What Are the Hardest AP Classes and Tests? | BestColleges (2023)

  • We've ranked the 10 hardest AP classes by exam pass rate.
  • Pass rates are one indicator you can use to look at the difficulty of AP classes and tests.
  • Teachers also play a role in how students perform in AP classes and on AP exams.
  • Your academic strengths can impact the difficulty of AP classes and tests.

Advanced Placement (AP) courses are college-level classes you can take in high school. These courses can prepare you for the rigors of college, strengthen your college application, and boost your GPA.

AP classes may also help you save time and money in college. Schools administer AP exams following the completion of the course. If you score a 3 or higher, you may earn college credit and skip the associated general education class. When deciding which AP classes to take, you'll want to consider your interests and the difficulty level.

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Top 10 Hardest AP Classes by Exam Pass Rate

AP exam pass rates and the frequency of perfect scores can help you gauge the hardest AP classes. The pass rate demonstrates the percentage of students who received a passing score of 3 or higher, while the perfect score rate reflects the percentage of students who received a 5 (i.e., the highest possible score).

You should also consider the teacher of an AP course and your academic strengths — two important factors that may influence the difficulty of AP classes.

The following table presents the hardest AP classes by exam pass rate.

AP Class/ExamPass Rate (3+)Perfect Score (5)
1. Physics 151.6%8.8%
2. Environmental Science53.4%11.9%
3. Chemistry56.1%10.6%
4. U.S. Government and Politics57.5%15.5%
5. U.S. History58.7%13.0%
6. Human Geography59.0%11.8%
7. European History59.3%13.7%
8. Statistics60.0%16.2%
9. English Literature60.1%9.3%
10. World History60.2%9.2%

Source: College Board, May 2020

1. Physics 1

This class combines physics, scientific inquiry, and algebra. AP Physics 1 is considered one of the hardest AP classes, covering topics like Newtonian mechanics and electrical charge and force. Students also spend about 25% of their class time performing college-level lab experiments and writing reports.

This AP test consists of five free-response questions and 50 multiple-choice questions (MCQs) asking students to explain physical phenomena, solve mathematical equations, interpret conceptual models, and design experiments.

2. Environmental Science

The broad nature of environmental science, which encompasses biology, geology, chemistry, and math, means that teachers cover a great deal of material. In part, AP Environmental Science explores the earth and its resources, analyzing environmental problems and applying quantitative methods to find possible solutions. Students also perform lab experiments and fieldwork.

The AP test comprises 80 MCQs and three free-response questions, which test a student's ability to analyze research, interpret data, and solve problems using mathematical equations. Test-takers also analyze an environmental issue and propose a solution.

3. Chemistry

AP Chemistry requires a solid foundation in chemistry and algebra. Students learn about complicated chemical processes and acquire the skills needed to design experiments to test theories and support evidence-based scientific claims. This course is notorious for memorization and heavy-duty homework.

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The exam consists of 60 MCQs and seven free-response questions. It tests a student's ability to justify scientific claims and analyze models of chemical properties. Test-takers also design experiments and use mathematical relationships to solve problems.

4. U.S. Government and Politics

This AP course covers quite a bit of territory, including the U.S. political system, national government institutions, public policymaking, and civil rights. Students make comparisons, interpret data, and write evidence-based arguments using foundational documents and U.S. Supreme Court decisions.

The AP U.S. Government and Politics exam comprises 55 MCQs and four free-response questions that test a student's understanding of political concepts and their ability to analyze documents and court decisions.

5. U.S. History

The AP U.S. History course covers nine historical eras from 1491 to the present. There is a lot of information to learn about this long time period. In this class, students connect historical outcomes with how people and policies shaped the foundation of America.

The exam comprises 55 MCQs, three short-answer questions, one long essay, and one document-based question (DBQ). The DBQ requires students to develop and support an argument based on seven documents. Students are also tested on historical facts and their ability to interpret historical narratives.

6. Human Geography

The AP Human Geography exam is often the first AP test students take. The class explores human migration and land use, and how these factors alter the Earth's landscape and resources. Students learn to analyze geospatial data, interpret maps, and recognize patterns.

The AP test consists of 60 MCQs and three free-response questions. The exam covers migration, as well as cultural, political, and agricultural land-use patterns and relationships. Test-takers analyze maps, graphs, and satellite images to explain spatial relationships.

7. European History

This course explores Europe's history from the mid-15th century to the present, including cultural, economic, and political developments. In addition to memorizing a lot of information, students must apply critical thinking skills and develop arguments based on historical patterns and evidence.

