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Is AP Macroeconomics Hard?

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Posted by Ashley Robinson | Aug 4, 2021 3:00:00 PM

Advanced Placement (AP)



Taking AP courses is a big commitment. It’s a good idea to learn everything you can about an AP course before signing up—including how challenging the class is. 

If you’re considering taking AP Macroeconomics, you’re in the right place. In this article, we’re going to answer the question, “Is AP Economics hard?” by covering the following info: 

  • The five factors that determine the difficulty of an AP class
  • What the statistics say about how hard AP Macroeconomics is
  • How real students answer the question, “Is AP Macroeconomics hard?”
  • Three tips for finding out if AP Macro will be hard for you

There’s a lot to cover, so let’s get started!


What Determines the Difficulty of an AP Class? 5 Factors

The difficulty of an AP class might seem tough to define at first. But it turns out that we can look at a few key factors to get perspective on how difficult an AP course might be. 

Before we answer the question, “Is AP Economics hard?” let’s look at a list of five indicators that can help determine the difficulty level of just about any AP course. 


Factor 1: Passing Rate

The passing rate for an AP class refers to the percentage of students who achieve a score of 3 or higher on the exam. If the passing rate for an exam is relatively lower, that suggests that the AP class is more difficult.

But it’s important to look at an AP exam’s passing rate in context. In some cases, passing rates in the toughest subjects are high because only the hardest working students take those classes. In those instances, you wouldn’t want your first assumption to be that that AP course is easy.


Factor 2: Perfect 5 Rate

You also need to look at an AP exam’s perfect 5 rate in order to evaluate the difficulty of an AP class. The perfect 5 rate refers to the percentage of students who earn the highest possible score (a 5) on a course’s AP exam. 

If the 5 rate is somewhat low, that may mean that achieving mastery of the course material is more challenging (or even that the course material is difficult to understand, since the 5 score cutoff equals about 70% accuracy on many AP tests). 

Keep in mind that many popular AP classes have a lower percentage of students making 5s. That’s because more students take those tests...and not every student will be well prepared. So don’t pass on a class just because it has a low 5 rate. Instead, consider which classes best fit your ability and future goals! 



Looking at a course's passing rate and/or perfect five rate only tells part of the story. Researching an AP class to learn more about its content difficulty can also help you decide whether a course will be difficult for you.  


Factor 3: Content Difficulty 

The complexity of a course’s curriculum can also help you determine the difficulty of an AP course. You can pin down the difficulty level of an AP course by looking at the amount of material the course covers and how advanced the material is. 

For instance, some courses that have high 5 and passing rates also have extremely challenging content. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t take the course—it just means that only the most driven students take those courses, and they’re typically successful on the AP exams because of their dedication, not because the course material is a cakewalk. 


Factor 4: Student Testimonials

One of the best ways to determine the difficulty of an AP course is to consult real students’ reviews of the course. Student opinions on an AP course’s difficulty level can vary depending on the teacher and the school, but there will likely be some consistency based on the fact that all students will be learning from the same curriculum and preparing for the same exam. 

All in all, student feedback on an AP course can lend insight into the everyday challenges of the course, including the demands of the workload, the difficulty of quizzes and exams, and how much prep work it takes to score well on the exam. 


Factor 5: Timing of the Class

Finally, you might find that it’s helpful to consider which year of high school students typically take a given AP course. AP classes that you take your junior and senior year of high school tend to be more difficult than, say, AP courses that you take your freshman or sophomore year. 

However, it’s also important to recognize that your feelings about the difficulty of an AP course will be subjective. Some students may feel that AP courses they take later in high school are easier because they’re more prepared. The opposite can also be true. Some students may feel that earlier AP courses are easier than the more advanced courses they take at the end of their high school career. 



Stats can give you a clearer picture about whether the AP Macro exam will be tough for you. 


What Do Statistics Say About the AP Macro Exam?

Now that you know how important the passing rate and the 5 rate are for AP exams, let’s look at the stats for those factors for the AP Macro exam. 

The passing rate for the AP Macro exam in 2020 was 63.2%. This passing rate is pretty average compared to other AP exams. This allows us to conclude that the AP Macro exam is of medium difficulty. 

On the other hand, AP Macro’s 5 rate was 19.7% in 2020. This isn’t the lowest AP 5 rate of all AP exams, but it’s definitely in the same tier as the lowest AP 5 rates. That indicates that AP Macro should be taken seriously. While a good percentage of students pass the exam, making a 5 definitely isn’t guaranteed. 

So how do we interpret these statistics? How difficult is AP Economics really

Well, it’s important to keep in mind that AP Macro is one of the more popular AP classes. The number of students who took the AP Macro exam was in the top 10 of all AP courses for 2020. This means that a higher number of students took the exam, which increases the proportion of students who aren’t adequately prepared for the test. 

Despite these numbers, we have to acknowledge that the 5 rate is still pretty low. This means that AP Macro is a challenging AP course and exam. Even if most students pass, achieving a 5 on the exam is still tough. 

So, is AP Economics hard? We can conclude that, while it is by no means the most difficult AP course, AP Macro is still a challenging exam for many AP students. 


Is the AP Macro Content Difficult? 

The answer is: it depends. 

