With college admissions becoming increasingly competitive, academic rigor is more important than ever. The number of AP classes you take and how well you perform in them are key in demonstrating your willingness and ability to challenge yourself academically.
During the college admissions process, your high school GPA and evidence of academic rigor are the two most important factors that college admissions officers consider in an applicant. Ultimately, this is why you should select your high school courses with care and may even want to consider taking AP classes online.
While it’s important to challenge yourself, you do not want to enroll in more AP classes than you can reasonably handle. In this article, we will review AP classes’ benefits and how many AP classes are recommended, as well as discuss the easiest and hardest AP classes.
How to determine course difficulty
Many high school students may find themselves wondering: Are AP classes harder than honors? The answer is yes, AP classes are more challenging than honors courses. This is reflected in weighted GPAs.
Schools that calculate weighted GPAs award an extra point for an AP course and an extra .5 for an honors course. This means that if you earn a 3.2 in an honors class, your weighted GPA is a 3.7 and if you earn a 3.2 in an AP class, your weighted GPA is a 4.2.
Now that we’ve determined that AP classes are more challenging than honors classes, how hard are AP classes? And what are the easiest and hardest AP classes?
Determining the easiest AP classes and hardest AP classes is not a straightforward process. Several factors influence the difficulty of an AP class, including your teacher and your natural academic strengths and interests.
However, the best way to gauge course difficulty is to look at key AP exam statistics, including total enrollment, passing rates, and the percentage of students who scored a 5. We will review all of these statistics in the following sections, as well as provide several ranked lists.
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AP classes list
Firstly, how many AP classes are there? CollegeBoard currently offers 38 AP classes. While these courses may not all be available to you through your high school, you may be able to take certain courses online or self-study for an exam. Let’s take a look at the 38 AP courses:
History and social sciences
- AP Comparative Government and Politics
- AP European History
- AP Human Geography
- AP Macroeconomics
- AP Microeconomics
- AP Psychology
- AP United States Government and Politics
- AP United States History
- AP World History: Modern
- AP Biology
- AP Chemistry
- AP Environmental Science
- AP Physics 1: Algebra-Based
- AP Physics 2: Algebra-Based
- AP Physics C: Electricity and Magnetism
- AP Physics C: Mechanics
World Languages and cultures
- AP Chinese Language and Culture
- AP French Language and Culture
- AP German Language and Culture
- AP Italian Language and Culture
- AP Japanese Language and Culture
- AP Latin
- AP Spanish Language and Culture
- AP Spanish Literature and Culture
- AP English Language and Composition
- AP English Literature and Composition
AP Capstone Diploma Program
- AP Research
- AP Seminar
Math and computer science
- AP Calculus AB
- AP Calculus BC
- AP Computer Science A
- AP Computer Science Principles
- AP Statistics
How many AP classes should I take?
How many AP classes you should take depends on several factors, including how many AP classes your high school offers. You’ll also want to consider your academic strengths and interests. Pursuing a rigorous course load is impressive, but only if you can manage it well and earn good grades.
If you are wondering: how many AP classes should I take? or what is the easiest AP class? you may want to consider the statistics discussed later in this article. This will give you more insight into the course selection process, as well as help you determine which courses may be the easiest AP classes to self-study or take online.
Although the number of AP classes a student should take varies, students interested in attending highly-selective schools, such as Ivy League colleges, will want to take 4-8 AP courses.
AP exam statistics (2021)
As previously mentioned, determining AP course difficulty is based on factors such as the number of students enrolled, overall passing rates, and the percentage of students who earned a 5 on their AP exam. In this table, we consider all of these statistics.
|Class||Number of Students Enrolled||Passing Rate||Number of Perfect Scores|
|Art and Design*||18,096||86.2%||14.2%|
|Chinese Language and Culture**||13,122||88.2%||57.2%|
|Comparative Government and Politics||19,292||71.8%||16.6%|
|Computer Science A||74,676||65.1%||23.9%|
|Computer Science Principles||116,466||66.5%||12.4%|
|English Language and Composition||518,548||57.7%||9.1%|
|English Literature and Composition||321,029||43.9%||4.9%|
|French Language and Culture**||18,408||71.3%||12.6%|
|German Language and Culture**||4,315||65.1%||18.0%|
|Italian Language and Culture**||2,102||72.4%||20.6%|
|Japanese Language and Culture**||2,204||74.3%||47.5%|
|Physics 1: Algebra-Based||137,229||42.1%||6.9%|
|Physics 2: Algebra-Based||18,736||65.3%||15.4%|
|Physics C: Electricity and Magnetism||20,471||69.5%||32.6%|
|Physics C: Mechanics||48,803||73.5%||23.5%|
|Spanish Language and Culture**||148,486||80.0%||17.3%|
|Spanish Literature and Culture||21,796||64.9%||7.8%|
|United States Government and Politics||283,353||50.4%||12.0%|
|United States History||454,204||47.2%||10.1%|
|World History: Modern||302,232||52.2%||9.7%|
* During the 2021 testing period, CollegeBoard offered three AP Art & Design courses, one in drawing, one in 2D art, and one in 3D art. Currently, there is only one AP Art & Design course. The statistics included in this table reflect the Art & Design (drawing) course.
