Have you ever seen the full list of AP classes? Are you confused about which ones you should take? We'll help you choose by showing you a list of all AP courses available. We'll also reveal which ones are the most popular and which are the hardest to pass. Read on for advice to help you pick your ideal advanced placement courses!
2020-2021 AP Test Changes Due to COVID-19
Due to the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic, AP tests were held remotely in 2020, and information about how things will work for 2021 still evolving. Stay up to date with the latest information on test dates, AP online review, and what this means for you with our AP COVID-19 FAQ article.
Complete List of AP Exams
First things first: here is the full list of AP tests. Before we delve into popularity and difficulty, this basic list can be really helpful. Scope it out and see which topics look interesting to you! There are 38 courses in total:
- Art and Design (formerly Studio Art): 2-D Design
- Art and Design (formerly Studio Art): 3-D Design
- Art and Design (formerly Studio Art): Drawing
- Art History
- Calculus AB
- Calculus BC
- Chinese Language and Culture
- Computer Science A
- Computer Science Principles
- English Language and Composition
- English Literature and Composition
- Environmental Science
- European History
- French Language and Culture
- German Language and Culture
- Government and Politics (Comparative)
- Government and Politics (US)
- Human Geography
- Italian Language and Culture
- Japanese Language and Culture
- Music Theory
- Physics 1: Algebra-Based
- Physics 2: Algebra-Based
- Physics C: Electricity and Magnetism
- Physics C: Mechanics
- Spanish Language and Culture
- Spanish Literature and Culture
- US History
- World History: Modern
When reading through this list, think about subjects you already enjoy and want to delve into more. For example, if you've always liked math, challenging yourself with the BC Calculus course (and exam) could be a rewarding experience.
You can also look ahead to college. AP classes are a great way to explore subjects that aren't usually part of high school curricula. Many AP classes, such as Computer Science, Psychology, and Economics, can give you a taste of college courses while you're still in high school.
AP classes: perfect if you're dreaming of life on campus.
Also, think about the tests that could make you a more competitive applicant to the colleges you're applying to. You want to showcase your strengths, after all! For example, if you're applying as a science major and have done several science-related extracurriculars, it would be a smart idea to take (and ace!) the science AP tests, including Biology, Chemistry, and Physics.
Before you sign up for an AP course or test, think about your prior preparation. In most cases, you shouldn't jump into an AP class if you have no experience in that subject. For instance, many high schools have students take a regular or honors biology class before they can take AP Biology.
Moreover, consider which AP courses are offered at your high school. Most schools don't offer every single AP subject as a class. It is definitely possible to study on your own for a test, but it's much easier if you take a class. This is especially true for the tougher subjects like Calculus and Literature.
For a full description of each AP class and its exam, check out the AP Student website.
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Which AP Tests Are the Most Popular?
Just knowing which AP classes exist won't help you totally narrow down your choices. To give you a better perspective, check out this list of AP courses, organized by popularity (i.e., the number of students taking them):
# of Students Taking (2020)
|English Language and Composition||535,478|
|United States History||472,697|
|English Literature and Composition||333,980|
|Gov. and Politics - United States||293,196|
|Spanish Language and Culture (Total Group)||168,998|
|Computer Science Principles||116,751|
|Computer Science A||70,580|
|Spanish Language and Culture (Standard Group)||55,905|
|Physics C: Mechanics||51,718|
|Art and Design: 2-D Design||36,901|
|Physics C: Electricity & Magnetism||23,655|
|Gov. and Politics - Comparative||22,051|
|French Language and Culture (Total Group)||21,701|
|Art and Design: Drawing||20,486|
|French Language and Culture (Standard Group)||16,570|
|Chinese Language and Culture (Total Group)||14,663|
|Art and Design: 3-D Design||5,281|
|German Language and Culture (Total Group)||4,928|
|Chinese Language and Culture (Standard Group)||3,781|
|German Language and Culture (Standard Group)||3,389|
|Japanese Language and Culture (Total Group)||2,581|
|Italian Language and Culture (Total Group)||2,518|
|Italian Language and Culture (Standard Group)||1,920|
|Japanese Language and Culture (Standard Group)||1,183|
Source: The College Board.
Taking a more popular AP exam has a lot of benefits. For one, the class is more likely to be offered at your high school. Another plus is that there are more study guides and resources you can use for the test—both online and in print. It will also be easier to find other students to study with.
On the flip side, you can distinguish yourself by taking and passing a less popular AP test. For example, having AP Japanese or AP Research under your belt can set you apart from other high-achieving students, especially in college applications.
AP Test Passing Rates
In addition to knowing all your AP exam choices and how popular each test is, it's helpful to know how many students pass each exam. (AP tests are scored between 1 and 5, with anything 3 and higher considered passing.)
Most AP tests have a pass rate of around 65% or higher. The high score of 5 is rarer—usually between 10% and 20% of a test's scores.
Check out our table below, organized in order of the passing rate of each exam.
Note: There are two different subgroups for language exams: Standard and Total. The score rates for language exams (Standard) only include students who didn't indicate they spoke that language at home or had spent four or more weeks in a country where that language was spoken.
On the other hand, the rates for language exams (Total) also include students who speak that language at home and/or have completed study abroad programs. This is why many of the language AP exams (Total) have very high passing rates.
AP Test Passing Rates 2020
Passing Rate (3+)
|Spanish Language and Culture (Total Group)||90.0%||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%||17.0%|
|Japanese Language and Culture (Total Group)||83.6%||53.7%|
|French Language and Culture (Total Group)||83.3%||23.3%|
|French Language and Culture (Standard Group)||80.9%||15.7%|
|Art and Design: 3-D Design||75.6%||7.2%|
|Italian Language and Culture (Total Group)||75.4%||18.5%|
|Physics C: Electricity & Magnetism||74.4%||40.4%|
|German Language and Culture (Total Group)||73.8%||23.9%|
|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%|
|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%|
|German Language and Culture (Standard Group)||67.9%||11.8%|
|English Language and Composition||62.1%||12.6%|
|English Literature and Composition||60.1%||9.3%|
|United States History||58.7%||13.0%|
|Gov. and Politics - United States||57.5%||15.5%|
Source: The College Board.
You might be wondering why tests like BC Calculus and Chinese—which seem really difficult—have some of the highest passing rates. It's not because they're the easiest AP tests. These tests have high pass rates because students who take BC Calc and AP Chinese are much more likely to have prior experience in those subjects and are willing to take on a tough class. In other words, the students who take the hardest AP exams are a self-selecting group of high achievers.
It takes years of math classes to build up to Calculus BC questions like this one. View a whole free-response section here if you're curious about how hard Calculus BC is.
On the flip side, some of the most popular tests, such as US History and US Government, have some of the lowest passing rates. This is likely because a wider pool of test takers means that there are more underprepared and unprepared students.
In addition, note that English Literature and World History—also very popular tests—have very low 5 rates, under 10%. This could be because, again, a wider test taker pool makes for more unprepared students.
However, since so few students can pull it off, it's still pretty hard to get a 5 on these tests. If you take those courses, be prepared to study hard—especially if you want a 5!
Once you've chosen an AP class to take, you might be curious about what the test is like. Learn about how long AP tests are and get tips on managing test fatigue.
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.
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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.