Before you sign up for any AP class, it's helpful to get an idea of whether you'll be able to handle the workload (and the exam!). AP European History is offered at many schools, so you might have the chance to take it at some point in your high school career.
But is AP European History hard? What if you're naturally good at remembering historical facts or have a lot of experience with AP classes? In this guide, we'll go over the five factors to consider when judging the difficulty of an AP class and explain how you can use this information to predict how hard AP Euro will be for you.
What Determines the Difficulty of an AP Course? 5 Key Factors
There are five main factors to consider when deciding whether AP European History is difficult compared with other AP courses. We'll give you a quick rundown of these before answering our main question: is AP European History hard?
Factor 1: Pass RateAP exams are scored from 1 to 5, and any score of a 3 or higher is considered passing. Lower pass rates for an exam might indicate a more difficult class; however, sometimes pass rates in the hardest subjects are unexpectedly high because only the most dedicated students take those classes. A smaller group of more serious students makes for a larger percentage of passing scores overall.
Factor 2: Percentage of Students Who Earn a 5
The 5 rate is the percentage of students who earn 5s (the highest possible score) on the AP test. If the 5 rate is on the lower side, it could indicate that the material is more difficult to master.
A low 5 rate can also sometimes happen with very popular classes. The proportion of students who are prepared for an AP test tends to decrease as the total number of students taking it increases.
Factor 3: Content Difficulty
This boils down to the amount of material the AP course covers and how advanced that material is. You'd expect easier classes to have higher pass and 5 rates. However, some AP courses have high 5 and pass rates because their content is extremely challenging and only very driven students will take them—not because they're easy.
Factor 4: How Students Perceive the Class
This is a more subjective factor, but if you ask enough classmates at your school whether a certain AP class is hard or not, some patterns should emerge. After all, everyone learns essentially the same curriculum and takes the same AP test. Also, typically each AP course is only taught by one or two teachers, and students can tell you if they think they make the class easier or harder to do well in.
Factor 5: When Students Take the Class
The final factor to consider is when students typically take the AP class. Classes that students take later in high school will be more difficult overall, but some students actually have an easier time in them because they're used to taking AP courses and exams by then. Similarly, AP classes often taken by underclassmen can seem more difficult because there's the learning curve of taking your first AP class to get past.
How Hard Is AP Euro: What the Data Says
AP Euro Pass Rate for 2020: 59.3%
AP Euro 5 Rate for 2020: 13.7%
By looking at AP data from 2020, we can see that a little over half of all students (59.3%) who took the AP European History test passed it, and 13.7% earned a 5. The average score for AP Euro is 2.95, just under passing.
So, how hard is the AP Euro exam? By comparing AP Euro's pass rate and 5 rate to those of other AP exams, we can see that AP Euro's pass and 5 rates are significantly lower than average. In fact, out of 38 AP subjects, only six had a lower pass rate than AP Euro, and 15 had a lower 5 rate. So, based on this data, it does look like AP Euro is a tough test to do well on.
AP Euro is also far less popular than other AP history courses. In 2020, 94,312 students took the AP Euro exam, which seems like a lot, but it's just a fraction of how many students took the other history exams. For World History, 302,942 students took the AP exam, and 472,697 students took the AP US History exam. This could mean that students taking AP Euro on average have a strong interest in history, since it's often taken as an elective, instead of a required class like AP World (mean score 2.88) or APUSH (mean score 2.83). If students who naturally enjoy history are still scoring low, it could be more evidence that AP Euro is a tough class and test. However, we also know that statistics only show one side of the story, so let's keep reviewing information.
Is the AP Euro Content Difficult?
Generally, the content of AP Euro is regarded as medium-difficulty. It's more in-depth and requires a deeper understanding of events and trends than AP World History (which covers a lot of information but mostly in broad brushstrokes), but doesn't require quite the depth of knowledge as AP US History (which is often considered one of the toughest AP classes).
According to the College Board, AP Euro students learn about "cultural, economic, political, and social developments that have shaped Europe from c. 1450 to the present." Throughout the test, you're asked to analyze historical documents, demographic charts, and political illustrations from various historical periods. You have to apply your background knowledge to these sources and draw conclusions by using both factual recall and deeper analysis.
The free-response section is particularly challenging. Writing a coherent, well-supported argumentative essay on such a high-pressure test isn't easy. And for the Document-Based Question, you also have to incorporate at least six of the seven sources into your essay while using outside knowledge to bolster whatever point you're making.
