AP Language Classes: What Are They and Who Should Take Them?

The College Board offers eight AP world language exams. Learn more about course content, test scores, and the benefits of taking AP language classes.

portrait of Genevieve Carlton, Ph.D.
by Genevieve Carlton, Ph.D.

Published on April 1, 2022

Edited by Hannah Muniz
Share this Article

BestColleges.com is an advertising-supported site. Featured or trusted partner programs and all school search, finder, or match results are for schools that compensate us. This compensation does not influence our school rankings, resource guides, or other editorially-independent information published on this site.

Ready to start your journey?

AP Language Classes: What Are They and Who Should Take Them?


Advanced Placement (AP) tests allow high schoolers to build critical skills while earning college credit for subjects like math, science, and even world languages.

But what languages offer an AP exam? What are the benefits of taking an AP world language class? And what does a foreign language AP exam cover exactly?

Before signing up for an AP language class — or taking an AP language exam without enrolling in the accompanying class — it's important that you know what AP language tests entail and what the advantages are of taking one.

What Are AP Language Classes and Tests?

AP world language classes strengthen your foreign language skills and build your knowledge of other cultures. Many high schools offer AP language classes. Each May, students can take their designated AP language exam to try to receive college credit.

At most high schools, students must take several years of language classes before signing up for an AP world language class. As a result, many students take the foreign language AP exam in either 11th or 12th grade.

The College Board offers eight AP foreign language tests across seven languages (excluding English). Spanish is the only language other than English to have both a language and literature component.

Here is the full list of AP foreign language tests:

The eight AP language tests include both reading and audio assessments. The tests also include multiple-choice questions, short-answer sections, and essays. In addition, some exams incorporate spoken questions, conversations, and presentations.

What Do AP Language Classes Cover?

AP world language classes help strengthen students' speaking, listening, reading, and writing skills in another language.

Regarding culture, AP world language classes cover topics like family life, identity, art, and values. You'll also learn about the impact of science and technology on life in communities that speak the language.

AP language curricula typically incorporate newspaper articles, movies, and books in the target language to help students better understand the language and culture.

Two classes break from this general pattern, however. Since Latin is no longer a spoken language, students in this class primarily read literature and study ancient Roman history.

In AP Spanish literature and culture, students read literary works written in Spanish. The AP Spanish Literature and Culture Exam presents all questions, texts, and instructions in Spanish as well.

How Hard Are Foreign Language AP Exams?

How hard are the AP world language exams? The difficulty of each test depends on the language and the student.

The AP Chinese Language and Culture Exam reports the highest pass rate and the highest number of perfect scores. This is mainly due to the large number of fluent and native Chinese speakers that take the test. By contrast, the AP Latin Exam reports the lowest pass rate.

It's important to note that the College Board reports two sets of score distributions for the AP language tests. One is for the total group, which includes any native or fluent speakers of the language. The other is for the standard group, which excludes any native or fluent speakers.

AP Score Distribution, May 2021 (Total Group: Includes Native/Fluent Speakers)
AP Exam Pass Rate (3 or Higher) Perfect Score (5)
AP Chinese Language and Culture 88.2% 57.2%
AP French Language and Culture 71.3% 12.6%
AP German Language and Culture 65.1% 18.0%
AP Italian Language and Culture 72.4% 20.6%
AP Japanese Language and Culture 74.3% 47.5%
AP Latin 56.8% 10.0%
AP Spanish Language and Culture 80.0% 17.3%
AP Spanish Literature and Culture 64.9% 7.8%%

Source: College Board

AP Score Distribution, May 2021 (Standard Group: Excludes Native/Fluent Speakers)
AP Exam Pass Rate (3 or Higher) Perfect Score (5)
AP Chinese Language and Culture 66.4% 18.8%
AP French Language and Culture 69.0% 8.4%
AP German Language and Culture 57.3% 6.9%
AP Italian Language and Culture 68.7% 11.6%
AP Japanese Language and Culture 53.5% 16.4%
AP Latin
AP Spanish Language and Culture 77.1% 12.9%
AP Spanish Literature and Culture

Source: College Board

What Are the Benefits of AP Language Classes?

AP language classes offer many benefits — even if you choose not to take the AP test. Here are some of the biggest advantages of taking an AP language class in high school.

1. You Can Earn College Credit

As with other AP courses, earning college credit is one of the top benefits of AP language classes and tests.

At many U.S. colleges, students who earn a 3 or higher on an AP exam receive college credit. Passing an AP class in high school can help you meet the foreign language requirement for many college degrees.

Before signing up for an AP world language class, consider the pass rate and the AP credit policy at your potential colleges. For example, about 2,000 colleges award credit for AP Spanish language, but only about 1,500 schools give credit for AP Spanish literature.

Fewer than 1,400 colleges grant credit for less common language classes like Chinese, Italian, and Japanese. And at some prestigious colleges, students must score a 5 on their AP exam to receive credit.

2. It Can Boost Your College Applications

Taking AP world language classes helps boost your college applications, even if you decide not to take the AP exam or do not pass.

Competitive colleges often want applicants who take on challenging class schedules. Signing up for an AP language class demonstrates advanced language skills and the ability to complete college-level work.

3. You'll Feel More Prepared to Study Abroad

If you're planning to study abroad in college, an AP language class can give you a head start on learning the language and culture. The AP world languages also prepare you for travel to various popular study abroad destinations across Asia, Europe, and Latin America.

Some universities host study abroad programs with competitive admission requirements. Solid language skills can help you score a spot and thrive during your semester or year abroad.

4. It Can Strengthen Other Skills

Studies show that learning a foreign language can boost memory and sharpen problem-solving skills — and can even improve standardized test scores.

Similar cognitive benefits include increased empathy and a stronger understanding of the English language, both of which can help you succeed in college and eventually the workforce.

Who Should Take AP Language Classes?

Before signing up for an AP language class, consider your schedule and your school's offerings. Many high schools don't offer all eight world language AP classes, so check to see which ones (if any) your school does offer.

If your school doesn't offer an AP class in your target language, you can still take the AP exam in May. The College Board offers advice on taking an AP exam without an AP class.

Compared to other AP exams, fewer institutions award credit for AP language tests. More than 2,000 colleges give credit for AP Chemistry, AP Psychology, AP English Language and Composition, AP U.S. History, and other exams.

Check the policies and minimum AP scores needed for credit at your prospective colleges before taking an AP world language exam.


Feature Image: Thomas Barwick / Stone / Getty Images

Wondering if AP classes are right for you? This post outlines five questions to ask yourself before enrolling in AP classes. Discover the difference between honors vs. AP classes with our guide. Ensure you make the right decisions in high school when preparing for college. Knowing a second language can pave the way for a successful global career. Here, we introduce the most useful languages to learn in college and beyond.

BestColleges.com is an advertising-supported site. Featured or trusted partner programs and all school search, finder, or match results are for schools that compensate us. This compensation does not influence our school rankings, resource guides, or other editorially-independent information published on this site.

Compare your school options.

View the most relevant school for your interests and compare them by tuition, programs, acceptance rate, and other factors important to find your college home.