When choosing which Advanced Placement (AP) classes to take in high school, a common question is which are the hardest AP classes and tests? While a lot of it comes down to individual strengths and weaknesses, some AP classes do tend to be more challenging than others.
This guide breaks down all 38 AP classes out there, looking at their pass rates, 5-rates, class content, and tests in order to help you make a more informed choice about which AP classes you may decide to take.
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In a hurry? Take a look at these quick-charts for the 10 Easiest AP Classes
- Computer Science Principles (CPS)
- Human Geography
- Environmental Science
- Gov. and Politics – Comparative
- Computer Science A
- Studio Art: Drawing
- Studio Art: 2-D Design
- Studio Art: 3D Design
Take a look at this quick-chart for the 10 Hardest AP Classes (hardest at the top)
- English Literature and Composition
- English Language and Composition
- Physics C: Electricity & Magnetism
- Physics C: Mechanics
- Calculus BC
- Physics 2
- AP Chemistry
- Chinese Language & Culture
- Japanese Language & Culture
Are AP Classes Worth It?
You may be wondering whether AP classes are worth it. While they are known to be tough, record numbers of students these days are taking them. If you’re sitting on the fence about taking one, here are some potential benefits to help change your mind:
- They’re a good preparation for transition to college courses as they’re fast-paced, cover substantial content, and require independent work.
- They may put you at the top of the pile in college admissions as they show you’re ready for the academic rigor of college-level work.
- When calculating your GPA, many high schools give extra weight to AP grades.
- As there are many AP classes to choose from, they give you a chance to study what you love.
- A good AP score could allow you to earn college credits, saving you some money on college tuition (some students have gone into their first year of college/university with a full year of course work already under their belt).
AP Classes Ranked from Easiest to Hardest
1. Computer Science Principles (CPS)
During this class you’ll learn about the foundational concepts and theories of computer science, including data structures, algorithms and privacy, and develop computational thinking skills in the context of creative problem solving. You’ll work both independently and in groups to explore how computing can impact the world. The workload in this class is generally quite light, but there is a good chance that the terminology and vocabulary in this class will be pretty new for you.
The assessment consists of two performance tasks which you complete over the year. The first task asks you to develop a computer program of your choice. For the second task you have to identify a computer innovation, explore its impact, and create a related digital artifact. There’s also an end of course paper-and-pencil exam, which consists of 74 multiple-choice questions.
Pass Rate: 71.9%
The hardest part about AP Computer Science Principles:
General consensus is that CPS can be an extremely easy class. If you’re used to a rigidly structured AP course, you may be surprised by the flexible curriculum.
The Best AP Computer Science Principles Review Book:
Thought of as one of the easiest AP classes, as well as one of the most popular, AP Psychology will teach you about the theories, ideas and methods of the scientific study of behavior and mental processes. You’ll learn to connect psychological concepts and theories to real-life situations, understand and interpret data, and analyze research studies. The course covers a range of topics including clinical, developmental and social psychology. You’ll be assigned lots of projects, quizzes, tests, and notes, but most students find it not to be very difficult and the workload generally manageable.
The exam is 2 hours long and is split into 2 parts. First, there are 100 multiple-choice questions based on the psychological concepts from the course. Next up are 2 free-response questions where you’ll explain behavior and apply theories using the various psychological concepts, and analyze research studies and data.
Pass Rate: 64.5%
The hardest part about AP Psychology:
Many students underestimate the test and don’t prepare adequately because AP Psychology classes have a reputation for being easier than other AP classes.
The Best AP Psychology Review Book:
3. Human Geography
Known to err on the easier side of AP classes, Human Geography explores how humans have understood, used, and changed the surface of the Earth. Units include political patterns and processes, cultural patterns and processes, and population and migration patterns and processes. You’ll also learn how to think geographically, using tools and methods to analyze geographic data. Students who are interested in history actually tend to find this class extremely interesting, especially if you have an engaging teacher to explore the world with.
The exam is 2 hours and 15 minutes long (on the shorter end when it comes to AP tests!), and tests your understanding on the geographic concepts taught throughout the course and your ability to analyze and interpret maps, geospatial data, infographics, and more. There are two components – 60 multiple-choice questions and 3 free-response questions, which will each present you with an authentic geographic situation.
Pass Rate: 49.1%
The hardest part about AP Human Geography:
The importance of the geographical terms – much of the course is about your knowledge of terminology so knowing your way around the geographical terms will make it easier to understand the exam questions.
The Best AP Human Geography Review Book:
4. Environmental Science
AP Environmental Science, aka APA Environ, aka APES, has a reputation for being one of the easiest AP classes. This popular interdisciplinary class explores ecological processes, our relationship with the world, and how to resolve or prevent natural and human-made environmental problems. Units include atmospheric pollution, global change and energy resources and consumption. The course also consists of lab investigations and field work.
