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Which AP Classes Are the Hardest?

As you sign up for AP Classes, you should get a good idea of how difficult each class is before signing up; after all, you are taking college level courses. One of your first steps should be to identify the hardest AP Classes. Crafting a well-balanced schedule ensures that you don’t take too many hard classes all in one semester.

Here is our guide to the hardest AP Classes. Of course, this is not a definitive list. There are several ways to determine which classes are hardest. On top of that, the answer will vary by student. A naturally gifted mathematician will probably find AP Calculus AB easier than AP US History.

After our list of the hardest ranked classes, we’ll go over some strategies to find out if a class will be difficult for you. This will help you craft the perfect schedule for your skills and challenges.

Related: How do I get an AP Exam Fee Reduction?

10 hardest AP Exams evaluated by pass rate

One of the easiest ways to assess how difficult AP Classes are is through their AP Test pass rate. Keep in mind though that these are not perfect assessments. Your AP Exam score does not actually affect your AP Class grade. So, students who fail the exam may have actually performed well in the course.

But with that in mind, this is the best way to obtain an objective assessment of the difficulty of an AP Class. Here are the AP Tests with the lowest pass rates, rated descending from the lowest percentage of passing scores. All information in the chart is based on College Board’s May 2023 score distributions data release.

AP Exam Name Pass Rate (Score of 3 or Higher) Percentage of students who scored 5
1. Physics 1 45% 8%
2. United States History 48% 11%
3. United States Government & Politics 49% 13%
4. Environmental Science 53% 8%
5. Human Geography  54% 16%
6. English Language & Composition 56% 10%
7. Latin 57% 12%
8. Calculus AB 58% 22%
9. European History 59% 13%
10. Statistics 60% 15%
10. Psychology 60% 17%

10 hardest AP Exams evaluated by percentage of students who scored a 5

If you are aiming high for your AP exams and want to receive a 5 it may be more difficult to obtain with these 10 AP exams! 

AP Exam Name Percentage of students who scored a 5
1. 3D Art & Design 7%
2. Environmental Science 8%
3. Physics 1 8%
4. Spanish Literature and Culture 8%
5. English Language & Composition  10%
6. United States History 11%
7. Computer Science Principles 12%
8. French Language and Culture 12%
9. Latin 12%
10. 2D Art & Design 12%

Look at some sample AP Tests from the class

One great way to tell how you might fare in an AP Class is to look at a sample copy of the exam. It’s natural that you won’t know the answers to many of the questions before taking the course, so don’t let the exam psych you out. However, it’s a good way to gauge what types of things you’d be learning and the formatting of the questions.

Looking at a sample test before beginning the class can even help you throughout your time learning in the course. It’ll give you some perspective into the scope of what you’ll learn and provide some uniting themes for all of the material you’ll see.

Related: Understanding AP scores

Discuss the hardest AP Classes with your guidance counselor

A big part of guidance counselors’ jobs is to help students craft appropriate schedules that they can handle. It’s a great way to get some perspective on what you can handle and decide which classes play to your strengths.

That being said, some high schools have more resources for guidance counselors than others. If it’s hard to get Facetime with your guidance counselor, this could inhibit your ability to get help. Students who have a hard time meeting with their guidance counselor should consider CollegePoint. If you’re eligible, you’ll be matched up with a college student who serves as a virtual guidance counselor throughout high school and college admissions.

Also see: Why you should take AP Exams

Talk to students who have completed or are currently in the class

What better way to get insight into how difficult a class is than by talking to someone who has been in the class? If you know anyone who has completed or is currently taking the class, you can reach out to them for advice. Maybe invite them for a cup of coffee to show some appreciation for the time they take to advise you.

In situations like these, it’s a good idea to go into the conversation with some questions in mind. You can ask to see some typical coursework, ask about what skills they used, and how many hours they devote each week to the course. Students often enjoy talking about their experience in class, so oftentimes you’ll be met with a lot of willingness to discuss the course!

