language (Total Group)

71.6

Government & Politics Comparative

70.5

Italian Language (Total Group)

70.5

Physics 2

69.7

Physics C E&M

69.4

French Language (Standard Group)

68.5

Biology

67.9

Computer Science A

67.5

Italian Language (Standard Group)

65.8

German Language (Total Group)

65.5

Chinese Language (Standard Group)

64.8

Spanish Literature

64.2

Computer Science Principles

63.5

World History

62.1

Music Theory

61.9

Art History

61.5

Statistics

60.5

Economics – Micro

59.0

European History

58.9

Psychology

58.3

German Language (Standard Group)

57.5

Latin

57.0

Calculus AB

55.7

English Language

55.7

Chemistry

54.0

Environmental Science

53.8

Japanese Language (Standard Group)

53.5

Human Geography

53.2

Economics – Macro

51.8

Government & Politics United States

48.6

United States History

48.2

Physics 1

43.3

Sourced from the College Board.

Which AP Classes Do Students Find Hardest and Easiest?

The percentage of students who earn a passing score on the AP exam is an indicator of how hard or easy an AP class is, but it doesn’t tell the whole story.

Consider that classes commonly thought of as the most challenging AP classes (like Physics C: Mechanics and Japanese) have high passing rates while classes often considered easier (like Human Geography and U.S. Government and Politics) are among the classes with the lowest passing rates.

There are a number of factors that can skew pass rates. For example, Chinese attracts a small, highly specialized group of students, many of whom have prior familiarity with language—just 15,277 students took the exam in 2022. Compare that to a class like Human Geography, which saw 221,815 test-takers in 2022.

Additionally, it’s not uncommon for classes with higher pass rates to have more stringent prerequisites at some schools, which filters out unqualified students. On top of that, not every school will offer the same selection of AP classes, and specific choices will depend on school size, location, and demographics, among other factors.

The Three Hardest AP Classes

1. AP Physics 1

Despite a reputation as one of the most difficult AP classes, Physics 1 is also one of the most popular—144,526 students took it in 2022. Physics 1 has the lowest pass rate of any AP exam (43.3%) along with one of the lowest percentages of students scoring a 5 (just 7.9%).

Physics 1 is an algebra-based physics class that explores topics such as Newtonian mechanics, simple circuits, and mechanical waves. The class will test your math skills, so the better you are at math, the better your odds of passing the AP Physics 1 exam will be.

In addition to the ability to solve algebraic and computational problems, AP Physics 1 is focused on hands-on learning: 25% of class time is devoted to performing college-level lab experiments, making observations and predictions, designing experiments, analyzing data, and constructing scientific arguments.

2. AP U.S. History

AP U.S. History is one of the hardest AP classes in the humanities and in general. U.S. History’s reputation for difficulty doesn’t scare many students away, though—it’s the second-most popular AP class (456,520 students took it in 2022). Its 48.2% passing rate is the third-lowest among all AP courses, and only about one in ten students (10.8%) score a 5.

What makes AP U.S. History particularly challenging is that it covers a relatively slim slice of history and a small geographic area, especially compared to other AP courses like European History and World History.Consequently, it requires students to possess a very detailed knowledge of U.S. history. For example, students would have to know facts such as the exact date a certain event took place.

To pass AP U.S. History, you’ll need more than just the ability to memorize key information; you’ll also need to be able to analyze historical events, interpret cause and effect, and write analyses and arguments.

3. AP United States Government and Politics

In a similar vein to AP U.S. History, AP Government & Politics remains one of the most popular AP exams taken by students, despite its high level of difficulty. In 2022, a total of 298,118 took the course, although only less than half of these students earned a passing score (144,973 students or 48.6%).

As a result, the course has cemented itself as one of the most difficult courses a student can take in high school. Nevertheless, it remains an exceedingly popular choice for students interested in an education in politics.

The material covered on the exam focuses entirely on the American political system. Even so, the course and its exam require students to not only have a fundamental understanding of the material, but to also be able to synthesize and develop cohesive arguments based on what they have learned.

Students will not only need to have a firm grasp on the course’s core concepts such as the Constitution, political parties and behaviors, Supreme Court cases, and public policy. They will also have to back up their knowledge with strong critical writing skills and argumentation. Much of American politics can be confusing and seemingly contradictory, which can cause many students to struggle with this course and exam.

The Three Easiest AP Classes

1. AP Psychology

With a reputation as one of the easiest AP classes, it comes as no surprise that AP Psychology is also one of the most popular—292,501 students took the exam in 2021. Despite the relative ease of this course, students still struggle; just 58.3% of students pass but 17.0% earned a 5.

Rather than the difficulty of the course and exam, however, the pass rate is likely the result of students not taking this course seriously enough, which many agree is its main issue.

AP Psych is commonly considered easy due to its uncomplicated coursework. Memorization is at the foundation of AP psychology—you’ll need to know psychology-specific vocabulary, understand psychological concepts and details about notable scientists in the field, and be versed in important experiments.

Another reason that AP Psychology is considered among the easiest courses is its exam. The AP Psychology exam is only two hours long and is predominantly multiple-choice.

2. AP Comparative Government and Politics

AP Comparative Government and Politics has a well-deserved place among the easiest AP classes, and the numbers back it up. Nearly three out of four students (70.5%) pass the exam and 15.9% of students score a 5.

What makes AP Comparative Government and Politics seem easy? The coursework is fairly broad, covering the political institutions and processes of six countries—China, Iran, Mexico, Nigeria, Russia, and the United Kingdom.Because the curriculum covers such a broad range of material—unlike a course like U.S Government and Politics, which has a 48.6% pass rate—it doesn’t go into the depths that other AP classes do.

Much like AP Psychology, the AP Comparative Government and Politics test also helps solidify its position as one of the easier AP courses. The test is only two and a half hours long and contains 55 multiple-choice questions and four free-response questions.

3. AP Environmental Science

Regarded as one of the easiest AP classes, AP Environmental Science still manages to give students trouble. Just 53.8% of students score a 3 or above and a mere 8.9% score a 5—one of the lowest rates among all the AP courses. However, the tough scores are generally attributed to students underestimating the effort required to successfully complete the class.

AP Environmental Science is an interdisciplinary course and while you don’t need a razor-sharp singular skill set, you will need knowledge from a wide range of fields, such as biology, geology, chemistry, algebra, and social studies. Relative to other AP courses, the curriculum is not particularly rigorous and has a hands-on lab component that is frequently supplemented with field trips.

Like the other less-challenging AP courses, the AP Environmental Science test is thought of as fairly easy. It’s under three hours and is mostly multiple-choice—the exam has 80 multiple-choice questions and just three free-response questions.

How AP Classes Impact Your College Chances

The number of AP classes you take can help make your admissions profile more competitive. Ivy League colleges and other highly selective institutions often use something called the Academic Index. A tool for assessing applicants, the Academic Index is a calculation that reduces a student’s overall academic record to one numerical score for easy comparison.

We’ve made it easy to understand the impact of your AP classes by creating a free Admissions Calculator. We recommend using it when deciding how many and which AP classes to take, since the calculator can help you see how these APs will factor into your own college admissions. You can also filter for other helpful things, such as location, major, cost, and even application difficulty!

AP Classes Ranked by Difficulty (2024)

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