The exam is 2 hours and 40 minutes long, and tests your understanding of the environmental concepts you covered on the course and your ability to design research studies and solve environmental problems. Split into two components, the exam has 80 multiple-choice questions and 3 free-response questions.
Pass Rate: 49.2%
The hardest part about AP Environmental Science:
Students who expect this class to be super easy or go in unprepared will usually do poorly on the test. APES has the third lowest pass-rate among all AP classes. Students who decide to take this AP class still need to study and take it seriously or you may be among the half of students who do not pass.
The Best AP Environmental Science Review Book:
Related: 8 Free Official SAT Practice Tests
5. Gov. and Politics – Comparative
In this class, you’ll learn about the political institutions and processes of six countries – China, Iran, Mexico, Nigeria, Russia and the UK. You’ll compare their political systems, institutions, processes, policies and behaviors, as well as analyzing data and readings to draw conclusions and find patterns and trends.
The exam is 2 and a half hours long and has two parts – 55 multiple-choice questions and 4 free-response questions (1 conceptual analysis questions, 1 quantitative question, 1 comparative analysis question and 1 argument essay). Both sections will test your understanding of the political concepts and processes surrounding the six core countries as well as your skills at reading and analyzing data and texts.
Pass Rate: 66%
The hardest part about Gov and Politics – Comparative:
There’s a significant amount of reading with this class and the content is wide-ranging. If you don’t enjoy reading or find the functions of government to be boring, then this will actually be an extremely difficult class for you. You also need to be relatively open minded as you’ll encounter public policy and belief systems that may be in opposition to your own.
The Best AP Government and Politics – Comparative Review Book
6. Computer Science A
While the AP Computer Science Principles doesn’t rely on a particular programming language, AP Computer Science A focuses solely on Java. It’s a hands-on course, where you’ll design, write and test computer programs that solve problems.
You’ll learn skills like how to assess, create and implement solutions, work with algorithms, and debug Java solutions.
The exam is 3 hours long and is broken down into 2 sections. There are 40 multiple-choice questions which will test your understanding of the course content. Then there are 4 free-response questions, where you’ll be asked to write programming code to satisfy a variety of method specifications using your knowledge of Java.
Pass Rate: 69.6%
The hardest part about AP Computer Science:
The assessment format of this course can be tricky for some students. It’s recommended that you need to be comfortable with Java, as well as being a skilled test-taker who works quickly.
The Best AP Computer Science A Review Book:
This class will teach you about the major tools and concepts used for collecting, analyzing and drawing conclusions from data, like the importance of randomization and how to use models to make predictions. You’ll design surveys and experiments, as well as explore statistics through discussion and class activities.
The exam is 3 hours long and is broken down into 2 sections. This test is known to be among the easier AP tests, especially if you have any background in the subject. First is 40 multiple-choice questions, which tests your understanding of the course units. The second is 5 free-response questions and one investigative task, which test your skills in communicating explanations and justifications using evidence from data, definitions or statistical inference.
Pass Rate: 59.7%
The hardest part about AP Statistics:
Getting a good score here is more than just memorizing facts and figures. It’s based on your ability to perform statistical reasoning. There are plenty of equations, so this can be hard for those who are not math-inclined.
The Best AP Statistics Review Book:
8. Studio Art: Drawing
During this class, you’ll explore a very broad interpretation of drawing issues such as line quality, light and shade, rendering of form, composition, surface manipulation, and the illusion of depth and mark-making. There is no preferred style – these can be addressed through a variety of means, like painting, printmaking or mixed media. The range of marks used to make drawings, along with the materials, are endless!
Your score is determined by your portfolio, which is made up of 3 sections (Quality, Concentration and Depth). These will demonstrate a number of skills, including 5 works that demonstrate your mastery of drawing in concept, composition and execution, 12 images which show an in-depth exploration of a drawing concern and a variety of 12 works which demonstrate your understanding of the principles of drawing issues.
Pass Rate: 91.1%
The hardest part about AP Studio Art – Drawing:
You have to be self-motivated, as the art-making process in this class takes time and finesse. This isn’t the type of class where you can just cram last minute.
9. Studio Art: 2-D Design
For this AP Studio Art class the focus is on your mastery of 2D design. This can be demonstrated through any two-dimensional medium or process, such as graphic design, digital imaging, photography, collage, fashion or fabric design, weaving, fashion illustration, painting and printmaking.
You’re graded on your portfolio, which is made up of the three studio art sections – Quality, Concentration and Breadth. These should include 5 works that demonstrate mastery of design in concept, composition and execution, 12 digital images which show an in-depth exploration of a particular 2D design, and 12 works which demonstrate your understanding of the principles of 2D design.
