For many good reasons, thousands of high school students sign up to take AP courses each year. The advanced curriculum in these courses provides an intellectual challenge and a focused learning environment for top students who want to go the extra mile.
For those who don’t know, AP classes can also earn students some college credit at schools that participate. When colleges grant credit for these classes, it can save students a lot of time and money. If you’re considering taking AP classes or have already decided to, your next step will be choosing which ones to take and which to skip.
Why Take AP Courses in High School?
Not only do many colleges grant credit for AP courses, but they all consider AP courses a boon to students’ college applications. Having AP courses on your application for admission tells colleges that you’re ready for college-level coursework and you don’t shy away from a challenge.
Another benefit to taking AP courses while in high school is that they can boost your GPA. Some high schools use a weighted GPA system in which each AP course grants students an extra point on their GPA.
For example, an A grade in a non-AP class might be worth 4.0 points, but an A in an AP course would be worth 5.0 points on a weighted scale. This means that each AP course would boost students’ GPAs with top marks.
However, students don’t gain many benefits from taking these courses if they don’t earn at least an A or a B in the class. For this reason, it’s crucial that you take the right classes—which means taking AP classes that aren’t too difficult for you.
Choosing the Right AP Courses
How do you go about deciding which AP courses are right for you? Aside from your personal curiosity about the subject matter, there are a few tried-and-true tips you can follow to help you prioritize.
Check the Policies of the Colleges You’re Most Interested In
Many colleges offer college credit for AP courses, but some of them don’t. You should research the policies of any schools you are interested in to see if they will give you credit for your AP courses. Thinking strategically when it comes to earning credit can be helpful for getting college courses out of the way.
Some colleges require that students take the corresponding AP exam for courses and score a 3, 4, or 5 in order to earn credit. Other colleges may not offer credit for courses or exams, but might use your scores for placement only.
For example, if most of the schools you’re interested in require a general education math course and accept a score of 3 or above on the AP test to count for credit, you might want to take that course. However, if only a couple of colleges offer credit for the class, you may want to consider a different class — one that more colleges offer credit for.
Consider Your Interests and Strengths
When signing up for AP courses, the final determiners are your strengths and interests as a student. If you’re not interested in a subject, you will likely need to work much harder to get a good grade in the class. If you’re strong in a subject and enjoy it, you may want to strongly consider taking the AP course in that subject. Your passion can drive amazing results!
Similarly, if you struggle in a subject, you may not want to take that AP course, even if many of your peers have taken it and scored high on the test. Your best bet is to take AP courses in the areas you’re most passionate about and interested in.
Consider the Experience of the AP Course Teacher
For the most part, the longer a teacher has been teaching a certain AP course, the better the experience you’ll likely have in the class. You might get more out of the class and enjoy it more, too. If you have the choice of which teacher you can sign up with, consider the following.
Suppose that you’re considering taking either a harder class with an experienced teacher or an easier subject with a new teacher. In that case, an experienced teacher may be the better bet.
However, don’t write off a class you’re interested in just because a teacher hasn’t taught it for too long. It may be worth signing up if you’re passionate about a certain subject!
What Are the Easiest AP Classes?
In some respects, AP course difficulty is a matter of opinion. However, courses can be rated based on how many students score well on the exams. The exams are graded on a scale of 1 to 5, with 1 being the lowest score and 5 being the highest.
For most exams, a score of 3 is considered passing (and is the lowest point at which many colleges will offer credit for the course). However, remember that it’s the lowest point; many colleges won’t give credit unless a student scores a 4 or 5 on the AP exam.
The following is a list of the AP exams that are offered by the College Board, ranked according to the percentage of students who pass those exams. (In the language classes, the “total group” includes native and fluent speakers, while the “standard group” excludes native and fluent speakers.)
- Drawing: 88.3%
- Chinese Language (total group): 86.9%
- 2D Art and Design: 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%
- 3D Art and Design: 73.6%
- Physics Mechanics: 73.4%
- French Language (total group): 71.6%
- Comparative Government and Politics: 70.5%
- Italian Language (total group): 70.5%
- Physics 2: 69.7%
- Physics C: Electricity and Magnetism: 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: 61.9%
- Art History: 61.5%
- Statistics: 60.5%
- Microeconomics: 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%
- Macroeconomics: 51.8%
- United States Government and Politics: 48.6%
- U.S. History: 48.2%
- Physics 1: 43.3%
According to this information, when listing AP classes ranked by difficulty, many people would cite the above percentages and say that Physics 1 is the most difficult AP course and Drawing is the easiest AP class.
Which AP Courses Do Students Say Are the Easiest and Hardest?
This ranking of AP classes by the percentage of students who pass the exams indicates how hard a class might be. However, it isn’t the only indicator, and it gives only a partial picture of the whole story.
Several factors come into play that can skew the passing percentages of students.
For example, one class may attract a small, highly specialized group of people familiar with the subject. That class may have only 16,000 students take the exam. Compare that to a class that attracts a much larger crowd of students, resulting in 220,000 of them taking the exam.
In this scenario, even though 90% of the smaller class passed and just 60% of the larger one did, the stats don’t quite give an accurate picture of the actual difficulty of the classes.
Additionally, it’s common for classes like the smaller, specialized ones to have more strict prerequisites at many schools. These prerequisites work to filter out unqualified students who would have a high chance of not passing the exams.
