Is AP Environmental Science Hard? A Complete 2022 Guide

If you're about to take the AP environmental science exam, use this guide to prepare and calm your nerves.

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Updated May 6, 2022

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Is AP Environmental Science Hard? A Complete 2022 Guide


Before enrolling in an AP Environmental Science course, students need to do their research and make sure taking the class is a good decision for their current and future academic career. Because environmental science is considered one of the more challenging AP subjects, it may not be a great fit for every student.

Nearly 150,000 learners took the exam in 2021, but 51% failed to earn a score of 3 or higher. Keep reading to learn about the subject matter covered in the course, the exam format, and the scores most colleges require for the class to count as credit.

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What Does AP Environmental Science Cover?

Designed to mimic the academic level of a foundational environmental science college course, the AP Environmental Science class designed by College Board looks at principles and concepts related to the natural world.
Students consider big ideas such as energy transfer, interactions between Earth systems, relationships between different species and the environment, and sustainability.

The course is divided into nine units across the class. These include:

What Determines the Difficulty of AP Environmental Science? 3 Key Factors

Before enrolling in an AP Environmental Science course, students must consider several factors so they can make an informed decision. Keep reading to learn about some of the components to think about before enrolling.

The Pass Rate

The difficulty level of the AP Environmental Science exam is generally considered higher than that of other AP exams, as demonstrated in the following table.

While more than 71% of students received a passing score on average across all AP exams in May 2020, only 53% passed the AP Environmental Science exam. Similarly, while about 20% of students earned a 5 across all AP tests, less than 12% received a perfect score on this exam.

AP Environmental Science Exam Pass Rates
AP Class/Exam Pass Rate (3 or Higher) Perfect Score (5)
AP Environmental Science 53.4% 11.9%
All AP Classes 71.13% 19.57%

Source: College Board

While the statistics shown above are a good place to start when figuring out whether the AP Environmental Science exam will be difficult, the strength of the school and teacher plays a significant role as well. Students can ask for pass rates for previous classes to better assess their odds.

The Course Material

When ascertaining the difficulty of an AP Environmental Science class, students must also consider the amount of material covered in the curriculum.

For instance, classes focused on less course content allow students to home in on particular topics.

Because AP Environmental Science contains nine different units covering a wide variety of topics about the natural world, students will need to study many different sections to adequately prepare.

Your Subject Skills

How well a student does in an AP Environmental Science class also depends on their subject skills. College Board recommends students possess certain prerequisites, including two years of high school laboratory science: one life science class and one physical science course. Learners should also complete at least one year of algebra, and Earth science, if possible.

Students who have not completed these prerequisites — or who did not do particularly well in these classes — should carefully consider whether AP Environmental Science is right for them.

When Should You Take AP Environmental Science?

According to College Board, most students take the AP Environmental Science course in their junior or senior year. Because learners need to complete certain prerequisites in order to prepare for this AP course, College Board typically dissuades first-year and sophomore students from taking this class.

That said, it is not uncommon for students to pair their AP Environmental Science class with other AP classes throughout the term.

As long as students have a good handle on the material, they should be able to juggle other advanced topics simultaneously — especially if they are in the same academic area (e.g., AP Biology or AP Chemistry).

AP Environmental Science Exam: What You Need to Know

To pass the AP Environmental Science exam, students need a score of 3 or higher. As evidenced by this table, 46% of students who take the class fail to achieve this score. Consider this factor when deciding how to proceed.

AP Environmental Science
Exam Score Number of Students Percentage of Students
5 19,391 11.9%
4 46,233 28.5%
3 21,196 13.0%
2 41,489 25.5%
1 34,160 21.0%

Source: College Board

How Is the AP Environmental Science Exam Structured?

The AP Environmental Science exam comprises two sections. Section one includes 80 multiple-choice questions and lasts 90 minutes. Section one includes individual and set-based questions and assesses each of the nine units from the course.

Section two includes three free-response questions and lasts 70 minutes. Tasks in this section include designing an investigation, analyzing an environmental problem and proposing a solution, and analyzing an environmental problem and proposing a solution by doing calculations.

How Is the AP Environmental Science Exam Scored?

The AP Environmental Science exam is scored from 1-5. A 3 or higher is a passing score. The multiple-choice section accounts for 60% of the overall score, while the free-response questions in section two account for 40% of the overall score.

Students should keep the score breakdown in mind and play to their strengths. For instance, those who struggle with essays may want to spend extra time preparing for this section. However, they must also make sure they do well on the multiple-choice component.

How the AP Environmental Science Exam is Scored
Section 1 60%
Multiple-Choice Questions 60%
Section 2 40%
Free-Response Question 1 13.3%
Free-Response Question 2 13.3%
Free-Response Question 3 13.3%

Source: College Board

AP Environmental Science: What Score Do I Need for College Credit?

In most cases, colleges and universities require students to score at least a 3 on their AP Environmental Science exam for it to count toward college credit.

Students who score a 5 are considered extremely qualified, while those who score a 4 are considered well qualified. A score of 3 indicates qualified, meaning students have proven themselves knowledgeable on the subject.

Should I Take AP Environmental Science?

Students considering the AP Environmental Science class — and by extension, the exam — need to carefully consider whether the AP class is worth their time and effort. Students should ensure taking the course contributes to their goals in college and make sure they have a decent chance of passing the test.

Speaking to teachers and past students who took the class can be a great way to learn more about what to expect and how to best prepare for the rigors of AP Environmental Science. Students should also consider which AP classes they want to take in total and how AP Environmental Science fits with their other courses.

Frequently Asked Questions About AP Environmental Science

Is AP environmental science worth it?

Taking an AP Environmental Science course can be a great experience for students who feel passionate about the natural world and/or who plan to study a related topic in college. Because many consider AP Environmental Science one of the harder AP classes, learners looking for an easy course to help them earn college credit may want to bypass this option.

Students with a strong understanding of topics like Earth science, biology, chemistry, and algebra typically find this class easier than other learners. That said, the course will still likely stretch their skills and knowledge.

How many credits do you get for AP Environmental Science?

The amount of credits earned for a passing score on the AP Environmental Science exam depends on individual school policies. College Board provides site visitors with an AP credit policy search database where learners can look up prospective colleges and universities to see how many credits they may earn.

For instance, Abilene Christian University in Texas translates a passing score on an AP exam to three college credits. American University in Washington, D.C., offers four credits for passing exam grades.

Do colleges care about AP Environmental Science?

How much colleges care about AP Environmental Science depends on what the student plans to study once enrolled. For students interested in topics about the natural world, a high score on the AP exam signals to college admissions officers that applicants possess a solid understanding of the topic.

Even if a student does not plan to study a related topic at the postsecondary level, most admissions officers understand that this particular AP subject is considered more difficult than others. A high exam score lets them know that learners are serious about their studies, even if they decide to major in another subject.

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