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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. You can craft a well-balanced schedule if you ensure that you don’t take too many of the hard ones 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 Classes 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 2021 score distributions data release.

AP Exam Name Pass Rate (Score of 3 or Higher) Percentage of students who scored 5
1. Physics 1 42.1% 6.9%
2. United States History 47.2% 10.1%
3. United States Government & Politics 50.4% 12.0%
4. Calculus AB 51.0% 17.6%
5. Macroeconomics 51.3% 18.0%
6. Chemistry 51.3% 11.2%
7. World History 52.2% 9.7%
8. Human Geography 52.5% 14.4%
9. Psychology 53.3% 14.1%
10. Japanese Language – Standard Group 53.5% 16.4%


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.

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.

Also see: How does AP Credit work?

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.

Also see: What is dual enrollment?

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 courseload. 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.

Related: How many AP Classes should I take in high school?