Is AP Art History Hard? A Complete 2022 Guide

Find out if AP Art History is hard before you sign up for the class or AP Art History exam.

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by Nancy Parode

Published on April 7, 2022

Edited by Tyler Epps
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Is AP Art History Hard? A Complete 2022 Guide


Over 20,000 students took the AP Art History exam in 2021. AP Art History appeals to fewer students than many other AP courses. This may be because learners have to memorize information about 250 works of art and architecture to score well.

May 2021 test scores reveal that many students found the AP Art History exam challenging, although AP Art History did not make the list of the 10 hardest AP classes. AP Art History builds analytical and research skills that many students could find useful across many subjects.

What Does AP Art History Cover?

AP Art History covers the history of art and architecture from prehistoric times to today. Students learn to evaluate, contextualize, interpret, and compare works of art and architecture. The course also focuses on developing learners' understanding of artistic traditions.

Learners do not simply memorize facts about works of art. Rather, they analyze works of art and architecture to understand the relationships between works of art and artistic styles. Learners also discover how works of art and architecture fit into the historical "big picture."

The 2022 AP Art History exam covers the following periods and geographical locations:

What Determines the Difficulty of AP Art History? 3 Key Factors

AP classes, including AP Art History, are more challenging than typical high school courses. Researching the course material and exam pass rate and evaluating your skills will help you decide whether to take an AP class.

The Pass Rate

In May 2021, only 12% of AP Art History exam takers earned a perfect score, and roughly 55% earned a passing score of 3 or higher. In fact, only 13 AP exams had a lower pass rate in 2021.

In comparison, about 17% of students who took other AP exams achieved a perfect score, and roughly 64% passed their exams with a score of 3 or higher, indicating that the AP Art History course is somewhat more difficult than other AP courses.

AP Class/Exam Pass Rate (3 or Higher) Perfect Score (5)
AP Art History 55.3% 12.0%
All AP Classes 64.2% 16.8%

Source: College Board

Exam pass rates cannot tell the whole story when it comes to course difficulty. Every school is different, and each teacher presents the AP Art History course material in a unique way.

The Course Material

AP Art History covers the entire expanse of human artistic expression. This is why the College Board created a list of 250 works of art and architecture for learners to analyze in preparation for the exam.

Understanding and remembering the artistic style, materials used, and cultural relevance of 250 works of art could be challenging for some. Learners should expect to complete many writing assignments to prepare for the free-response questions on the exam.

Your Subject Skills

AP Art History, like other AP history courses, emphasizes analysis, comparison, research, and writing skills. Learners should be able to analyze sources, present a historically defensible argument, and defend that argument.

Unlike other history courses, however, AP Art History also challenges learners to remember many images and recall supporting information for each one. Students will also compare and contrast works of art and architecture, so it helps to have prior experience evaluating similarities and differences.

When Should You Take AP Art History?

Depending on your school, you might be able to take AP Art History as early as ninth grade. However, unless you have a solid background in world history, it is probably better to take AP Art History after you have taken a year or two of high school history.

You may wish to take an easier AP course before taking AP Art History. This will help you adjust to AP-level workloads. If you decide to take more than one AP course at a time, talk with your teachers to learn how to manage your time so that you can prepare for your AP exams.

AP Art History Exam: What You Need to Know

In May 2021, over 20,000 students took the AP Art History exam, and 55.3% of them earned a passing score. Let's take a look at the exam's structure and scoring.

AP Art History
Exam Score Number of Students Percentage of Students
5 2,467 12.0%
4 4,043 19.6%
3 4,907 23.8%
2 6,209 30.1%
1 3,007 14.6%

Source: College Board

How Is the AP Art History Exam Structured?

Students have three hours to complete the AP Art History exam. Section I consists of 80 multiple-choice questions focused on images from the image set students have studied all year. Students have one hour to complete this section. (For comparison, AP US History and AP World History students have 55 minutes to answer 55 multiple-choice questions.)

Section II includes six free-response questions. The first two are long essay questions and the rest are short essay questions. Each essay covers a different art historical thinking skill. Images are provided for five of the questions. Students have two hours to complete Section II.

How Is the AP Art History Exam Scored?

Test-takers receive a final score on a scale of 1 through 5, with 5 being the best possible score. Section I, the multiple-choice questions, counts for 50% of the total score. Section II also counts for 50% of the total score. The table below shows the per-question weighting.

Students who answer multiple-choice questions slowly may have difficulty answering all 80 questions. Students who lack experience writing different kinds of essays may struggle to write all six essays in two hours.

Section 1 50%
Multiple-Choice Questions 50%
Section 2 50%
Comparison Long Essay 11.8%
Visual/Contextual Analysis Long Essay 8.8%
Visual Analysis Short Essay 7.4%
Contextual Analysis Short Essay 7.4%
Attribution Short Essay 7.4%
Continuity and Change Short Essay 7.4%

Source: College Board

AP Art History: What Score Do I Need for College Credit?

College credit for AP exams varies by school. While the College Board says that a score of 3 is a passing score, not all colleges will give course credits for a 3 or even a 4. Some colleges may not grant any credit for the AP Art History exam.

The best way to find out how many credits you will receive is to check prospective schools' websites. Some colleges award more credits for higher AP exam scores.

Should I Take AP Art History?

Doing a self-assessment and gathering information may help you decide whether to take AP Art History. This course and its exam will challenge most high school students.

Students with strong writing skills, a background in world history, and an interest in art and architecture are more likely to be motivated to succeed. However, students who are uninterested in art and architecture from a variety of periods may struggle in this course.

A good way to learn more about your school's AP Art History class is to talk with teachers and past students. Ask them what the workload is like and what to expect in class.

Frequently Asked Questions About AP Art History

true Is AP Art History worth it?

While difficult, taking AP Art History could well be worth your time and effort. Colleges look for students who challenge themselves by taking AP courses.

AP Art History could also help you take your writing skills to the next level. If you pass the AP Art History exam, you can earn college credit, which will save you time and money when completing your degree.

You will also learn about the relationships between art, culture, and history. This knowledge can be useful not only in future courses but also whenever you visit a museum or historic site or when you travel to another country.

true Does AP Art History count as an art credit?

Colleges use a variety of criteria to determine what kind of credit to grant for AP exam scores. Some colleges do grant art credit for achieving a certain score on the AP Art History exam.

Others grant credit in art history rather than studio art. Still others grant elective credit, either in fine arts electives or general electives. Check with your prospective schools to learn more.

true Do you have to draw or make art in AP Art History?

No, AP Art History students are not required to draw or make art. Instead, they examine and analyze works of art and architecture from a variety of cultures and historical periods. You do not have to be a talented artist to succeed in AP Art History.

Feature Image: Sergeeva / E+ / Getty Images

AP World History challenges students. But how hard is the exam, and should high schoolers sign up for AP World History? Considering taking AP U.S. History? Learn how difficult this course and exam are and get tips on how you can earn the score you want. Learn how to find the "easiest" AP classes, which have more flexible study requirements, and earn college credit through classes with high exam pass rates.

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