The Definitive List of Easiest and Hardest AP Classes
With the increasing need for students to demonstrate academic excellence and rigor, it is important to take advantage of your school’s advanced classes. For schools with American curricula, this may mean taking as many Advanced Placement courses (APs) as you can reasonably handle. For some people, that number may be five, but for others, that number can be as high as ten. However, it is important to note that schools may have a limit on the number of APs students can take. For example, Hong Kong International School only allows a total of 7 APs spread out across three of the four years of high school.
Below is Dragon Prep’s own ranking of easiest and hardest AP classes to take. We took into consideration the difficulty of classes, the amount of time needed, and the distribution of scores across each class. As scores of 4s and 5s are often needed for more competitive universities, we have decided to only take into consideration the score distributions for 4s and 5s. Additionally, we only included the more common AP classes that can be found in most AP-providing schools. Please note that these rankings refer to the content of the AP examinations themselves; at any given school, a particular teacher could make an AP class harder or easier by modifying the workload or grading standards for in-class assessments.
The top 5 HARDEST APs:
1. All of the physics, but especially AP Physics C- Electricity & Magnetism (E&M)
Percent of exam takers with a 5: 32.6%
Percent of exam takers with a 4: 23.1%
Don’t let the high percentage of 4 and 5 scorers fool you: the students taking the AP Physics C E&M class are often high-achieving students who already excel in physics and are no strangers to the extremely rigorous work and advanced concepts that such a subject may bring them. Most students who take Physics C- E&M say that it is the most difficult AP class that they have ever taken. Even those who have taken AP Physics C- Mechanics (23.5% and 28.6% of students scored 5s and 4s, respectively) and the lower level AP Physics 2 (15.4% and 17.9% of students scored 5s and 4s, respectively), say that other classes don’t compare to the rigor and work that the physics tests impose on their students. We only advise students to take this class, which covers electromagnetism, electrostatics, conductors, capacitors and dielectrics, electric circuits, and magnetic fields, if they are confident in the sciences.
2. AP English Literature & Composition
Percent of exam takers with a 5: 4.9%
Percent of exam takers with a 4: 12%
Low percentage of exam takers with scores of 4 and 5 aside, English Literature is often considered one of the most difficult classes for many students because of the amount of reading, analysis, and writing required for the course to develop the critical thinking skills necessary to succeed on the test. Ranging from old Greek dramas such as Medea by Euripedes to Shakespearean literature to Wuthering Heights by Jane Eyre and beyond, selected texts from this class can be difficult to read. Thus, AP English Literature can be a very difficult and time-consuming class, especially if you’re not prepared for the more difficult texts.
3. AP Chemistry
Percent of exam takers with a 5: 11.2%
Percent of exam takers with a 4: 16.4%
Like AP Physics, AP Chemistry is often very difficult for most students, as it is essentially an introductory college-level chemistry course. Additionally, and like the other AP sciences, you usually have to have taken and done well in certain honors level science courses to be able to take AP Chemistry. Thus, the difficulty of the AP sciences can be traced to even before a student steps foot inside an AP science class, as it does take a year or two of excelling in underclassmen level classes to be able to even take the class.
4. AP US History (APUSH)
Percent of exam takers with a 5: 10.1%
Percent of exam takers with a 4: 15.9%
AP US History (also known as APUSH) takes a lot of time to study, as students not only need to memorize dates and facts, but also understand the connections between historical events and ideologies. Throughout the course, students develop an understanding of the socioeconomic, cultural, and political developments throughout US history from the beginnings of colonization to modern history. Due to the breadth, scope, and complexity of these historical events, students typically must commit a very large amount of time to this class. The same applies to the below classes of European History and World History.
5. AP European History
Percent of exam takers with a 5: 10.6%
Percent of exam takers with a 4: 19.4%
Similar to AP US History, AP European History (also known as AP Euro) is a difficult college-level course in which students study socioeconomic, political, and religious developments of Europe from the 14th century to the present. If students take this course, they must expect to spend very long amounts of time going through the material.
Bonus hard AP: AP World History
Percent of exam takers with a 5: 9.7%
Percent of exam takers with a 4: 18.5%
Perhaps by now, you’ve noticed a trend in the hardest AP classes: they take a lot of time. And since there’s a whole lot of history, it would make sense that AP World History is the bonus hardest AP on our list too. However, AP World History is a little more broad than the AP Euro and APUSH, and covers a wider breadth of regions, examining how global events shape and inform our understanding of history.
The top 5 EASIEST APs:
1. AP Chinese
Percent of exam takers with a 5: 57.2%
Percent of exam takers with a 4: 15.5%
By far the easiest AP to score well on (at least for students in Hong Kong), the AP Chinese test has a rather astounding high 4 or 5 scoring rate. Because of this, students often find it easy to self-study for, but it should be advised that if you already speak Chinese on a native level and at home, it will almost be useless to take this test, as most university applications will ask you about your spoken and native languages. If you speak Chinese regularly, it will thus be no surprise and almost expected and therefore not impressive to college admissions officers that you scored so high on the AP test. Because of this, we only recommend that those who do not speak Chinese natively already take this AP test.
2. AP Computer Science Principles
Percent of exam takers with a 5: 12.4%
Percent of exam takers with a 4: 21.7%
Commonly cited as one of the least time-consuming APs, AP Computer Science Principles allows students to score relatively high for a low amount of commitment. The subject teaches a very basic programming language, comparable to a first-semester college computing course. Alternatively, students can also consider taking Computer Science A (where 23.9% of students get a 5 and 21.9% of students get a 4), which teaches Java language programming.
3. AP Psychology
Percent of exam takers with a 5: 14.1%
Percent of exam takers with a 4: 21.2%
Though it takes a moderate amount of time, AP Psychology is still considered to be one of the easiest APs, mostly because the concepts are relatively easy to memorize and learn. It covers a wide variety of topics within psychology, ranging from the biological bases of behavior to developmental psychology to social psychology and beyond.
4. AP Human Geography
Percent of exam takers with a 5: 14.4%
Percent of exam takers with a 4: 19.7%
Similar to AP Psychology, AP Human Geography takes a moderate amount of time but does not have overly complex concepts. This course teaches students anthropological concepts usually used in such subjects as urban planning, sociology, and more, like population and migration patterns and processes, agricultural, rural and urban land patterns and processes, cultural and political patterns and processes, and more.
5. Environmental Science
Percent of exam takers with a 5: 7%
Percent of exam takers with a 4: 24.9%
AP Environmental Science takes a low to moderate amount of time for a good portion of their students to get a 4 or higher on the test. This course aims to teach basic critical skills about scientific methodologies, principles, and concepts while teaching students about how to analyze globally environmental problems and propose realistic and scientifically-supported solutions to these problems.
Bonus Easy AP: US Comparative Government
Percent of exam takers with a 5: 12%
Percent of exam takers with a 4: 11.6%
US Comparative Government is another class where a moderate amount of committed time can give you good results. This college-level course serves as an introductory course that covers all the underlying parts of modern US politics. Throughout the course, students learn about the three branches of US government, the government agencies that work under all said branches, how political behavior influences the country’s democratic process, the rules governing elections, political culture, and the inherently complicated nature of political parties and interest groups. Alternatively, students can also consider taking comparative government (16.6% and 24.5% of students get a 5 and a 4, respectively) as well. AP Comparative Government focuses on the politics, policy making, political culture, and governments of six core countries with an emphasis on themes such as democratization, globalization, public policy, and more.
If you’re not sure how to choose your AP classes and plot out your four-year-plan for high school, call or WhatsApp 9835 8011 or visit www.thedragonprep.com to learn more!