AP Classes Ranked by Difficulty

Advanced Placement classes offer students the opportunity to try out college-level courses and explore advanced topics in an area of interest while they’re still in high school. In some cases, students can even earn credit for college classes, ultimately saving time and money as they pursue their degrees. To that end, choosing the right AP classes to take is extremely important.


With the College Board offering a large number of exams on an annual basis, it’s only natural that students sometimes struggle to decide which classes to enroll in. In addition to any concerns about the difficulty of the relevant exams, students may wonder what courses are hardest to pass. After all, the grades they earn in AP classes will affect their GPAs and may impact their odds of getting into their dream colleges and universities. Keep reading for tips on evaluating the relative difficulty of various AP classes and determining which ones to fit into your schedule.

Consider Your Strengths

When choosing AP classes, your own strengths and weaknesses are the most important factors to consider. After all, you’re likely to perform better on a test in a field that interests and excites you. So, if you’re strong in quantitative subjects and enjoy physics, you might want to take the Physics 1 AP exam despite the fact that it’s reportedly challenging. On the other hand, if you struggle in art history, you might not want to take a course in this subject even if many students earn passing scores on the AP exam. When in doubt, take AP classes in the fields you’re most passionate about and willing to work at, rather than those that leave you feeling uninspired.

Assess Educator Experience

While strengths are a key consideration when selecting AP classes, students should also evaluate the experience level of their respective teachers. In general, the longer a teacher has been providing instruction in a particular AP subject, the better their students perform on the test. So, if you have a choice between taking a “harder” subject like Physics with a teacher who has 10 years experience and taking an “easier” subject like Art History with someone who has just two years’ experience, you might want to go with the former option.


Of course, students shouldn’t write off an AP class that interests them just because the teacher is less experienced. If you’re passionate about a class and confident in your talent in that arena, it’s still worth signing up. However, you should expect to do some extra studying on your own or with the aid of a tutor.

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Easiest and Hardest AP Classes

The College Board grades AP exams on a scale of one to five, with one representing the lowest possible score and five representing the highest. In general, a score of three is considered to be passing. However, students should note that many colleges require a score of four or five to receive credit. Below is a list of the AP exams offered by the College Board, along with the percentage of students who received a passing grade on each:


AP Exam Percentage of Students Who Scored 3 or Higher
Chinese Language and Culture 91.3%
Studio Art: Drawing 89.5%
Spanish Language and Culture 88.3%
Studio Art: 2-D Design 84.6%
Spanish Language and Culture (Standard) 82.9%
Seminar 82.8%
Calculus BC 79.8%
Japanese Language and Culture 77.8%
French Language and Culture 77.2%
Physics C: Mechanics 77.2%
Research 75.2%
French Language and Culture (Standard) 74.1%
Physics C: Electricity & Magnetism 73.4%
Computer Science Principles 71.2%
German Language and Culture 71.0%
Spanish Literature 70.3%
Studio Art: 3-D Design 69.0%
Chinese Language and Culture (Standard) 68.6%
Italian Language and Culture 68.6%
Computer Science A 67.8%
Microeconomics 67.9%
Latin 66.4%
Music Theory 65.8%
Psychology 65.6%
Art History 64.6%
Italian Language and Culture (Standard) 64.2%
German Language and Culture (Standard) 63.5%
Gov. and Politics – Comparative 63.3%
Physics 2 63.1%
Biology 61.5%
Statistics 60.7%
Japanese Language and Culture (Standard) 60.6%
Calculus AB 57.6%
European History 57.7%
Macroeconomics 58.5%
English Language and Composition 57.2%
World History 56.2%
Chemistry 55.9%
Human Geography 54.4%
Gov. and Politics – United States 53.0%
United States History 51.8%
Environmental Science 47.7%
English Literature and Composition 47.3%
Physics 1 40.6%

Source: College Board. Percentages apply to exams taken in May 2018.

What Factors Determine National Passing Rates?

Clearly, some AP exams have significantly higher pass rates than others. However, that doesn’t necessarily mean that one test is much more difficult than another. It’s worth noting that national pass rates often reveal more about the students who take the exams than the exams themselves. For example, the fact that Chinese Language has a high pass rate doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s an easy class. On the contrary, the pass rate is likely high because the students who take this exam tend to be well prepared. Similarly, an exam like Environmental Science might have a lower rate because the class itself is considered easier than other APs. As a result, schools may be more likely to allow less-prepared students to take the exam. It’s important to consider all of these factors when deciding what AP classes are right for you and your future.


Deciding what AP classes to take can be stressful, and students shouldn’t hesitate to speak with their teachers and guidance counselors for help making their selections.


Looking for help navigating the road to college as a high school student? Download our free guide for 9th graders and our free guide for 10th graders. Our guides go in-depth about subjects ranging from academicschoosing coursesstandardized testsextracurricular activitiesand much more! 

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April Maguire
Blogger at CollegeVine
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A graduate of the Master of Professional Writing program at USC, April Maguire taught freshman composition while earning her degree. Over the years, she has worked as a writer, editor, tutor, and content manager. Currently, she operates a freelance writing business and lives in Los Angeles with her husband and their three rowdy cats.