Finally, not every school offers the same AP courses. Which classes a school offers depends on several things, including location, demographics, school size, and more.
The Three Easiest AP Classes
With that being said, there is enough of a consensus with all information and factors taken into account to give an idea of the three easiest AP classes. These are AP Environmental Science, AP Psychology, and AP Comparative Government and Politics.
AP Environmental Science
Even though this class has a reputation as one of the easiest AP classes, it still isn’t as easy as many students expect. In fact, just over half (53.8%) of students pass the test with a 3 or above. Fewer than 10% (8.9%) pass with a 5, which is one of the lowest passing rates among all AP courses.
The low passing rates are mostly attributed to students underestimating the difficulty of the class and the effort required to pass.
This AP course requires students to have a wide depth of knowledge in many different fields, but if you take this course, you’ll do well if you work hard and have algebra, social studies, biology, chemistry, and geology skills.
AP Psychology is one of the easiest AP classes. Almost 300,000 students took the exam in 2021! However, similar to AP Environmental Science, only 58.3% of students pass, and 17% earn a 5 on the exam.
This passing rate indicates that students fail to take the class seriously enough. However, the exam is considered to be one of the easiest; it’s only two hours long and is mostly multiple-choice.
AP Psychology is considered to be easier than others because of the uncomplicated class work. A hefty amount of memorization is required, and students need to be familiar with psychology-specific terms, concepts, and details.
If you’re interested in this class, you’ll also need to know facts about important experiments in the field and notable contributors.
AP Comparative Government and Politics
The name of this course might be intimidating, but its numbers tell a different story. Almost three-quarters of students (70.5%) pass the exam, and almost 16% of them score a 5.
The class work is broader than that of many other courses, and it covers the political processes and institutions of six countries:
- The United Kingdom
Since six different countries are covered during the class, the content doesn’t go into as much detail or depth as a class like U.S. Government and Politics, which has a pass rate of just 48.6%. The exam for this class is just 2.5 hours long and has 55 multiple-choice questions along with just four free-response prompts.
The Three Most Difficult AP Courses
Three classes have garnered a reputation for being more difficult than the others. These are AP Physics 1, AP U.S. Government and Politics, and AP U.S. History.
AP Physics 1
This course is not just one of the most difficult, it’s also one of the most popular. In 2022, almost 145,000 students took the class. Fewer students pass this exam than any other and only 7.9% of students who do pass score a 5.
If you’re interested in this class, you must brush up on your math skills and be ready for hands-on learning, experiments, and data analysis.
AP U.S. Government and Politics
Almost 300,000 students took this AP class in 2022, but fewer than half passed the exam. Despite its difficulty, it remains among the most popular for students interested in politics and government.
The content covered on the exam focuses on the American political system, so if you’re interested, you’ll need to know facts about the Supreme Court, the Constitution, political parties, and public policy.
AP U.S. History
Even though this course is known as one of the most difficult, it doesn’t scare students away. It’s the second-most popular AP course (taken by 456,520 students in 2022), but the passing rate is third-lowest, at 48.2%. Only 10.8% of students score a 5.
This class is difficult because it covers a slim slice of history compared to World History and European History. You’ll need to do more than memorize information to do well in this class. You must be able to interpret cause and effect, write arguments and analyses, and analyze historical events.
AP Classes vs Regular High School Classes
When it comes to high school academics, Advanced Placement (AP) classes and regular high school classes offer distinct experiences for students. AP classes are designed to provide college-level coursework and opportunities to earn college credits through successful completion of AP exams. On the other hand, regular high school classes follow the standard curriculum without the option for earning college credit. Understanding the differences between these two types of classes is crucial for students seeking academic challenges and college preparation.
One of the primary differences between AP classes and regular high school classes lies in the curriculum and depth of study. AP classes delve deeper into subjects and cover more advanced topics compared to regular classes. They are designed to replicate the rigor and pace of introductory college courses. AP classes often require students to engage in critical thinking, independent research, and analytical writing. In contrast, regular high school classes generally cover foundational concepts and provide a broader overview of subjects. While regular classes still provide valuable knowledge, AP classes offer a more rigorous and comprehensive academic experience.
Another significant difference is the opportunity for college credit and advanced standing. AP classes culminate in AP exams, which assess students’ knowledge and skills in the respective subject areas. Scoring well on these exams can earn students college credit or advanced placement in college courses, potentially saving time and money in higher education. Regular high school classes, however, do not typically offer this opportunity for advanced standing. By taking AP classes, students can demonstrate their academic abilities and enhance their college applications, showcasing their commitment to challenging coursework and readiness for the demands of higher education. AP classes and regular high school classes differ in terms of curriculum depth, academic rigor, and opportunities for college credit. AP classes provide a college-level experience, with a focus on in-depth study, critical thinking, and the chance to earn college credits through AP exams. Regular high school classes, while valuable, offer a broader overview of subjects without the advanced standing opportunities. Ultimately, the decision between AP classes and regular high school classes depends on students’ academic goals, interests, and aspirations for their post-secondary education.
No matter where they fall on the difficulty list, AP classes offer high school students the chance to take college-level courses and prove they’re ready for that rigor of curriculum.
These classes also let students explore advanced topics in various areas of interest before they reach college. If you’re interested in taking any AP courses, just make sure you are ready to work!