The average is definitely lower than a perfect 5!
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 2017. 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|
|Physics C Mechanics||3.71|
|Studio Art Drawing||3.56|
|Studio Art 2-D Design||3.53|
|Physics C E&M||3.49|
|Spanish Language (Standard)||3.45|
|Economics - Micro||3.26|
|Gov. and Politics - Comparative||3.25|
|Computer Science Principles||3.17|
|Computer Science A||3.15|
|Studio Art 3-D Design||3.15|
|Chinese Language (Standard)||3.12|
|French Language (Standard)||3.12|
|German Language (Standard)||3.05|
|Italian Language (Standard)||2.94|
|Economics - Macro||2.89|
|Japanese Language (Standard)||2.83|
|United States History||2.65|
|Gov. and Politics - US||2.58|
Via College Board. Check out the link for a complete distribution of scores for each AP exam.
One very important fact to note is that high average scores don't correspond to the easiest exams! Chinese, Calculus BC, Physics C Mechanics, 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.
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 (Total)||92.6%||68.8%|
|Spanish Language and Culture (Total)||88.5%||19.5%|
|Studio Art: Drawing||85.5%||21.9%|
|Calculus BC (AB Subscore)||85.1%||48.4%|
|Studio Art: 2-D Design||85.1%||19.3%|
|Spanish Language and Culture (Standard)||83.7%||15.9%|
|Physics C: Mechanics||79.4%||36.4%|
|Japanese Language and Culture (Total)||76.9%||45.1%|
|German Language and Culture (Total)||75.5%||23.0%|
|French Language and Culture (Total)||75.4%||17.0%|
|Computer Science Principles||74.5%||13.8%|
|Spanish Literature and Culture||73.2%||9.6%|
|French Language and Culture (Standard)||71.8%||11.0%|
|Studio Art: 3-D Design||71.6%||12.0%|
|Italian Language and Culture (Total)||71.5%||18.4%|
|Physics C: Electricity & Magnetism||71.4%||31.9%|
|Chinese Language and Culture (Standard)||70.3%||21.8%|
|German Language and Culture (Standard)||68.9%||9.7%|
|Italian Language and Culture (Standard)||68.4%||7.6%|
|Gov. and Politics - Comparative||68.1%||23.2%|
|Computer Science A||67.0%||24.2%|
|Music Theory (Aural Subscore)||60.7%||18.7%|
|Japanese Language and Culture (Standard)||60.6%||17.9%|
|Music Theory (Nonaural Subscore)||59.9%||19.1%|
|English Language and Composition||55.0%||9.1%|
|English Literature and Composition||52.6%||6.8%|
|United States History||50.9%||10.8%|
|Gov. and Politics - United States||49.3%||11.1%|
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 English Language, 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?
Obviously the goal of taking an AP class is to pass the exam. On a practical level, you don’t want to pay the $94 exam fee and have it go to waste by failing the test. However, be careful about signing up for exams based on their average scores alone. As we saw above, some of the toughest exams have the highest passing rates, and some of the easiest exams have the lowest ones. Make sure to do your research before signing up for an AP class and make sure it’s the right fit for you!
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.
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!
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 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.