What Are the Hardest AP Classes and Tests?
Editor & Writer
Editor & Writer
- We've ranked the 10 hardest AP classes by exam pass rates.
- 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 also impact the difficulty of AP classes and tests.
In May 2022, high schoolers sat down to take 4.7 million AP exams. And not everyone passed. In fact, for some of the hardest AP tests, less than half the students passed.
What are the hardest AP classes? If you’re looking at pass rates, Physics 1 is the toughest AP exam. And less than 8% of test-takers received a perfect score. Of course, the hardest AP exam depends on your strengths.
If you’re deciding what AP classes to take — or preparing for an AP test — it’s worth learning more about the hardest AP classes and exams.
Top 10 Hardest AP Classes by Exam Pass Rates
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 and your academic strengths — two important factors that influence the difficulty of AP classes.
Note that AP Capstone, AP Art and Design, as well as AP Language exam scores, were not considered for this table.
|AP Class/Exam||Pass Rate (3+)||Perfect Score (5)|
|United States History||48.2%||10.8%|
|United States Government and Politics||48.6%||12%|
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1. Physics 1
This class combines physics, scientific inquiry, and algebra. AP Physics 1 is considered one of the hardest AP classes. Covered topics include Newtonian mechanics and electrical charge and force. You also spend about 25% of your class time performing college-level laboratory experiments and writing reports.
This AP test consists of five free-response questions and 50 multiple-choice questions (MCQs) asking you to explain physical phenomena, solve mathematical equations, interpret conceptual models, and design experiments.
2. United States History
The AP United States 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, you 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 you to develop and support an argument based on seven documents. You are also tested on historical facts and the ability to interpret historical narratives.
3. United States 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. You make comparisons, interpret data, and write evidence-based arguments using foundational documents and U.S. Supreme Court decisions.
The AP United States Government and Politics exam comprises 55 MCQs and four free-response questions that test your understanding of political concepts and your ability to analyze documents and court decisions.
4. Economics — Macro (Macroeconomics)
This course covers large-scale economic concepts. You’ll study foundational economic principles, evaluate potential outcomes of economic situations, and analyze economic graphs.
The AP Macroeconomics exam includes 60 MCQs, which make up two-thirds of the score, and three free-response questions, which make up one-third of the score. The free-response questions cover economic principles, numerical analysis, and creating graphs. Starting in 2023, you can use a calculator on this exam.
5. Human Geography
The class explores human migration and land use, and how these factors alter the Earth's landscape and resources. You 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. You analyze maps, graphs, and satellite images to explain spatial relationships.
6. Environmental Science
The broad nature of environmental science, which encompasses biology, geology, and chemistry, 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. You also perform lab experiments and fieldwork.
The AP test comprises 80 MCQs and three free-response questions, which test your ability to analyze research, interpret data, and solve problems using mathematical equations. You also analyze an environmental issue and propose a solution.
AP Chemistry requires a solid foundation in chemistry and algebra. You 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.
The exam consists of 60 MCQs and seven free-response questions. It tests your ability to justify scientific claims and analyze models of chemical properties. You also design experiments and use mathematical relationships to solve problems.
8. Calculus AB
This college-level calculus course is considered the hardest AP class by many students. You’ll study differential equations, integral calculus, and mathematical theorems in AP Calculus AB.
The exam consists of 45 MCQs and six free-response questions. You can use a calculator for parts of the exam, but both sections ban calculators for a majority of questions. The Calculus AB exam covers logarithmic functions, function representations, and real-world applications of calculus.
This course covers mental processes, cognition, social psychology, and experimental methods. As a college-level introductory psychology course, many students find AP Psych challenging because many of the concepts are new.
The AP Psychology exam contains 100 MCQs and two free-response questions. MCQs represent two-thirds of the score, while the free-response section represents one-third. You’ll need to apply psychological theories, analyze research studies, and define concepts on the exam.
10. 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, you must apply critical thinking skills and develop arguments based on historical patterns and evidence.
The AP European History exam is formatted similarly to the AP United States History test, and it requires you to understand historical concepts and identify connections. Many students find writing the DBQ in the given amount of time one of the biggest challenges.
What Is the Hardest AP Class?
Looking at the numbers, the hardest AP test is Physics 1. In May 2022, just 43.3% of test-takers passed, and only 7.9% received a perfect score. Other hard AP exams include US History, Macroeconomics, Chemistry, and Calculus AB.
AP language classes are also difficult, particularly since the AP foreign language exams include audio, writing, and speaking sections.
Ultimately, the hardest AP classes depend on your academic strengths and your teacher. If you’re not sure whether to take an AP class, talk to your school counselor, current teachers, and students who’ve taken the AP class or the exam.
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, the pass rate for AP Japanese Language was 75.5% in May 2022.
In contrast, AP Environmental Science only had a pass rate of 53.8%. However, only 2,765 students took the AP Japanese Language exam, while 179,957 students took the AP Environmental Science test.
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.
Best Predictors of AP Difficulty
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 biology exam.
Frequently Asked Questions About the Hardest AP Classes
Is AP Psychology hard?
AP Psychology is a challenging, college-level course that introduces you to foundational psychology concepts. Based on the most recent AP score data from the College Board, 58.3% of students who take the AP Psychology exam earn a passing score, while 17% earn a perfect score.
Many of the concepts, research methods, and content will be unfamiliar to students, which can make AP Psychology difficult.
Is AP Statistics hard?
In May 2022, around 60% of test-takers received a passing score on the AP Statistics exam. Around 15% received a perfect score. Score distributions can help determine the difficulty level of different AP exams.
AP Statistics tests high schoolers on college-level statistical concepts and methods. You’ll need to master data collection, statistical analysis techniques, and probability to do well on the AP Statistics test.
Is a 4 on an AP exam considered good?
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 you are
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.