The AP European History exam is formulated similarly to the AP U.S. History test, and it requires students to understand historical concepts and identify connections. Many students find writing the DBQ in the given amount of time one of the biggest challenges.

8. Statistics

AP Statistics involves collecting, organizing, analyzing, and interpreting qualitative and quantitative data. The qualitative aspect of statistics can seem confusing for students who excel in mathematical equations. Topics covered include statistical inference, anticipating patterns, and experimentation.

The AP Statistics exam consists of 40 MCQs and six free-response questions. The exam includes questions on collecting and analyzing data, probability and sampling, and statistical inference.

9. English Literature

This course involves reading and interpreting complex texts and then making an argument for an interpretation. Learners must understand a book or play well enough to write an essay on it, including quotations, without looking at the text.

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The AP English Literature exam consists of 55 MCQs and three free-response questions that include an analysis of fiction and poetry. Test-takers also examine how literary concepts contribute to specific works.

10. World History

AP World History used to cover prehistoric times to the present, but recently the College Board decided to cut out thousands of years of material to create an AP World History: Modern class. Course content now starts at 1200 C.E. and separates world history into nine eras, exploring land-based empires and revolutions.

Despite the reduction, this course still covers a lot of information. Formatted in the same manner as other AP history exams, much of the test focuses on explaining historical developments, making connections, and creating arguments.

Factors That Affect Which AP Classes Are Hardest

While a helpful indicator, a test's pass rate does not fully reflect the difficulty of an AP class. For example, according to the College Board, the May 2020 pass rates were 83.6% for AP Japanese Language and just 53.4% for AP Environmental Science. That said, only 2,581 students took the former, whereas 162,469 students took the latter exam.

A low pass rate may result from more underprepared students, while a higher pass rate may speak to a highly specialized, dedicated, smaller group of students. While the perfect score rate can reflect how difficult it is to master course material, it can also be skewed by the number of students taking the exam.

Three better predictors of difficulty may be your academic strengths, the amount of course material covered, and the teacher. For instance, if you excel in calculus, chances are good you'll be able to commit to the workload in AP Calculus. Additionally, if the teacher for AP Biology has earned a tough reputation, they may also possess a great track record in helping students prepare for and pass the exam.

Frequently Asked Questions About the Hardest AP Classes

Is AP Calculus hard?

In May 2020, 61.4% of students taking AP Calculus AB passed, while 81.6% of students passed AP Calculus BC. Although these scores might not seem too low, calculus can be a difficult concept for many students to grasp. The College Board recommends a minimum of four years of secondary-school-level mathematics before attempting AP Calculus.

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What is the hardest AP exam to get a 5 on?

In May 2020, only 8.8% of students who took the AP Physics 1 exam earned a perfect score of 5. It should also be noted that only 6.4%, 7.2%, and 8.8% of students enrolled in AP Seminar, AP 3-D Art and Design, and AP Research courses earned a 5, although these are specialized, portfolio-based classes.

Is a 4 on an AP exam considered good?

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The College Board scores AP tests on a scale of 1-5. Earning a 4 on an AP exam denotes "very well qualified" and will most likely earn you college credit or advanced placement.

Will colleges accept a 3 on an AP exam?

While a 3 on an AP exam is a passing grade and denotes that a student is "qualified" in the subject, some colleges only award credit for a 4 or 5. Additionally, keep in mind that a few colleges do not award any credit for AP exams, no matter the score.

Feature Image: PhotoAlto / Sigrid Olsson / Brand X Pictures / Getty Images


Which AP exam is the easiest? ›

Top 10 Easiest AP Classes by Exam Pass Rate
  • Physics C: Mechanics. 84.3% 41.6%
  • Calculus BC. 81.6% 44.6%
  • Spanish Literature. 75.1% 17.6%
  • Physics C: Electricity and Magnetism. 74.4% 40.4%
  • Physics 2. 73.3% 14.0%
  • Computer Science Principles. 71.6% 10.9%
  • Psychology. 71.3% 22.4%
  • Computer Science A. 70.4% 25.6%

What is the most taken AP test? ›

AP English Language and Composition is by far the most popular AP test, with over half a million students taking the exam in 2021.

What is the second hardest AP class? ›

Environmental Science:

The second hardest AP class is environmental science, with a passing rate of 53.4%. This class is often known for students underestimating the course. It's 2 hours and 40 minutes exam with 80 MCQs and 3 free-response questions.

What are the top 5 hardest AP tests? ›

United States History, Biology, English Literature, Calculus BC, Physics C, and Chemistry are often named as the hardest AP classes and tests.