Pass Rate: 86.4%
The hardest part about AP Studio Art – 2D Design:
Coming up with numerous different and original ideas can be the hard part of this AP course, and students are expected to keep up with their work and put in time outside the classroom – these are high requirements in a limited time frame.
10. Studio Art: 3D Design
Designed for those who are interested in the practical experience of art, this class wants students to demonstrate mastery of 3D design through any three-dimensional approach. There’s no preferred or unacceptable style – it could be figurative or non-figurative sculpture, architectural models, metal work, ceramics, glass works, installation, assemblage, 3D fabric/fiber arts, or any other style.
There’s no written exam; instead, students submit a portfolio at the end of the year. The portfolio consists of three sections, which include works that demonstrate mastery of 3-D design in concept, composition and execution, works describing an in-depth exploration of a particular 3-D design concern and a variety of works demonstrating understanding of the principles of 3-D design.
Pass Rate: 70%
The hardest part about AP Studio Art – 3D Design:
The time limits and getting everything done is the hardest part of the course. You have to be motivated to come up with a high volume of original designs.
This class allows you to explore economic principles and models that apply to the economic system as a whole, including the financial sector and stabilization policies. You’ll determine and explain outcomes of specific economic situations, and use graphs or visual representations to analyze and describe economic concepts.
The exam is 2 hours and 10 minutes. Macroeconomics (as well as Microeconomics) is known to be an easier test and students cite it as being among the easiest AP tests.
The first section is 60 multiple-choice questions based around economic outcomes and defining economic principles and models. The second section is 3 free-response questions – 1 long and 2 short questions. These will also cover the economic concepts covered on the course, and your ability to perform numerical analysis and calculations, and create visual representations.
Pass Rate: 58.9%
The hardest part about AP Macroeconomics:
Macroeconomics tends to build upon itself, so you cannot risk falling behind. If you find yourself not understanding a topic or concept, it’s imperative to get help immediately.
Each unit after the first unit requires understanding of previously learned concepts. For example, in Unit 1 Basic Economics Concepts, supply and demand is taught. These concepts will appear throughout the rest of the course. If you had trouble with understanding these concepts, it will be nearly impossible to apply them in later units.
The Best AP Macroeconomics Review Book:
Rather than the study of the economic system as a whole, AP Microeconomics teaches you about the principles of economics that apply to the behavior of individuals within an economic system. You’ll learn about economic concepts, including the nature and functions of product markets, factor markets and the role of the government in promoting greater efficiency and equity in the economy.
If you have the opportunity to take both AP Micro and AP Macro Economics in your school, it is suggested to take Microeconomics first. There are ideas in Macroeconomics that draw from things you’ll have learned in Microeconomics (but generally not the other way around).
The exam is 2 hours and 10 minutes long and broken down into 2 sections. There are 60 multiple-choice questions and 3 free-response questions – 1 long question and 2 short questions. These will test your knowledge and reasoning of the economic concepts, principles, models, outcomes and effects taught on the course. You’ll also be asked to perform numerical analysis and calculations, and create visual representations.
Pass Rate: 69.6%
The hardest part about AP Microeconomics:
There is a fair amount of math in this course – you need a good grasp of basic arithmetic and conceptual algebra. Also, there is limited time to complete the free-response questions so you need to be able to write concisely.
The Best AP Microeconomics Review Book:
The AP Seminar class content involves developing and practicing the skills that you’ll need in any academic discipline – research, communication and collaboration. It includes investigating a variety of subjects, reading and understanding advanced source material, synthesizing information and formulating research questions. You’ll also write research-based essays, and take part in oral presentations and team projects.
If a student takes AP Seminar followed by AP Research and receives at least a 3 on each test, then he or she will be awarded with the AP Seminar and Research Certificate. Similarly, if a student takes and passes AP Seminar and AP Research with a score of 3 or more, as well as takes two more AP classes with a score of 3 or higher, then he or she will receive an AP Capstone Diploma.
There is a 2-hour end of course exam, which makes up for 45% of your overall score. The other 55% is made up of two performance tasks that you complete over the course of the year. One is a team project and presentation based around an academic or real-world problem, question or issue. The other is an individual research-based essay and presentation on a provided stimulus.
Pass Rate: 81.1%
The hardest part about AP Seminar:
Participation relies on reading and absorbing a lot of course material, which some students find hard to stay on top of.
AP Research is the second class taken in the AP Capstone program, building on the skills learned in AP Seminar. Students are encouraged to deeply explore an academic topic, problem, or issue that interests them and design, plan, and conduct a large-scale, year-long research-based investigation centered around it.
There is no exam; instead you’ll be assessed on performance tasks within your year-long research project. This includes a 4,000 – 5,000 word academic paper and a presentation with an oral defense. The presentation will be on your research question, methodology, and findings, and the oral defense will address a set of questions about your research inquiry.
