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Average AP Scores for Every AP Exam

Posted by Halle Edwards | Nov 4, 2018 8:30:00 PM

Advanced Placement (AP)



Taking an AP class this year? You might be wondering about average AP scores or what good AP scores are for certain classes. Or if you are thinking about taking AP exams in the future, you might want to know which exams have the highest passing rates.

In this post, we will break down the average score for each AP test, as well as the average passing rate. We will also show you how to interpret this info and how to use it to make decisions about your schedule.


Average AP Score by Test

Instead of giving you an overall average score for all AP tests, we will show you the average score for every AP exam. We break it down by test because every AP test is different. It’s important to know the average score for whichever test you are taking or thinking about taking.

We will also explore how you can use this info—and learn why the exams with the highest passing rates are not the easiest!

But first, the data. The table contains the national average scores for each AP exam from 2018. Remember that AP exams are scored from 1 to 5, with 3 and higher considered passing rates.

We have sorted the exams from highest average score to lowest. Take a look:

AP Test Average Score
Chinese Language 4.31
Calculus BC 3.74
Japanese Language 3.70
Spanish Language 3.69
Studio Art Drawing 3.65
Physics C E&M 3.60
Physics C Mechanics 3.55
Studio Art 2-D Design 3.48
Spanish Language (Standard) 3.45
French Language 3.32
German Language 3.31
Economics - Micro 3.21
Computer Science A 3.18
Music Theory 3.18
Research 3.17
French Language (Standard) 3.16
Seminar 3.15
Italian Language 3.14
Psychology 3.14
Gov. and Politics - Comparative 3.12
Computer Science Principles 3.11
Studio Art 3-D Design 3.11
Chinese Language (Standard) 3.06
Spanish Literature 3.06
Calculus AB 3.05
Art History 3.04
Physics 2 2.97
German Language (Standard) 2.96
Economics - Macro 2.96
Latin 2.94
Japanese Language (Standard) 2.89
European History 2.89
Italian Language (Standard) 2.88
Statistics 2.88
Biology 2.87
English Language 2.83
Chemistry 2.80
World History 2.78
Human Geography 2.72
Gov. and Politics - US 2.70
United States History 2.66
Environmental Science 2.63
English Literature 2.57
Physics 1 2.36

 Via College Board. Check out the link for a complete distribution of scores for each AP exam.

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One very important fact to note is that high average scores don't correspond to the easiest exams! Chinese, Calculus BC, Japanese, and Spanish Language are the AP tests with the highest average scores, but they are all known to be quite difficult. Also note that native speakers, or students with experience living abroad, tend to take the AP language exams, which inflates their average scores (for the average of those who learned in a classroom, check the "Standard" score).

Furthermore, some of the tests with the lowest averages are often regarded as some the easiest APs—Human Geography, Environmental Science, and US Government. So why are their passing rates so low? This is because freshmen and sophomores might take these as their first-ever AP classes. Even though the content is easier than, say, Calculus, all AP exams are tough and could be hard for a younger student to do well on. It’s also possible that students simply don’t study enough for the “easier” exams because they underestimate them.


All AP tests are difficult, even if some are easier than others.


To sum up, the average score can say more about the students taking the exam than the exam itself. Don’t sign up for BC Calculus just because the average score is super high. And by the same token, don’t avoid AP Environmental Science because the average score is relatively low. Focus on your own strengths and interests when signing up for AP classes!


What's a Good AP Score?

Beyond the basic averages, it’s helpful to have some context about what a "good" AP score is. A score of 3 or higher is generally considered good, because that means you passed the exam! A 4 is considered very good, and a 5 is especially impressive since it is the highest score.

Also keep in mind that every college sets its own policy about AP credit. Some schools only give credit for scores of 4 or 5. Check the AP credit database to find out the AP credit policy for schools you're interested in.

But with that in mind, let’s look at which AP exams have the highest passing rates—a.k.a. rates of scores over 3. We also note the percentage of students who get a 5, the highest score.