What is the most failed course in high school? ›

Can you name the most frequently failed high school course? It's a subject that students have called “difficult,” “challenging,” and, at times, “torture.” Yes. It's a math class.

What is the most liked AP class? ›

Most Popular AP Courses
  • AP English Language and Composition.
  • AP United States History.
  • AP Psychology.
  • AP Calculus AB.
  • AP Spanish Language and Culture.

How many AP Exams is too much? ›

Aim for four to eight AP exams in your junior and senior years. For competitive Ivy League schools, admission officers also want to see AP courses for core subject areas and additional courses. If possible, aim to pass about seven to 12 AP exams if applying to these highly selective schools.

Is AP Bio harder than AP Chem? ›

However, our son thinks taking AP bio in junior year makes more sense since AP biology tends to be relatively 'easier' than AP chemistry for most kids and his next year classes are rigorous.

What is the lowest AP score? ›

AP® Score of 1

Since a 1 is the lowest score that you can get on an AP® exam, this is not desirable. Thankfully, not many students leave the exam with a 1 unless complications arise during the test and they need to leave, or they are just trying to take the exam without knowing any of the material.

How many AP classes is impressive? ›

To be competitive at some of the most highly selective colleges in the country, 8-12 AP courses may be the sweet spot amount, assuming the student can handle that level of rigor. There are no colleges out there that require you to take 14, 17, or some other obscene number of Advanced Placement offerings.

Is AP more difficult than honors? ›

AP classes, however, are more challenging than honors classes. These courses cover information, teach skills and give assignments that correspond to college classes. High school students taking AP courses will be held to the same standard as college students.

What is the hardest AP to self study? ›

The Hardest AP Classes

Traditionally, courses like English Literature, Physics 1, and Chemistry are difficult to self-study for or complete at home because of the need for conversation and 1:1 instruction — like the lab element necessary to understand the science courses' material.

Is Calc AB or BC harder? ›

AP Calculus BC is the more advanced of the two courses and is designed to build off the skills students learned in AP Calculus AB. Because this is a very advanced course, students are expected to have a substantial math background. Learners may find it helpful to have taken AP Calculus AB before taking AP Calculus BC.

What happens if you fail AP exam? ›

What happens if you fail an AP exam? If you fail an AP exam, you will not receive college credit for that course. The good news is that a failed exam does not affect your GPA. In addition, you can retake the AP exam the next year.

Is AP Chem or AP Physics harder? ›

Based on College Board pass rates, AP Physics 1 is more difficult than AP Chemistry.

How rare is it to get a 5 on an AP exam? ›

The odds of passing with a 5—the highest score—are quite low on any exam: between 10% and 20% for most tests. They are even lower for popular tests, such as AP English Lit and AP Environmental Science, which have 5 rates below 10%.

Is self studying AP worth it? ›

Self-studying for an AP exam will be especially worth it if you already have a working knowledge of the subject you're hoping to study for. Remember that you'll want to aim for a score of four or higher. Most colleges won't give credit for a lower score.

What is the hardest year of high school? ›

While junior year is often the hardest year of high school, the transition from middle school to 9th grade can also be tough. To make it easier, don't feel afraid to reach out to your teachers and counselors, and take advantage of the support resources that are available.

What is the hardest math class in high school? ›

What is the Hardest Math Class in High School? In most cases, you'll find that AP Calculus BC or IB Math HL is the most difficult math course your school offers. Note that AP Calculus BC covers the material in AP Calculus AB but also continues the curriculum, addressing more challenging and advanced concepts.

What subjects do students struggle with the most? ›

Mathematics is often considered to be one of the most challenging subjects for students. Recent surveys report that 37% of teens aged 13-17 found math to be harder than other subjects – the highest ranked overall.

What are impressive AP classes? ›

Most universities, especially Ivy League schools appreciate students who take full advantage of challenging courses while maintaining a high GPA.
Best AP classes for Ivy League schools
  • AP English.
  • AP Chemistry.
  • AP Biology.
  • AP Computer Science Principles.
  • AP World History.
  • AP US History.
  • AP Psychology.
  • AP Economics (Macro)
May 22, 2020

What AP class gives the most credits? ›

Math, science, and foreign language exams tend to give the most credit.

Is 4 aps too much junior year? ›

Junior Year

Depending on what kind of school you want to go to, you should be taking between 3 and 5 AP® classes this year. You will need to manage your time well, however, as you also need to study for the SAT® or ACT® during this time.