Pass Rate: 75.9%
The hardest part about AP Research:
Your entire grade rests on one long-term project so you have to remain diligent about staying on task throughout the year. It’s a tempting course to procrastinate on, as a year to complete one project sounds like a long time.
Related: The 5 Best Calculators for the SAT
15. Music Theory
In this class you’ll learn to recognize, understand and describe the basic materials and processes of music. You’ll practice musical skills through listening to, reading, writing and performing a variety of music, as well as build your understanding of the features of musical concepts and theory.
The exam is 2 hours and 40 minutes long and will test the musical concepts you learn on the course. There are 75 multiple-choice questions based on aural stimulus and analysis of printed musical scores, 7 free-response questions (which include melodic and harmonic dictation questions) and 2 free-response sight-singing questions.
Pass Rate: 63.7%
The hardest part about AP Music Theory:
The two sight-singing questions at the end of the exam can be tricky as they demand a very distinct skill set. Having at least basic performance skills in voice is strongly recommended.
The Best AP Music Theory Review Book:
16. World History
Recently renamed AP World History: Modern, this class now covers historical events which took place from 1200 CE to the present. It focuses on six central themes: humans and the environment; cultural developments and interactions; governance; economic systems; social interactions and organization; and technology and innovation. Students will develop skills which include the analysis of primary and secondary sources, and write essays which express historical arguments.
The exam is 3 hours and 15 minutes long and split into 3 components – 55 multiple choice questions, 3 short answer questions, and 2 free response questions. You’ll be tested on your understanding of the historical concepts covered during the course. You’ll also be tested on your ability to analyze sources and identify patterns and connections that can support a historical interpretation.
Pass Rate: 55.3%
The hardest part about AP World History:
While you may be learning about fewer time periods since the course changed to AP World History: Modern, each time period will now be studied more thoroughly.
The Best AP World History Review Book:
17. United States History
AP United States History is often classed as another of the hardest AP classes and tests out there. It covers the cultural, economic, political, and social developments that have shaped the US from c. 1491 to the present day, such as the events which led to the American Revolution, and the rivalry between the Soviet Union and the United States. You’ll analyze a variety of sources and evidence, and write essays expressing historical arguments.
The exam is 3 hours and 15 minutes long and is made up of three components – 55 multiple choice questions, 3 short-answer questions and 2 long-answer questions (one document based question and one long essay questions). You’ll be tested on your understanding of the course’s historical concepts, and your ability to analyze sources, and identify patterns and connections to support a historical interpretation.
Pass Rate: 53.7%
The hardest part about AP United States History:
The class has an incredibly detailed curriculum due to its covering such a narrow span of history and geographical area. This makes it one of the hardest AP tests as you have to know specific dates, movements, people and laws. It’s also known as being a fast-moving and assignment-heavy course, which some students find tough.
The Best AP United States History Review Book:
18. Physics 1
The most popular physics AP class out there, Physics 1 is about the foundational principles of physics. The course content is broken down into units which cover Newtonian mechanics; work, energy and power; mechanical waves and sound; and introductory, simple circuits.
The Physics 1 exam will test your knowledge of these scientific concepts and your ability to use algebra when solving problems related to them. The exam itself is 3 hours long, and is broken down into 2 sections – 50 multiple choice questions and 5 free response questions.
Pass Rate: 45.4%
The hardest part about AP Physics 1:
Students tend to find applying algebra when solving problems tricky, so you should have completed a geometry course, Algebra II or an equivalent course in order to be prepared.
The Best AP Physics 1 Review Book:
19. Spanish Literature
This class explores the work of literature written in Spanish, as well as cultural and historical concepts. Its goal is to better your Spanish communication skills in reading, analyzing, interpreting and discussing a mixture of literary works (novels, plays, poems, etc.) which incorporate narratives from Span, Latin America, and the US over a range of different time periods.
The exam is 3 hours long, and tests your understanding of the literary and cultural concepts learned during the course, your Spanish communication skills, and how you apply what you learned from required texts to interpret and analyze non-required texts. The exam has three components – 15 multiple choice interpretive listening questions, 50 multiple choice reading analysis questions and 4 free response questions.
Pass Rate: 72.3%
The hardest part about AP Spanish Literature:
English will be excluded as much as possible from class – you’ll be reading, writing and speaking in Spanish. Although you don’t have to be fluent, you’ll need to know the basics and have a solid grasp of grammar and vocabulary.
20. European History
This class explores the cultural, economic, political, and social developments that have shaped Europe from c. 1450 to the present day, like 20th century global conflicts, and the Cold War and contemporary Europe. You’ll analyze historical evidence, including texts and visual sources, and write essays which express historical arguments.
The exam tests your understanding of the course content, your analysis of primary and secondary sources, and how you identify patterns and connections that can support a historical interpretation. It’s 3 hours and 15 minutes long, with 3 components – 55 multiple-choice questions, 3 short-answer questions and 2 free-response questions, one of which is a document-based question.