AP Macro requires you to learn content that may be completely unfamiliar since most students don’t take any economics classes before jumping into AP Macro. In other words: the learning curve for students in AP Macro can be pretty steep. 

The good news is that the course is designed to accommodate students who are totally new to economics. AP Macro starts by teaching the most basic economic concepts, then works its way up to more difficult material. 

Having said that, once you learn the basics at the beginning of the course, you’ll need to be prepared to dive into much more complex ideas as the course progresses

It’s also important to recognize that some students may find the format of the AP Macro exam to be challenging as well. While the first section of the exam consists of 60 multiple choice questions, the second section is free response, consisting of three questions . . . and one question requires students to create visual representations on a graph. This means that students will have to be prepared to demonstrate their knowledge of a range of complex concepts in multiple formats. 




Do Students Think AP Macro Is Hard? 

In general, students seem to agree that AP Macro is somewhat easier than other exams—as long as you have the right preparation. Students often compare AP Macroeconomics to AP Microeconomics, claiming that AP Macro will be easier for students who took AP Micro first.

That said, students who have taken both classes tend to agree that AP Macro is more interesting than AP Micro. Taking AP Micro first gives students a foundation in the concepts of microeconomics. That foundational knowledge helps them fully engage in AP Macro later on. 

In other words, students seem to agree that taking AP Micro prior to taking AP Macro prepares you to succeed on the AP Macro exam

Keep in mind that there’s still a lot to learn in AP Macro—even if you’ve taken AP Micro first. And students readily acknowledge this! The general consensus seems to be that learning how to plot information on a graph is one of the more challenging aspects of AP Macroeconomics. This means that students who have prior experience with math seem to be well-prepared for AP Macro as well. 


Will AP Macro Be Hard for You? 3 Tips for Finding Out

Whether AP Macro will be difficult for you is mostly subjective, but there are still some factors you can consider to help you determine whether the course will be a challenge for you. We’ll cover three tips for deciding whether you’ll find AP Macro difficult below. 


#1: Ask Reliable Sources About the Course

A great way to learn what AP Macro is like at your school is to talk with people who have experience with the class. If you know any veteran AP Macro students, consider asking them what they think about the class and the exam. Preparing some of your most pressing questions about the course and talking with one or more former AP Macro students can help you get a complete picture of what the class is really like. 

You could also talk with your current teachers about what to expect from AP Macro. Sitting down with your math and social studies teachers would be a good move, since those subjects inform macroeconomics. You could also ask them to connect you with your school’s AP Macro teacher(s) for an informal conversation. Building this bridge between your current teachers, who know your abilities, and your future AP Macro teacher can help you gain an accurate perspective on how challenging AP Macro will be for you. 

Finally, you should also consider talking with your guidance counselor. It’s their job to be familiar with the grades that students earn in AP Macro and how students have performed on the exam in past years. Based on this knowledge, they can give you perspective on how hard the class will be for you based on your grades in similar courses so far in high school. 


#2: Assess Your Academic Strengths

Succeeding in AP Macro requires solid critical thinking skills and the ability to understand, remember, and explain complex relationships and economic concepts. The good news is that, with some hard work, most students can develop these skills in order to do well in AP Macro. 

So if you want to do well in AP Macro, consider the skills the course content requires and assess your ability in those areas. You can work on developing the skills required for success in AP Macro, such as critical thinking and memorization, to improve your chances of succeeding in AP Macro.  


#3: Evaluate Your Schedule

Before you enroll in AP Macro, it’s also important to consider your prior academic experience and your course schedule. If you’ve already taken AP Microeconomics, there’s a good chance you’ll find AP Macro to be relatively easy. Additionally, you may be able to manage AP Macro more easily if you aren’t taking a bunch of tough AP courses. 

You should also think about what your daily schedule will look like and how that will affect your experience in AP Macro. For instance, if you know that your AP Macro class would be back-to-back with AP Biology and AP Calculus, you’ll need to be prepared to buckle down for some intense studying and memorization. Considering how other courses will affect your ability to succeed in AP Macro can help you prepare for success ahead of time. 




Conclusion: Is AP Macroeconomics Hard? 

So, is AP Macroeconomics hard? Based on its curriculum, previous students’ opinions, and the course’s 5 rate, AP Macro is a medium-difficulty AP course. But remember: each student will experience AP Macro a little bit differently based on their skills, where they go to school, and who their teacher is. 

In a best case scenario, you’ll be able to take AP Micro before you take AP Macro. This will help you be fully prepared to succeed in AP Macro and, for some students, will make AP Macro a bit easier.




What’s Next? 

It’s a good idea to figure out which AP classes are best for you before you sign up for them. This article on how to determine which classes will be easiest for you.

You may want to fill your course schedule with every AP class under the sun. But before you do, take time to think about how many AP courses you really need to take.

Signing up for an AP class is a good start, but you’ll also have to do well in them. This expert guide will teach you how to tackle AP courses so you make good grades! 



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Ashley Robinson
About the Author

Ashley Sufflé Robinson has a Ph.D. in 19th Century English Literature. As a content writer for PrepScholar, Ashley is passionate about giving college-bound students the in-depth information they need to get into the school of their dreams.

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