Is AP Psychology Hard? A Complete 2022 Guide

AP Psychology awards college credit for passing test scores. But how hard is AP Psychology? Our in-depth look helps students make an informed decision.

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

Updated April 7, 2022

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


What are the hardest AP classes? High schoolers considering AP classes often wonder which class to take and whether a certain course might be too difficult. In 2020, nearly 300,000 high schoolers took the AP Psychology exam, and over 70% earned a passing score.

Students interested in human behavior, psychological disorders, and data analysis often thrive in AP Psychology classes. Before enrolling, though, make sure you understand the expectations for AP Psychology.

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What Does AP Psychology Cover?

Psychology is the study of human behavior and mental processes. In AP Psychology, learners explore theories about behavioral development, the relationship between individuals and their environment, and psychological disorders.

Students also examine psychology research methods, including the experimental process and qualitative analysis.

During the course, students learn how to apply psychological theories, interpret data, and analyze research studies. The class emphasizes analytical, writing, and research abilities. Learners also strengthen their critical thinking and problem-solving skills.

The AP Psychology course topics include the following:

What Determines the Difficulty of AP Psychology? 3 Key Factors

Before signing up to take an AP class, students must consider the difficulty, time commitment, and expectations. This section covers the pass rate, course material, and subject skills required to do well in AP Psych.

The Pass Rate

The pass rate offers valuable information on the difficulty of AP Psychology. So is AP Psychology hard? Over 70% of students who take this exam passed the test, and more than 1 in 5 test-takers earned a perfect score.

As the following data shows, the AP Psychology exam reports a nearly identical pass rate to other AP classes. However, a slightly higher percentage of students earn a perfect score on the exam compared with other AP tests.

AP Psychology Exam Pass Rates
AP Class/Exam Pass Rate (3 or Higher) Perfect Score (5)
AP Psychology 71.3% 22.4%
All AP Classes 71.13% 19.57%

Source: College Board

Prospective students can look at the pass rate and the number of perfect scores to determine whether AP Psychology is hard. All AP classes challenge students, but exam data shows that the AP Psychology test ranks similarly to other AP classes in terms of difficulty.

The Course Material

AP Psychology courses cover a great deal of material. High schoolers learn about psychological theories, the development of human behaviors, and psychology research methods. Core topics include how individuals interact with their environment and how the environment shapes behavior.

Students also examine the process of learning, the role of memory in behavior, and human emotions and personalities. In addition to studying human behavior, students explore psychological disorders and treatments. The scope of the course may challenge some students.

Your Subject Skills

Many AP classes offer advanced approaches to common high school courses, like language arts, math, foreign languages, and history. In contrast, most high schoolers do not take psychology. Students with strong social studies skills often thrive in psychology classes.

The class requires strong analytical and research skills, which may challenge some students. Learners must also analyze research studies and apply quantitative data in free-response answers. Strong subject skills in these areas help test-takers succeed.

When Should You Take AP Psychology?

Most high schools offer AP Psychology during junior or senior year. Students may take the course as their first advanced placement class. Other students may take language arts, history, or science AP courses before psychology, depending on their school.

High schoolers should ask their school and school counselors about when to take AP Psychology. Some schools may allow 9th or 10th graders to take the class.

Students new to AP courses might prefer to focus on psychology without taking other AP classes. However, experienced high schoolers and exceptional students often take AP Psychology at the same time as other AP classes.

AP Psychology Exam: What You Need to Know

Nearly 300,000 students took the AP Psychology exam in May 2020. Of those students, over 210,000 earned a passing score. The following table shows the score breakdown for test-takers in 2020.

AP Psychology
Exam Score Number of Students Percentage of Students
5 66,099 22.4%
4 75,057 25.4%
3 69,483 23.5%
2 28,467 9.6%
1 56,515 19.1%

Source: College Board

How Is the AP Psychology Exam Structured?

The College Board divides the AP Psychology exam into two parts: a multiple-choice section and a free-response section. Here's how the two make up the test:

In the first test section, students answer multiple-choice questions on psychology concepts and theories. These questions also evaluate knowledge of human behavior.

In the second section, test-takers complete two free-response questions. These questions ask students to apply theoretical frameworks in specific scenarios. They may also test knowledge of different psychology fields and psychological explanations for behavior.

In addition, the free-response section asks test-takers to analyze research studies and interpret quantitative data.

How Is the AP Psychology Exam Scored?

Students receive two-thirds of their final score based on their multiple-choice answers. The two free-choice questions account for the final one-third of the score. The College Board awards AP scores on a 1-5 scale, with 5 representing a perfect score.

Because the test heavily weighs the multiple choice section, test-takers must carefully manage their time to complete the 100-question section. Missing questions can take a toll on the final score.

How the AP Psychology Exam is Scored
Section 1 66.7%
Multiple-Choice Questions 66.7%
Section 2 33.3%
Concept Application Question 16.65%
Research Design Question 16.65%

Source: College Board

AP Psychology: What Score Do I Need for College Credit?

According to the College Board, a score of 3 qualifies as passing. That said, a passing score does not guarantee that colleges will award credit for AP Psychology. Over 2,000 colleges award credit for the test, but some require a score of 4 or 5 for college credit.

Before signing up for the AP Psychology exam, prospective students should research college policies and learn more about the score required to earn college credit.

Should I Take AP Psychology?

High schoolers considering which AP class to take should weigh the course material, expectations, and the test difficulty. AP Psychology ranks about average in terms of difficulty according to test scores. Students interested in human behavior, psychological disorders, and the social sciences may enjoy the class.

Before enrolling, ask teachers and past students about the AP Psych class at your school. The difficulty of the class varies depending on the school. If you decide to take AP Psychology, make sure to invest time and energy into studying for the AP Psychology exam to increase your chances of earning college credit.

Frequently Asked Questions About AP Psychology

Is AP Psychology worth it?

Over 70% of students who took the AP Psychology exam in 2020 earned a passing score. These test-takers can earn college credit for an exam that costs under $100. As a result, AP Psychology may pay off for college-bound high schoolers.

What about for students who do not take the test or earn a passing score? Even for students who do not earn college credit, AP classes offer college-level material in high school. AP classes demonstrate academic commitment to colleges, making them a smart choice for students who can manage the workload.

Do colleges care about AP Psychology?

More than 2,000 colleges award credit for passing scores on the AP Psychology exam. And taking AP Psychology helps high schoolers in other ways. Studying college-level material in high school demonstrates academic skills to prospective schools.

Students who take AP classes may also receive a higher weight in their GPA for the class grades. As a result, taking AP classes helps students even if they decide not to take the AP test or do not earn a passing score.

How many credits do you get for AP Psychology?

Each college decides how many credits to award for passing scores on the AP Psychology test. Most schools grant 3-5 credits for AP Psychology, depending on the score. For example, some colleges only award credit for a 4 or 5 on the AP exam.

The number of credits may also vary depending on whether the school uses semesters or quarters. The College Board provides a list of colleges that grant credit for AP Psychology, including policies on the number of credits for passing scores.

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