Pass Rate: 58.1%
The hardest part about AP European History:
AP European History covers a huge time period, so the amount of content for the course is pretty massive. The document-based question in the exam is also notorious for being tricky.
The Best AP European History Review Book:
21. Italian Language and Culture
This AP class will develop your Italian language skills through speaking, listening, reading, and writing in Italian. You’ll study real-life Italian materials, like newspapers articles, films, music, and books and learn about the Italian culture, including global issues within Italian-speaking communities.
The exam is 3 hours and 3 minutes long. You’ll be tested on your understanding of Italian culture as well as your ability to apply Italian communication and language skills. The test is made up of 4 components – multiple-choice questions based around texts, multiple-choice questions based on audio sources, 2 free-response written questions and 2 free-response spoken questions.
Pass Rate: 66.1%
The hardest part about AP Italian Language and Culture:
While there are no formal prerequisites for this AP course, it isn’t a beginner’s class. You will need a good foundation of knowledge of the Italian language in order to be successful (approximately 4 years of previous study).
22. Art History
The AP Art History class gives you the chance to study, evaluate, and foster an in-depth understanding and appreciation of the history of art from different eras and cultures, dating from prehistory to the present. Skills such as seeing connections and developing theories about meanings will be developed through observation, discussion, reading and research.
The exam is 3 hours long and will test your knowledge of the art historical concepts taught during the course and your ability to analyze and compare works of art and place them in historical context. There are 80 multiple-choice questions and 6 free-response questions.
Pass Rate: 63.1%
The hardest part about AP Art History:
A common misconception is that AP Art History is an easy class, but it actually requires a fair amount of work. For instance, you’ll have to be familiar with and identify 250 different art pieces. It’s also more history-based than people realize, making this more than just enjoying and appreciating art.
The Best AP Art History Review Book:
Related: 1-6 Month SAT Study Schedule
23. Gov. and Politics – US
This class will take you through the key concepts and institutions of the political system and culture of the US, including civil liberties and civil rights; foundations of American democracy; and political participation. You’ll develop your skills at reading, analyzing, and discussing US documents and complete a research/applied civics project.
The exam is 3 hours long and consists of 2 sections – 55 multiple-choice questions, 4 free-response questions (3 questions and an argument essay). It will test your knowledge on the content covered on the course, such as describing, explaining, and comparing political concepts and processes and applying Supreme Court decisions to real-life scenarios.
Pass Rate: 55.1%
The hardest part about AP Gov. and Politics – US:
While US Gov. and Politics is considered to be one of the easiest AP classes, it’s not one to be underestimated. The exam is meant to be tough, particularly in the way the questions are structured and asked, so you need to be properly prepared.
The Best AP Gov. and Politics – US Review Book:
This class involves reading and analyzing the linguistic and literary features of Latin literature, while exploring ancient Roman history and culture. You’ll learn skills like how to translate Latin texts into English, including the writings of Vergil and Caesar, and develop arguments that analyze Latin poetry and prose.
The exam is 3 hours long and will test your understanding of the course content and your ability to translate Latin texts into English.
It’s split into 2 sections. Firstly, 50 multiple-choice questions, based around Vergil, Caesar, poetry, and prose. Then 5 free-response questions – 2 translations questions (one each on Vergil and Caesar), 1 analytical essay question, and 2 short answer questions based on passages from the required readings.
Pass Rate: 62.9%
The hardest part about AP Latin:
Latin is hard – it’s a tricky language to learn and develop, and even after 3 years of studying, you’ll still have to be prepared to work hard. If you have no prior Latin learning, don’t take this course!
25. French Language and Culture
This class develops your French language and communication skills in listening, reading, speaking, and writing. You’ll learn about cultures in French-speaking parts of the world, including how social status and cultural perspectives can have an impact on their quality of life. You’ll also engage with real-life materials like French newspaper articles, films, and books.
The exam is 3 hours and 3 minutes long and tests your communication and language skills as well as your cultural understanding. There are 4 components – 30 multiple-choice questions based on authentic print sources, 35 multiple-choice questions based on audio sources, 2 free-response written questions and 2 free-response spoken questions.
Pass Rate: 77.1%
The hardest part about AP French Language and Culture:
It’s taught primarily in French, so you need to be comfortable in speaking, listening, reading, and writing in French. Like the other language AP course, if you aren’t in your fourth year of study, it’s not advisable to take it.
The Best AP French Language and Culture Review Book
26. German Language and Culture
This class develops your German language skills in listening, reading, speaking and writing. You’ll study real-life German materials like newspaper articles, films, and books and explore the cultures in German-speaking parts of the world, including the environmental, political, and societal challenges faced by these communities.
