For students planning to apply to universities in the US, having taken Advanced Placement (AP) courses and achieving high scores on AP tests can give you a major competitive edge—especially if you're aiming for Ivy League or other highly competitive schools.
Keep reading to discover the advantages of AP classes, and find out which AP classes are the hardest and easiest for the 2023-2024 school year.
The AP Program supplies high school teachers with a comprehensive set of guidelines outlining the content expected in a college-level course for that subject. AP teachers then design their own syllabi with these standards in mind.
Before permitting teachers to label their courses as "AP," the College Board assesses each course design through a procedure known as the AP Course Audit.
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Taking Advanced Placement (AP) classes can significantly enhance your college application. These courses mirror the structure of college-level classes, encouraging you to develop critical thinking, problem-solving, and reasoning skills. Due to their rigorous course material and emphasis on research and analysis, colleges like to see students who have taken one or more AP courses.
Given that not many students opt for AP classes, having them on your high school transcript can give your application a competitive edge. Taking AP classes also allows you to dive deeper into subjects that genuinely interest you, showcasing to admissions officers your ability to handle challenging coursework. And lastly, a good score on an AP exam can translate into college credit, thus saving you some money!
AP classes are open to all students who are willing and academically prepared to accept the challenge of their rigorous academic curriculums.
However, certain AP courses have prerequisites. For example, students taking AP Physics 1 should have completed geometry and be taking Algebra 2 or an equivalent course. You can find information on individual course prerequisites here.
It's important to keep in mind that the difficulty of AP classes can vary depending on factors such as your personal strengths, interests, and the quality of instruction at your school. However, some AP classes are commonly regarded as more challenging than others due to their rigorous curriculum and difficult exams.
That being said, the list below outlines what are considered to be the 5 hardest AP classes for the 2023-2024 school year, based on their corresponding 2023 exam passing rates.
AP Physics 1 is an algebra-based, introductory college-level physics course. Students gain an understanding of physics through classroom study, in-class activity, and hands-on, inquiry-based laboratory work as they explore concepts such as:
Only 45.6% of students scored a 3 or above on the Physics 1 AP Exam in 2023, and only 8.8% of students scored a perfect 5.
AP U.S. History is an introductory college-level U.S. history course where students learn about U.S. history from c. 1491 CE to the present. Students gain an understanding of U.S. history through analyzing historical sources and learning to make connections and craft historical arguments.
Course subjects include:
In 2023, just 47.5% of students scored a 3 or above on the AP U.S. History exam, with just 10.6% of students scoring a 5.
AP U.S. Government and Politics is an introductory college-level course in U.S. government and politics.
Students analyze data and text-based sources as they explore topics like:
In 2023, 49.2% of students scored a 3 or above on the U.S. Government and Politics AP Exam, while just 12.8% of students scored a 5.
AP Environmental Science allows students to cultivate their understanding of the interrelationships of the natural world through lab investigations and fieldwork.
Students explore concepts like the four Big Ideas:
In 2023, 53.7% of students passed the AP Environmental Science exam with a 3 or above, and 8.3% of students scored a 5.
AP Human Geography is an introductory college-level human geography course.
Students cultivate their understanding of human geography through data and geographic analyses as they explore topics such as:
54.4% of students scored a 3 or above on the 2023 AP Human Geography exam, while 16% of students earned a perfect score of 5.
Similar to how the hardest AP classes can vary from student to student, the easiest AP classes are also subjective.
That being said, the list below outlines what are considered to be the 5 easiest AP classes for the 2023-2024 school year, based on their corresponding 2023 exam passing rates.
AP Drawing is an introductory college-level drawing course.
This course allows students to refine and apply drawing skills to ideas they develop throughout the course.
In 2023, 84.8% of students passed the exam with a 3 or higher, and 15.7% of students scored a 5.
AP 2-D Art and Design is an introductory college-level two-dimensional design course. The course allows students to develop their 2-D skills through materials and processes such as:
In 2023, 83.6% passed the exam with a 3 or above, and 11.5% scored a perfect 5.
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AP Calculus BC is an introductory college-level calculus course. Students explore the concepts, methods, and applications of differential and integral calculus, including topics such as:
In 2023, 78.5% of students passed the exam with a 3 or above, and 43.5% scored a 5.
AP English Literature and Composition is an introductory college-level literary analysis course.
In this course, students learn about English literature and composition through reading and analyzing texts as they explore concepts like:
In 2023, 77.2% of students passed the exam with a 3 or above, and 14.9% of students earned a 5.
AP Chemistry is an introductory college-level chemistry course.
Students learn through inquiry-based lab investigations as they explore the four Big Ideas:
In 2023, 75.1% of students passed the exam with a 3 or above, and 16% of students scored a 5.
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In conclusion, taking AP classes is a great way to gain a competitive edge when you're applying to college. And –if you do well on the AP test that comes with the class – you may be able to earn college credit and skip some basic classes when you start college.
The difficulty level of an AP course depends on a variety of factors including your personal strengths and interests. For help deciding which AP courses are right for you, or for assistance in preparing for your AP exams, talk to one of our experts.
** Please note that the evaluation of these courses does not include courses part of the AP Capstone Program (AP Seminar, AP Research) or World Languages and Culture Courses as the data includes native speakers in the language of the respective course.