**It is important to note that courses offered in foreign languages are taken by native speakers as well and that the difficulty of a course will vary a lot depending on your level of existing familiarity with a language before taking the course.
AP classes passing rates
Ranking AP classes from the easiest to hardest AP classes isn’t as straightforward as one may expect. One way to try to gauge the varying degrees of difficulty among different AP classes is to look at their respective passing rates. This is one way that the hardest AP classes are ranked.
In the list below, we rank each of the AP classes according to their 2021 passing rates. It is worth noting, however, that passing rates alone are not enough to accurately determine difficulty. This is because some AP classes are more specialized than others and attract a smaller, more specialized group of students interested in taking these courses. Foreign language courses, for example, are difficult to place in terms of difficulty because many students enter the classes with varying levels of existing knowledge of the language.
It’s important to keep these factors in mind as you consider the following list of AP classes, ranked according to their passing rates:
- Chinese Language and Culture: 88.2%
- Art and Design: 86.2%
- Seminar: 85.0%
- Research: 81.5%
- Spanish Language and Culture: 80.0%
- Calculus BC: 75.2%
- Japanese Language and Culture: 74.3%
- Physics C: Mechanics: 73.5%
- Italian Language and Culture: 72.4%
- Comparative Government and Politics: 71.8%
- French Language and Culture: 71.3%
- Physics C: Electricity and Magnetism: 69.5%
- Computer Science Principles: 66.5%
- Physics 2: Algebra-Based: 65.3%
- German Language and Culture: 65.1%
- Computer Science A: 65.1%
- Spanish Literature and Culture: 64.9%
- Music Theory: 61.2%
- Biology: 59.2%
- Microeconomics: 59.1%
- Statistics: 57.9%
- English Language and Composition: 57.7%
- Latin: 56.8%
- Art History: 55.3%
- European History: 54.6%
- Psychology: 53.3%
- Human Geography: 52.5%
- World History: Modern: 52.2%
- Chemistry: 51.3%
- Macroeconomics: 51.3%
- Calculus AB: 51.0%
- United States Government and Politics: 50.4%
- Environmental Science: 50.3%
- Physics 1: Algebra-Based: 42.1%
- English Literature and Composition: 43.9%
- United States History: 47.2%
AP classes: ranked according to frequency of perfect scores
The most accurate way to determine course difficulty is to simultaneously consider a class’s total enrollment, overall passing rate, and percentage of students who score a 5. That said, some people compile a list of AP classes by difficulty according to how many students earned a 5.
The following list ranks classes according to how often students can earn a perfect score. Remember, though, sometimes specialized classes, such as Chinese Language and Culture, have a high rate of perfect scores because the class itself attracts a small group of specialized students, predisposed to success.
- Chinese Language and Culture: 57.2%
- Japanese Language and Culture: 47.5%
- Calculus BC: 38.3%
- Physics C: Electricity and Magnetism: 32.6%
- Computer Science A: 23.9%
- Italian Language and Culture: 20.6%
- Physics C: Mechanics: 23.5%
- Music Theory: 19.9%
- Microeconomics: 18.5%
- Macroeconomics: 18.0%
- German Language and Culture: 18.0%
- Calculus AB: 17.6%
- Spanish Language and Culture: 17.3%
- Comparative Government and Politics: 16.6%
- Statistics: 16.2%
- Physics 2: Algebra-Based: 15.4%
- Human Geography: 14.4%
- Art and Design: 14.2%
- Psychology: 14.1%
- Research: 13.7%
- French Language and Culture: 12.6%
- Computer Science Principles: 12.4%
- United States Government and Politics: 12.0%
- Art History: 12.0%
- Seminar: 11.1%
- Chemistry: 11.2%
- European History: 10.6%
- United States History: 10.1%
- Latin: 10.0%
- World History: Modern: 9.7%
- English Language and Composition: 9.1%
- Spanish Literature and Culture: 7.8%
- Biology: 7.4%
- Environmental Science: 7.0%
- Physics 1: Algebra-Based: 6.9%
- English Literature and Composition: 4.9%
The importance of course rigor
There are plenty of options for advanced courses in high school. Depending on your school, you may be able to enroll in AP, IB, and AICE classes. College admissions officers evaluate your transcripts, GPA, and list of courses according to the opportunities available to you at your school. After all, schools have varying standards and academic opportunities. Colleges recognize this and consider these factors when evaluating student applications.
Key takeaways and moving forward
Balancing your high school GPA with your level of academic rigor is an important way to prepare for college applications. One way to help you determine the best course load for you is to consider AP passing rates. As discussed in this article, determining the easiest AP classes and hardest AP classes is not a straightforward process. Therefore, the best way to select your AP courses is to consider your academic strengths and talents in light of the various statistics discussed. Applying for college can feel overwhelming at times. If you feel like you could benefit from professional guidance, especially if you have high college aspirations, reach out to learn more about our services.