The exam is 3 hours and 3 minutes long and tests your German communication and language skills, and your cultural understanding. There are 4 components – 30 multiple-choice questions based on authentic print sources, 35 multiple-choice questions based on audio sources, 2 free-response written questions, and 2 free-response spoken questions.
Pass Rate: 72.3%
The hardest part about AP German Language and Culture:
Again, like the other language AP courses, the difficulty of this course comes down to your prior German studying – it’s recommended that you are in your fourth year of study and are comfortable communicating in German.
The Best AP German Language and Culture Review Book:
27. AP Calculus AB
This class will give you a calculus background that’ll set you up well for college math. It covers core and fundamental calculus concepts, methods and applications, such as limits, derivatives and integrals. You’ll learn to understand the theoretical basis, solve problems, and develop your mathematical reasoning skills.
The exam is 3 hours and 15 minutes long, testing your understanding of the calculus concepts learned during the course, your ability to determine the proper formulas and procedures to solve problems, and your use of correct notations. There are 45 multiple-choice questions, followed by 6 free-response questions.
Pass Rate: 58.4%
The hardest part about AP Calculus AB:
You have to memorize the formulas you’ll need in the exam because there’s no formula sheet given. Learning how to accurately use your graphing calculator is essential as the questions which allow one are nearly impossible to solve without one.
There’s still plenty of memorization of terms, theories and psychologists to be done.
The Best AP Calculus AB Review Book:
28. AP Spanish Language & Culture
During this class, you’ll develop your Spanish language and communication skills in listening, reading, speaking and writing. You’ll study real-life Spanish materials like newspaper articles, films, and books, as well as explore the cultures in Spanish-speaking parts of the world, such as the study of family life and values within these communities.
The exam is 3 hours and 3 minutes long and will test your Spanish language skills, and your cultural understanding. There are 4 components – 30 multiple-choice questions based on authentic print sources, 35 multiple-choice questions based on audio sources, 2 free-response written questions and 2 free-response spoken questions.
Pass Rate: 88.7%
The hardest part about AP Spanish Language and Culture:
As with all AP language classes, the hardest part of this course is having a good enough grasp of the Spanish language in all four skills (listening, speaking, reading and writing). You want to be either a confident speaker or in your fourth year of study.
The Best AP Spanish Language and Culture Review Book:
29. Japanese Language & Culture
This class will enable you to develop your Japanese language and communication skills in all 4 areas – listening, reading, writing and speaking. You’ll also explore Japanese culture, like how developments in technology affect and shape daily life in Japanese-speaking communities, and engage with real-life Japanese materials, such as books, films, newspaper articles, and music.
The exam is 2 hours long and is administered at a computer. It will test your Japanese language and communication skills through interpreting a range of written and audio texts, and presenting your ideas in both written and spoken Japanese. You’ll also be tested on your understanding of Japanese culture. There are multiple choice reading and listening questions, as well as 7 free-response written questions and 5 free-response spoken questions.
Pass Rate: 79.3%
The hardest part about AP Japanese Language and Culture:
Communication in this class is primarily in Japanese, so unless you’re comfortable with the language, you’ll find this tough. As with all the AP language classes, you’ll need to have taken Japanese for several years or speak it at home to be successful.
30. Chinese Language & Culture
This class develops your Mandarin Chinese language and communication skills in all 4 areas – listening, reading, writing, and speaking. You’ll also explore Chinese culture, like how beauty and art influence and reflect culture in Chinese-speaking communities, and engage with real-life Chinese materials, such as books, films, newspaper articles and music.
The exam is 2 hours long and is administered at a computer. It will test your Chinese language through responding to a range of written and audio texts, and presenting your ideas in both written and spoken Chinese. You’ll also be tested on your understanding of Chinese culture. There are multiple-choice reading and listening questions, as well as 7 free-response written questions and 5 free-response spoken questions.
Pass Rate: 89.9%
The hardest part about AP Chinese Language and Culture:
Don’t be fooled by the pretty high pass rate and 5-rate – these students will either speak Chinese at home, have studied it abroad or have studied it for several years. If you don’t have a decent grasp of the Chinese language, this will be a challenging class.
The Best AP Chinese Language and Culture Review Book:
31. AP Chemistry
The exam is 3 hours and 15 minutes long and consists of 60 multiple-choice questions and 7 free-response questions, which includes 3 long essays and 4 short-answer questions. You’ll be tested on a range of scientific concepts you’re taught in the course as well as on aspects such as your ability to design and describe chemical experiments and justify and support scientific claims.
AP Chemistry is famed for being one of the hardest AP classes. It teaches you about the fundamental concepts of chemistry, which includes the structure and states of matter, intermolecular forces, and reactions. You’ll learn the skills to solve problems using chemical calculations and mathematical relationships, and take part in lab investigations and experiments.
