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What are the Hardest and Easiest AP classes?

20 APR 2021

Every spring, students across the US and Canada prepare for the course selection process. Many students try to consider the rigor of each course, the timing, the commitment, etc. And with that comes the question: “What are the hardest and easiest AP classes?” The answer is quite subjective, but this blog will offer a bit more information.

 With all of the recent changes to the university admissions process, namely the shift to test-optional admissions, students from around the world are looking for more ways to boost their academic profile and stand out to admissions officers. One way to do this is through one of the most popular curriculums in the U.S. —  the College Board’s Advanced Placement (AP) courses.

College Board, the organizing body which administers the SAT college entrance examinations, announced in January that they will be discontinuing both the optional SAT Essay and the SAT Subject Tests from their standardized testing platforms, eliminating them entirely by the end of this summer.

AP or Advanced Placement exams are being accepted and encouraged as a valid replacement to SAT Subject Tests. College Board CEO David Coleman said, “AP provides a much richer and more flexible way for students to distinguish themselves.”

So you may be wondering, Are APs the new SAT? The answer is… yes SAT subject tests are out, AP courses are in.

What are AP classes?

AP classes are a set of curricula created by the College Board to give students the opportunity to take college-level courses and, depending on the score a student receives on the exam, receive college credit.

How are AP courses different from Honors and other curricula?

While many schools offer Honors courses in addition to their standard curriculum, APs are becoming increasingly common because of the potential that comes with receiving top scores on the exams. Similar to Honors, AP courses count towards your weighted GPA, but unlike Honors, APs have a standardized exam at the end of the course. Depending on the score you receive (on a scale of 1 to 5), your goal university may offer you college credit which can set you up early for particular credit-related benefits.

Which APs are the hardest? 

It’s difficult to say which AP courses and exams are the most difficult because each student has their own strengths and weaknesses. One thing to keep in mind is the flexibility of the course and the materials needed to excel in each one. Traditionally, courses like English Literature, Physics 1, and Chemistry are quite difficult to self-study for or complete at home because of the need for conversation and 1:1 instruction — like the lab element necessary to really understand the material in the science courses. 

Below is a table demonstrating the lowest percentages of students that earned a 5 in May 2020’s AP exams. Some may consider these to be the top 10 most difficult AP courses in the 2019-2020 school year as there are fewer top-scorers for these exams relative to other courses. Note that AP exams looked different for each student/school/region last year as a result of COVID-19.

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Which APs are the easiest?

As mentioned above, there is no definitive list of which APs are easiest as each student has varying interests, capabilities, and learning styles. Traditionally, courses like Psychology, Computer Science Principles, and Human Geography have been reported as easier to self-study for and complete requirements at home. 

Below is a table demonstrating the highest percentages of students that earned a 5 in May 2020’s AP exams. Some may consider these to be the top 10 easiest AP courses in the 2019-2020 school year as there are more top-scorers for these exams relative to other courses. Note that AP exams looked different for each student/school/region last year as a result of COVID-19.

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These tables reflect 4,751,957 AP Exams taken by 2,642,630 students from 22,152 secondary schools. Information courtesy of The CollegeBoard.

* In 2020, the AP Studio Art Program was renamed AP Art and Design. The course names are Drawing, 2-D Art and Design, and 3-D Art and Design. 

** Standard students generally receive most of their foreign language training in U.S. schools. They did not indicate on their answer sheet that they regularly speak or hear the foreign language of the exam, or that they have lived for one month or more in a country where the language is spoken.

While there are no guarantees that a course or exam will be easy or difficult for you, the ability to self-study and the percentage of 5’s earned can serve as good indicators of the courses’ rigor. 

Kevin Ferrone, the Academic Dean of Crimson Global Academy USA shares some advice on deciding which APs to take: “Choose AP classes based on your strengths and interests. For example, taking AP World History: Modern over AP Calculus BC might not be the best choice for an intended Computer Science Major. Knowing your own strengths is very important in understanding what AP exams will be harder or easier for you. There are a few AP exams, such as AP Macroeconomics, Microeconomics, and Comparative Government and Politics, that cover less content and tend to require less prep time.”

Leveling Up in High School

When applying to universities in the US, Advanced Placement courses and strong AP test scores can provide a significant advantage — especially if your sights are set on the Ivy League or similarly competitive schools. However, when choosing which courses to take, it’s important not to let the ‘easy vs. hard’ dichotomy decide for you! Some courses may look ‘harder’ on paper, but be better suited to your interests and skills; taking ‘harder’ courses also illustrates your ability to handle rigorous coursework that challenges you intellectually. 

AP classes differ from traditional classes in the sense that they are designed to prepare students for a standardized test each spring that’s developed by the College Board with the goal of demonstrating a student’s comprehension of college-level subjects. The standardization ensures that every student who passes the AP exam is actually able to keep up with college-level coursework — so scoring well on any AP exam adds to your academic profile!

How Can I Take APs at Home?

AP availability can vary from one school to the next, so many students turn to online options for access to a wider range of AP courses. One such option is Crimson Global Academy (CGA) — a fully registered online high school delivering live, world-class courses to students right in their own homes! CGA is designed for students to enroll part-time in addition to their standard schooling.

CGA’s classes are taught exclusively by registered, trained teachers — not tutors. With no more than 12 students per class, its virtual classrooms allow students to receive individualized support from an experienced teacher hired for their proven efficacy and results.

CGA’s synchronous classes are delivered live, in real-time. Students participate in small, discussion-based classrooms that are optimized for learning and engagement, with classmates from around the world! A 24/7 class timetable enables students to enroll without time zone limitations and accommodates learners with busy schedules full of significant out-of-class athletic and artistic pursuits.

CGA was created for students looking to level up their learning and put their best foot forward when it comes time to apply to top universities. To learn more about taking part-time AP classes with CGA, click here.