Exam Name Passing Rate (3+) 5 Rate
Chinese Language and Culture 91.3% 66.1%
Studio Art: Drawing 89.5% 22.4%
Spanish Language and Culture 88.3% 23.7%
Studio Art: 2-D Design 84.6% 17.9%
Spanish Language and Culture (Standard) 82.9% 16.5%
Seminar 82.8% 8.4%
Calculus BC 79.8% 40.4%
Japanese Language and Culture 77.8% 48.0%
French Language and Culture 77.2% 16.7%
Physics C: Mechanics 77.2% 30.2%
Research 75.2% 11.4%
French Language and Culture (Standard) 74.1% 11.0%
Physics C: Electricity & Magnetism 73.4% 37.4%
Computer Science Principles 71.2% 14.0%
German Language and Culture 71.0% 22.4%
Spanish Literature 70.3% 9.7%
Studio Art: 3-D Design 69.0% 11.4%
Chinese Language and Culture (Standard) 68.6% 20.4%
Italian Language and Culture 68.6% 18.5%
Computer Science A 67.8% 24.7%
Microeconomics 67.9% 20.9%
Latin 66.4% 14.4%
Music Theory 65.8% 22.6%
Psychology 65.6% 21.2%
Art History 64.6% 12.7%
Italian Language and Culture (Standard) 64.2% 8.1%
German Language and Culture (Standard) 63.5% 9.3%
Gov. and Politics - Comparative 63.3% 21.1%
Physics 2 63.1% 13.1%
Biology 61.5% 7.2%
Statistics 60.7% 14.6%
Japanese Language and Culture (Standard) 60.6% 21.5%
Calculus AB 57.6% 19.4%
European History 57.7% 11.9%
Macroeconomics 58.5% 19.7%
English Language and Composition 57.2% 10.6%
World History 56.2% 8.9%
Chemistry 55.9% 13.4%
Human Geography 54.4% 13.0%
Gov. and Politics - United States 53.0% 13.3%
United States History 51.8% 10.7%
Environmental Science 47.7% 8.8%
English Literature and Composition 47.3% 5.6%
Physics 1 40.6% 5.7%

Source: College Board. The "Standard" language scores represent the students taking language AP exams who only took the language in school. This is why the "Standard" passing rates are lower than the "Total" passing rate for the language (that rate includes native speakers and students with experience living abroad).

Again, note that some of the toughest exams—like Chinese and BC Calculus—have very high passing rates. Notice also the exams with very low 5 rates (below 10%), including Physics 1, English Literature, and Biology. It will look especially impressive if you can earn a 5 on these tests!


So Which AP Classes Should You Take?

The goal of taking an AP class is to get a good grade in it and also pass the AP test. Doing both these things will show colleges that you can handle college-level material, and scoring high enough on the AP test can help you get college credit. You want to take AP classes you think you'll do well in. However, be careful about signing up for exams based on their average scores alone.

As we saw above, some of the toughest exams (like Physics, AB and BC Calculus, and many of the foreign languages) have the highest passing rates, and some of the easiest exams (like Environmental Science and Human Geography) have the lowest passing rates. This means you shouldn't sign up for AP classes based on just their passing rates.

Do some research before signing up for an AP class and make sure it’s the right fit for you. Ask older classmates how difficult they've found certain AP classes. Also, think about your own academic strengths and the classes you enjoy the most. If you love math and have always been good at it, you can probably score well on an AP Calculus exam even though they're known for being difficult.


Also be careful not to overload yourself! If you cram too many AP classes into your schedule, it will be harder to pass the exams.


Finally, note that these are the national averages. The passing rates for different subjects could be very different at your school. If you want to find out the passing rates for these classes at your school, talk to your guidance counselor and they can help you find that info. For example, some teachers have passing rates for their AP classes above 90%. If you have a teacher like that at your school, and they teach an AP subject you are interested in, you will likely have a very high chance of passing.

One last word of advice: check out our scoring guide to see how AP scores are calculated to help you develop a target raw score to help you pass. Understanding how the exam is scored is a very important step in preparing for AP tests.


What's Next?

Learn about what AP Exams are like and how to avoid fatigue. Check out our guide on AP test length for exclusive tips!

Want help deciding which AP classes will be easiest for you to take? We will show you which factors to consider to find the easiest AP classes for your schedule. 

Trying to decide between the ACT and SAT? Read our guide to decide which is best for you—and learn why it’s best to just focus on one test.

Get tips on the SAT from our 1600 Full Scorer—you can also put the same techniques to use when studying for AP exams, especially the multiple choice sections!

Get advice on writing SAT and ACT essays. If you’re going for perfection, you can even learn how to write a perfect SAT essay or a perfect ACT essay.


Want to improve your SAT score by 160 points or your ACT score by 4 points? We've written a guide for each test about the top 5 strategies you must be using to have a shot at improving your score. Download it for free now:

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Halle Edwards
About the Author

Halle Edwards graduated from Stanford University with honors. In high school, she earned 99th percentile ACT scores as well as 99th percentile scores on SAT subject tests. She also took nine AP classes, earning a perfect score of 5 on seven AP tests. As a graduate of a large public high school who tackled the college admission process largely on her own, she is passionate about helping high school students from different backgrounds get the knowledge they need to be successful in the college admissions process.

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