Pass Rate: 55.6%
The hardest part about AP Chemistry:
AP Chemistry is rated as one of the hardest and most time-consuming of AP exams, as well as one of the most challenging when it comes to self-study.
The Best AP Chemistry Review Book:
32. Physics 2
AP Physics 2 is an algebra-based class that aims to expand your understanding of physics. Delving into more advanced topics than AP Physics 1, this course covers topics such as thermodynamics with kinetic theory; electric force, field, and potential; electromagnetism; physical and geometric optics; and quantum, atomic, and nuclear physics. There’s also lab work and hands-on and inquiry-based activities.
The exam is 3 hours long and split into two sections – 50 multiple-choice questions and 4 free-response questions (2 short-answer questions, 1 experimental design question, 1 quantitative/qualitative translation question). It will test you on the scientific concepts covered on the course, like your skills at using algebra and mathematics when solving problems.
Pass Rate: 65.4%
The hardest part about AP Physics 2:
This AP course was designed to be a second-year physics course, so maybe don’t jump straight into it. It should follow on from AP Physics 1 or any comparable introductory physics course, and you should have taken Pre-Calculus or an equivalent course.
The Best AP Physics 2 Review Book:
33. Calculus BC
This AP Calculus class is also known as one of the hardest AP classes and tests, covering the concepts, methods, and applications of differential and integral calculus. You’ll study topics which include parametric, polar, and vector functions, and differential equations. You’ll take part in experiments and investigations, as well as solving problems.
The exam is 3 hours and 15 minutes long and has two sections – 45 multiple-choice questions and 6 free-response questions. Both these sections will test your understanding of the mathematical concepts taught on the course. They’ll also test your ability to determine the proper procedures and formulas to effectively solve problems, as well as your use of notations. Parts of the exam require the use of a graphing calculator.
Pass Rate: 81%
The hardest part about AP Calculus BC:
Intense pacing is said to be the hardest part of AP Calculus BC – it has to move fast because it covers so much material. You need to be able to keep up with the intensity.
The Best AP Calculus BC Review Book:
34. Physics C: Mechanics
One of the supposedly hardest AP classes, this class will teach you about a number of scientific concepts including kinematics; Newton’s laws of motion, work, energy, and power; gravitation; and oscillations. There’ll be some hands-on lab work and in-class activities where you’ll investigate phenomena and use calculus to problem solve.
The exam is one and a half hours long and consists of two sections. There are 35 multiple-choice questions and 3 free-response questions which are focused on your understanding of the scientific concepts covered during the course. They’ll test skills like analyzing and interpreting data, developing and supporting scientific claims with evidence, and your ability to use calculus to solve related problems.
Pass Rate: 81.8%
The hardest part about AP Physics C – Mechanics:
Not only does this AP course require a great depth of knowledge of physics material, you also need to know calculus alongside it. This is why both the class and test is said to be tougher than Physics 1 and 2.
The Best AP Physics C – Mechanics Review Book:
35. Physics C: Electricity & Magnetism
This AP Physics C class is also said to be one of the hardest AP classes and tests. It teaches you scientific concepts like electrostatics, conductors, electric circuits, magnetic fields, and electromagnetism. Similar to the Physics C: Mechanics course, you’ll do a mix of hands-on lab work and in-class activities to explore phenomena, as well as using calculus to problem solve.
This exam has the same setup as the other AP Physics C exam – it’s an hour and a half long and is split into 2 sections. Again, there are 35 multiple-choice and 3 free-response questions, which are based around the scientific concepts taught on the course. Skills like determining the relationship between physical quantities, and solving physics problems using calculus are tested.
Pass Rate: 73%
The hardest part about AP Physics C – Electricity and Magnetism:
Like Physics C: Mechanics, this AP Physics class is tough due to the in-depth physics material you’re tested on and the fact that you need to know calculus well enough to apply it in physics.
The Best AP Physics C – Electricity and Magnetism Review Book:
36. English Language and Composition
This class covers the elements of composition and arguments. Students are taught to critically read and deconstruct arguments and rhetorical strategies in mostly non-fiction works from a range of time periods. There’s also a heavy writing element, with students learning to express their argument across different forms, including persuasive essays, memoir writing, and reports on current affairs.
The exam is 3 hours and 15 minutes long and tests your understanding of the literary concepts covered in the course and your ability to use your interpretations to analyze texts and develop written arguments. There are two sections to the exam – 45 multiple-choice questions, broken down into “reading” questions and “writing” questions, and 3 free-response questions, which test your skills on synthesis, rhetorical analysis, and argument.
Pass Rate: 54.3%
The hardest part about AP English Language and Composition:
The exam requires very fast writing skills – you need to plan, outline, write and edit 3 essays in 2 hours and 15 minutes …which works out as about 45 minutes per essay.
