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Average AP Scores for Every AP Exam

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Posted by Halle Edwards | Nov 4, 2020 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.



2021 AP Test Changes Due to COVID-19

Due to the ongoing COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic, AP tests will now be held over three different sessions between May and June. Your test dates, and whether or not your tests will be online or on paper, will depend on your school. To learn more about how all of this is going to work and get the latest information on test dates, AP online review, and what these changes means for you, be sure to check out our 2021 AP COVID-19 FAQ article.


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 2020. 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:

Exam Name

Average Score

Chinese Language and Culture (Total Group) 4.09
Japanese Language and Culture (Total Group) 3.92
Physics C: Mechanics 3.87
Spanish Language and Culture (Total Group) 3.86
Calculus BC 3.84
Physics C: Electricity & Magnetism 3.68
Art and Design: Drawing 3.59
French Language and Culture (Total Group) 3.57
Spanish Language and Culture (Standard Group) 3.53
Art and Design: 2-D Design 3.49
German Language and Culture (Total Group) 3.49
French Language and Culture (Standard Group) 3.40
Gov. and Politics - Comparative 3.34
Microeconomics 3.28
Music Theory 3.28
Computer Science A 3.26
Spanish Literature 3.25
Italian Language and Culture (Total Group) 3.24
Psychology 3.22
Physics 2 3.20
Research 3.20
German Language and Culture (Standard Group) 3.19
Art and Design: 3-D Design 3.18
Japanese Language and Culture (Standard Group) 3.17
Chinese Language and Culture (Standard Group) 3.16
Art History 3.15
Latin 3.10
Computer Science Principles 3.09
Calculus AB 3.07
Macroeconomics 3.07
Italian Language and Culture (Standard Group) 3.06
Seminar 3.06
Biology 3.04
English Language and Composition 2.96
European History 2.95
Statistics 2.95
World History 2.88
Environmental Science 2.85
Gov. and Politics - United States 2.85
English Literature and Composition 2.84
United States History 2.83
Chemistry 2.76
Human Geography 2.75
Physics 1 2.65

Via College Board. For language rates, "Total Group" includes all students, while "Standard Group" includes only those students who didn't indicate they speak this language at home or spent more than four weeks studying it abroad. 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, Japanese, Physics, Spanish Language, and Calculus BC 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!


Looking for help studying for your AP exam?

Our one-on-one online AP tutoring services can help you prepare for your AP exams. Get matched with a top tutor who got a high score on the exam you're studying for!

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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 2020 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

Spanish Language and Culture (Total Group) 90% 30.5%
Art and Design: 2-D Design 89.5% 12.1%
Art and Design: Drawing 89.1% 15.5%
Chinese Language and Culture (Total Group) 88.7% 55.4%
Physics C: Mechanics 84.3% 41.6%
Spanish Language and Culture (Standard Group) 84.2% 17%
Japanese Language and Culture (Total Group) 83.6% 53.7%
French Language and Culture (Total Group) 83.3% 23.3%
Calculus BC 81.6% 44.6%
French Language and Culture (Standard Group) 80.9% 15.7%
Seminar 80.7% 6.4%
Art and Design: 3-D Design 75.6% 7.2%
Italian Language and Culture (Total Group) 75.4% 18.5%
Spanish Literature 75.1% 17.6%
Physics C: Electricity & Magnetism 74.4% 40.4%
German Language and Culture (Total Group) 73.8% 23.9%
Physics 2 73.3% 14%
Research 72.5% 8.8%
Italian Language and Culture (Standard Group) 72.2% 11.1%
Computer Science Principles 71.6% 10.9%
Japanese Language and Culture (Standard Group) 71.4% 23.6%
Psychology 71.3% 22.4%
Chinese Language and Culture (Standard Group) 70.9% 23.8%
Computer Science A 70.4% 25.6%
Gov. and Politics - Comparative 70.2% 24.4%
Music Theory 69.2% 24.2%
Latin 69.2% 16.5%
Biology 69.1% 9.5%
Microeconomics 68.9% 23.3%
Art History 68.7% 15.8%
German Language and Culture (Standard Group) 67.9% 11.8%
Macroeconomics 63.2% 19.7%
English Language and Composition 62.1% 12.6%
Calculus AB 61.4% 19.5%
World History 60.2% 9.2%
English Literature and Composition 60.1% 9.3%
Statistics 60% 16.2%
European History 59.3% 13.7%
Human Geography 59% 11.8%
United States History 58.7% 13%
Gov. and Politics - United States 57.5% 15.5%
Chemistry 56.1% 10.6%
Environmental Science 53.4% 11.9%
Physics 1 51.6% 8.8%

Source: College Board. For language rates, "Total" includes all students, while "Standard" includes only those students who didn't indicate they speak this language at home or spent more than four weeks studying it abroad.

Again, note that some of the toughest exams—like Chinese and Physics C: Mechanics—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.


One of the single most important parts of your college application is what classes you choose to take in high school (in conjunction with how well you do in those classes). Our team of PrepScholar admissions experts have compiled their knowledge into this single guide to planning out your high school course schedule. We'll advise you on how to balance your schedule between regular and honors/AP/IB courses, how to choose your extracurriculars, and what classes you can't afford not to take.

Plan Your Course Schedule


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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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