Talk to your potential teachers

Another great strategy for determining how difficult an AP Class is to talk to the course’s teacher. Teachers always want students to succeed in their class, and so they will always be honest in their assessment of the course’s difficulty. If you email your potential teacher and ask to meet with them about the course, you should get a good idea of whether you’re a good fit.

Final thoughts

Remember, every human being is different and has different strengths and weaknesses. Therefore, what may be difficult for you may not be difficult for others and vice versa when it comes to AP courses and exams. So, when building your AP schedule, be honest with yourself about your strengths. Perhaps you are a science lover so taking 3 AP science courses will not be daunting but taking a science AP course and an english AP course can cause some difficulty. 

Additionally, there is quite a difference between a difficult AP class and a difficult AP exam. A difficult AP class can be due to the teacher or curriculum of your school specifically. A harder AP class can help make your AP exam experience easier while an easy class can make your AP exam experience harder. Therefore, make sure that you talk to classmates and teachers about the AP courses you are considering. Find out how prepare the students felt when they took the exam. Obtaining a good idea of how difficult the course and exam are can provide you with a solid understanding of if that particular AP is the right one for you to take. 

Overall, it is important that you are researching which of the AP exams you are interested in are the most difficult. This will give you a heads up on what you need to expect from these courses and exams to ensure there are no surprises. It can also provide you with the opportunity to not take that AP course in the first place in order to avoid any bad experiences or grades! 

Additional resources

Learn how many AP classes you should take in high school and how AP credit works. Maybe your school offers few if any AP classes, and you are interested in learning about what dual enrollment is. When it comes time to choose a college, we have you covered there too! Check out our website for expert advice, and don’t forget to apply for all the scholarships you are eligible for!

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Frequently asked questions about the hardest AP Classes

What is a passing score on an AP exam?

A score of 3 or above is considered passing an AP Exam. However, rules for AP credit and placement varies college-by-college and even course-by-course. Although any score 3 or above will help impress admissions officers, there are times when only a 4 or 5 will place you out of a class.

How many AP classes should I take per semester?

To decide how many AP Classes to take per semester, you should analyze your workload, balance it with your extracurriculars, and be proactive to decide how difficult each AP Class is that you’re taking. Make sure to talk to your guidance counselor, your teacher, and/or fellow students before enrolling in an AP Course that you worry might overwhelm you.

What if my school doesn’t offer AP classes?

If your school doesn’t offer AP Classes, don’t worry! Admissions officers do not expect every student to take AP Courses, and you won’t be dinged for not having classes on your transcript. While some admissions officers might look down on a student who decides not to take the courses offered at their school, they will never judge a student for attending a school without AP Classes.

Another option if your school doesn’t offer AP Classes is to self-study. You can take AP Exams without having taken the corresponding courses. While this may be difficult, it’s a great way to get college credit, impress admissions officers, and try your hand at college-level material while still in high school. 

Are AP classes too difficult for high schoolers?

AP Classes are college-level courses designed to be taught at a high school level. So, while they are challenging, they are not too hard for high schoolers. That being said, it’s a good idea to start light on your AP course load. Don’t sign up for three or four in one semester if you haven’t taken one before. They have a different rhythm than other high school classes and it’s best to try them out before you find yourself too committed to them. 

Is it worth it to take the hardest AP classes?

Whether it’s worth taking the most challenging AP classes depends on your goals and abilities. These classes can demonstrate your academic rigor to colleges and potentially earn you college credit. However, it’s important to strike a balance and not overwhelm yourself with too many difficult courses.

What AP classes should I choose based on my career goals?

The choice of AP classes should align with your career interests and goals. For example, if you plan to major in psychology, you might want to prioritize taking AP Psychology. Be sure to discuss your career aspirations with a school counselor who can help guide your course selection.

Do colleges consider the difficulty of the AP program when evaluating my application?

Some colleges do consider your high school’s AP program when evaluating your application. They may consider whether you’ve taken advantage of the most challenging courses your school offers.