In general, the content is challenging because of the way you're asked to synthesize what you've learned and relate it to themes that span multiple periods in history. These types of assessments are usually reserved for college classes because of the high-level thinking skills required. You have to look beyond the facts to draw larger informed conclusions.
Do Students Think AP Euro Is Hard?
The general consensus among students is that AP Euro isn't an easy class, but if you've already taken another AP history class and done well in it, and you have the time in your schedule to regularly study for AP Euro and keep up with the work, you won't have too much trouble with this class. Even though the content is different, the types of multiple-choice questions you'll answer and essays you'll write for AP Euro are similar enough to other AP history exams that, if you've already learned the basics of how to write a DBQ essay and track major historical themes, you'll already have a lot of skills needed to do well on AP Euro.
Additionally, many students take AP European History as an elective, often in their senior year. This means that they often both have experience with AP exams, and that they personally chose to take AP Euro because it interested them. Similarly, students with a deep interest in AP Euro may feel that, because they already know a lot of the content, they don't need to study for the AP exam. This overlooks the very specific ways the College Board wants essays answered, as well as the fact that many multiple-choice questions on AP exams are worded in ways more confusing than those you see in class. This might contribute to the exam's low pass rate.
Overall, even if you already consider yourself an expert in AP Euro, expect to put in a significant amount of work preparing for the exam. However, if you're able to do that, and if you've already done well on other AP history classes, you shouldn't expect AP Euro to be much harder than the average AP class.
Will AP Euro Be Hard for You?
Looking at trends and reading the opinions of others can be helpful, but, when it comes down to it, every student is different and has their own strengths and weaknesses. If you're wondering "how hard is AP Euro" for you, there are three things you should do to get a clearer picture of what your AP Euro experience will be like, and how difficult you'll find it.
#1: Ask Former Students, Guidance Counselors, and Teachers About the Class
One of the best ways to decide how hard AP Euro will be is to ask students and teachers at your school who are familiar with the class and the exam. If you know any older students who have similar academic records to you, ask them what they thought of the class and the overall workload. You can also ask your current history teacher if they think you'll be able to handle AP European History based on your performance this year.
Alternatively, you could ask your guidance counselor what their opinion is of the class based on the performance of past students. They'll have knowledge of pass rates and 5 rates for the exam for students at your school, and they will also have heard a lot of opinions from other students over the years.
#2: Decide If AP European History Is Your Kind of SubjectAP Euro requires strong memorization, critical reading, and writing skills. If those are your strengths (and if you have a particularly strong interest in history), you'll likely find this class easier than someone who dislikes writing essays and keeping track of many different timelines and themes throughout the history of Europe.
#3: Consider Your ScheduleAP Euro can be a time-consuming class, so before you decide to take it, think about the other classes you're taking. You don't want to overload yourself by taking too many other difficult classes at the same time. If you're taking other challenging AP classes at the same time, be prepared for a daunting workload. Don't take on too much, or you'll end up sacrificing your sanity and/or GPA.
Conclusion: Is AP European History Hard?
So how hard is AP Euro, and how hard is the AP Euro exam? Overall, most people find AP Euro to be medium-difficulty for an AP class. It's not a class you can do well in without regular studying to make sure you're up-to-date with the material, and its essays require both a knowledge of the type of writing the College Board wants and an ability to connect major themes and events across history.
However, students who've taken other AP history classes state that, if you can do well on those, AP Euro won't be particularly difficult since you'll already know how to write the essays and the types of information multiple-choice questions will ask about. Ask others at your school (such as teachers, students, and guidance counselors) what they think about AP Euro. That'll give you the best insight into how difficult you can expect the class to be. Also, consider your own schedule and academic strengths and weaknesses. Together, all this information will help you make an accurate estimate of how hard AP Euro will be for you.
Interested in learning more about the AP Euro exam? Our in-depth guide to the AP European History text explains everything you need to know!
Now that you better understand how hard AP Euro will be for you, get your hands on the best practice materials available! Check out our guide on the best AP Euro practice tests and quizzes to help with your studying. (coming soon)
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Christine graduated from Michigan State University with degrees in Environmental Biology and Geography and received her Master's from Duke University. In high school she scored in the 99th percentile on the SAT and was named a National Merit Finalist. She has taught English and biology in several countries.