Should I take 5 AP classes senior year? ›

Take as many as you can handle without spreading yourself thin, and make sure you will have time to study for the ACT or SAT this year. An Ivy League hopeful might take 3 to 5 AP classes, while if you're aiming for less-selective schools, 2 to 4 would be enough.

Do AP classes boost GPA? ›

While honors courses usually add 0.5 points to your GPA, AP classes often add 1 point. In other words, a 3.5 GPA would be boosted to a 4.0 in an honors class and a 4.5 in an AP class. This boost can prove particularly useful if you want to challenge yourself with more difficult training without punishing your GPA.

What is the hardest AP class to take in high school? ›

1. Physics 1. This class combines physics, scientific inquiry, and algebra. AP Physics 1 is considered one of the hardest AP classes, covering topics like Newtonian mechanics and electrical charge and force.

Is AP Psychology hard? ›

Is AP Psychology Easy Or Hard? AP Psychology is considered very easy, with class alumnae rating it 3.5/10 for overall difficulty (the 2nd-easiest out of the 28 large AP classes surveyed). The pass rate is slightly lower than other AP classes, with 59% graduating with a 3 or higher.

Is AP Biology just memorization? ›

Make connections instead of memorizing content

AP Bio is NOT memorization. In fact, if you just try to memorize terms and concepts, you'll have a much harder time keeping track of everything you need to know. Memorizing as a strategy is not ideal for any AP exam because it is way harder to answer the essays.

What grade is AP failing? ›

In general, colleges will usually give credit for a score of 3 or higher, although more competitive colleges may only give credit for a 4 or higher, depending on the exam. A passing score, then, is the minimum score a college will accept for credit.

What is a good AP score for Ivy League? ›

It is routine for Ivy League admissions officers to review applications from students who have scored 5s on multiple AP tests.

Should I retake an AP exam if I got a 2? ›

If you got a 2 on your AP® English Language exam, it is definitely worth trying to retake it. Make it worth the added time and expense by taking these steps to improve your score. Track your scores on the multiple choice section. As you prepare, carefully note your score on the multiple choice section.

Do colleges prefer AP or honors? ›

Colleges like them both. Both honors and AP courses are rigorous courses that most high schools weight more heavily on your transcript. AP courses, however, culminate in the AP Exam. Good AP scores show colleges you are ready to succeed at college-level work and can even earn you college credits.

How many APs does Harvard want? ›

Freshmen who have taken College Board Advanced Placement exams need a total of four full credits to be eligible for Advanced Standing. Credits are earned by scoring 5 on a minimum of four AP tests.

Is 5 APs too much junior year? ›

You can definitely take 5 APs, but just make sure to stay on top of your work and spend a good amount of time studying to make sure you know the material.

What GPA is an A in an AP class? ›

Many schools treat AP classes differently when calculating a student's grade point average (GPA). Rather than the traditional 4.0 scale, AP classes are weighted on a 5.0 scale — in an AP class, an A is equivalent to 5.0 instead of 4.0, and a B is equal to 4.0 instead of 3.0.

What is the easier AP class? ›

US Government, Psychology, Human Geography, and Environmental Science tend to be easier since there is comparatively less to cover before the exam. Also keep in mind that some schools weight AP classes, so they can boost your GPA if you do well.

Does taking AP classes senior year matter? ›

While you don't have to take all of the AP classes your school offers, taking a few, especially during junior year or senior year, will definitely boost your college applications.

Is AP Chem or AP physics harder? ›

Based on College Board pass rates, AP Physics 1 is more difficult than AP Chemistry.

What AP classes do colleges like to see? ›

As a general rule, you should aim for the following AP class numbers: Most Selective Schools (Top 20): APs in most or all of the core courses (English, Mathematics, Science, History, and Foreign Language), plus additional AP courses that relate to your goals, future major, or interests.

Can you skip AP Calculus AB? ›

Unlike courses like Algebra I and Algebra II, Calculus AB (Advanced Placement Calculus) and Calculus BC do not have to be taken in a specific sequence. Meaning, you could take Calculus BC without having ever taken Calculus AB. Many students do.

Is AP Biology easy? ›

Is AP Biology Easy Or Hard? AP Biology is considered quite hard, with class alumnae rating it 6.4/10 for overall difficulty (the 8th-most-difficult out of the 28 large AP classes surveyed). The pass rate is about average vs other AP classes, with 68% graduating with a 3 or higher.

How many people get a 5 on AP Calc? ›

AP Score Distributions
AP Calculus AB20.4%19.1%
AP Calculus BC41.2%20.1%
AP Computer Science A27.3%19.9%
AP Computer Science Principles11.4%31.1%
1 more row


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