The Best AP English Language and Composition Review Book:
37. English Literature and Composition
Known as one of the hardest AP classes and tests in the humanities, AP English Literature requires reading pretty difficult texts and writing essays to explain and support your analysis of them. You’ll be taught how to understand and evaluate works of fiction, poetry, and drama from a range of cultures and periods of time.
The exam is 3 hours long and broken down into 2 sections – 55 multiple choice questions and 3 free response questions. You’ll be tested on your understanding of the literary concepts taught in the classes and your skills to analyze texts and develop written arguments based on your own interpretations.
Pass Rate: 49.7%
The hardest part about AP English Literature and Composition:
The long and hard reading list and taking accountability for what you’ve read in class – one of the free response questions requires you to write an essay about a text you read in class, but without having the text in front of you.
The Best AP English Literature and Composition Review Book:
AP Biology is another AP class renowned for being hard. It has a pretty demanding and challenging curriculum covering core scientific principles, theories and processes that govern living organisms and biological systems. Units cover a variety of content, such as cell structure and function, gene expression, and regulation and ecology. The course also involves some hands-on lab work.
The exam is 3 hours long and will test your understanding of the biological concepts covered during the course, as well as your ability to utilize scientific methods and analyze data. There are 60 multiple choice questions and 6 free response questions.
Pass Rate: 64.7%
The hardest part about AP Biology:
The exam is famed for being challenging, making it pretty tough to get a high score – this is down to the fact that the free-response section has 6 questions, which is on the higher end for AP exams. The test also requires extensive knowledge that span across many of the learned topics.
The Best AP Biology Review Book:
About This AP Class List
While you may think that the pass rate would be the best indicator of how hard an AP class is, this information can actually be rather misleading. Sometimes AP classes that have higher pass rates can be the more difficult ones. This is because, quite often, the subjects that have a reputation for being more challenging tend to attract the most well-prepared and motivated students who are more likely to pass the test.
This can work the other way too. Sometimes a course that has a lower pass rate may not actually be as challenging as the data suggests. Take AP Environmental Science, for example, which has a reputation for being on the easier end of the AP spectrum. Due to its reputation, this course is one of the more popular classes and so it attracts a large number of students who may simply be taking it as an easy class. This then increases the proportion of students who may be under-prepared for or under-estimate the test.
Since it’s important to not just go on the national passing rate when choosing an AP class, we need some more information to help us make an informed choice. This is where 5-rate scores come in. As you may know, 5 is the highest possible AP score. The 5-rate score indicates the percentage of students who passed the exam with a score of 5. In theory, this means that the exams with the lowest 5 rate scores should be the hardest.
While the 5-rate can paint an accurate picture of how tricky an AP class is, as with the pass rate, this isn’t always the case, so you do sometimes need to take the information with a grain of salt. Decidedly hard exams, like some of the language exams, have very high 5-rates – over 60% for Chinese. In the case of the Chinese class, this figure includes students who speak Chinese at home or have spent time studying it abroad, and for them, the exam is pretty easy as they have the experience. If you don’t have this experience, or several years of Chinese study under your belt, this would be a very challenging class for you.
Although it’s a good idea to take both the pass rate and 5-rate into consideration when figuring out how hard an AP class is, it’s worth remembering that these don’t tell the whole story. Sometimes the best way to find out how hard an AP class will be is to find out more information about the classes themselves, like how much material they cover, how difficult the topics are, and what each class and test actually entails.
So, What AP Classes Should I Take?
Before choosing an AP class, the following are some points to think about:
- Do your research and get as much information as possible on the classes you’re interested in. This will include finding out the pass rates and 5-rates, but also find out about the syllabus and what the test is like. You also want to choose classes that are meaningful and interesting to you, so the more you know about them, the better.
- Speak to a teacher of the class if you can, as they will give you a good indication of what the workload is like and their expectations of students both inside and outside the classroom.
- Find out what the word of mouth is about the classes by talking to students who have already taken them. Look for general trends rather than one person’s opinion to get a more rounded response. For instance, if a common trend is that a class is hard, but students learned a lot and passed the exam, the class may still be worth taking.
- Think about your strengths and weaknesses – where do you do well? Where do you tend to struggle? If you usually do well in a subject, odds are you’ll do well in a corresponding AP class, even if it’s got a reputation for being tough.
- Think about your overall schedule – this includes other classes, extracurricular commitments, and work and family responsibilities. You don’t want a tough AP class to add to an already jam packed schedule. Also, don’t feel pressured to overload on AP classes in general. Quantity isn’t necessarily better than quality – getting two scores of 4 is better than four scores of 2!
While there are some AP classes out there with a reputation of being hard, don’t necessarily let this put you off. If you are already strong in that subject area or willing to put the hard work and effort in, then go for it. You should never underestimate an AP class or exam – always be prepared to work hard and put in the study time. Good luck!