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These Are the Easiest AP Classes for You

Posted by Halle Edwards | Jul 17, 2017 12:00:00 PM

Advanced Placement (AP)




What are the easiest AP classes and/or the easiest AP tests? Answering this question isn’t so simple as just giving you a list, since there are a lot of factors that could make an AP class easy.

The easiest AP tests could have hard classes to go with them, or vice versa. You also have to think about your school, the national average scores, and your own personal strengths when figuring out which AP courses are relatively easy. But don’t worry—we’ll help you break down these factors and decide which AP tests will be easiest for you!

In this article, we'll first discuss your particular situation - your skills and your school. Then, we'll look at national data on passing rates and reputation for easiness.


How Do Your Skills Affect Which AP Tests Are Easiest?

The very first thing you should consider when deciding which AP tests are easiest is, well, you! Any topic that you are good at or comfortable with will be easier for you than classes you are less experienced in.

For example, if you’re a good writer and have always done well in Language Arts/English classes, you will probably find both AP English Literature and AP English Language will be manageable for you, even though their rates of scoring a perfect 5 are pretty low (under 10%). (Read more about AP scoring here.)

As another example, if you have always liked math and have taken math classes up through pre-calculus, you may find AB or even BC Calculus fairly easy, especially if your school has a good teacher (more on that in a minute).

Remember, one student’s easy AP class could be another student’s nightmare! So even as you consider things like passing rate and teachers, keep in mind you shouldn’t just go on a class’s reputation alone when choosing an AP class. Trust your own instincts and strengths!


How Does Your School Affect Which AP Tests Are Easiest?

Another important factor to consider is your school and teachers. For example, if there is a teacher at your school who has taught AP US History for 10 years, has their curriculum down pat, and has a higher passing rate than the national average, you’ll have a high shot of passing, even though AP US History has one of the lowest national passing rates.

This can even be true of other AP classes considered tough by reputation, like AP Physics, AP Biology, and AP English Literature.

This also means that if you take an AP class from a teacher who has never taught it before, you might have to plan on doing more studying on your own. The new teacher might not have as much experience with timing the curriculum or working practice tests into their class schedules.


Don't underestimate the importance of practice tests!


So this means when signing up for AP classes, don’t just look at what your school offers. Try to find out who teaches it and figure out their reputation. But how can you do this?

#1: Ask your guidance counselor. They should know about how many students take the AP class every year, what the teacher’s exam pass rate is, and if they notice students switching out of the class often. That could be a sign the course is challenging or students don’t do well with the teacher.

#2: Talk to upperclassmen who have taken the class. If you have older siblings, or older friends from clubs or sports, you can ask about what they have heard about certain teachers. Don’t rely only on what other kids say about a teacher, but for example, if every student you talk to says they have heard the AP Biology teacher is amazing and all their friends have passed the AP test, that’s a good sign!

#3: Talk to your current teachers. Especially if you are in an AP prerequisite class, like a biology class that feeds into AP biology, the teacher probably knows plenty of students who have gone on to take AP and has heard about how well they do.


What About the AP Class Itself?

Another factor to consider is how hard the class itself will be, not just the AP exam. This is something that varies based on your school and the teacher teaching the class.

As an example, I took two tough AP classes my sophomore year—AP World History and AP Biology. Both exams were very hard, but the classes were two very different experiences. Even though the World History exam was hard and I studied a lot, the class itself wasn’t hard to pass. The teacher even automatically changed our grades for the last semester to an A just for taking the AP test!

However, for AP Biology, our teacher assigned very tough tests and lots of homework, including making several flashcards for every single textbook chapter. It was very hard to get an A in that class.

To find out how hard an AP class will be, you can use the same tips we mentioned above to learn about a class’s reputation. As a general rule, the more material there is to cover before an examination, the harder the class will probably be.

Calculus BC, Biology, and English Literature have tough reputations in a lot of schools since there is more material to cover. US Government, Psychology, Human Geography, and Environmental Science tend to be easier since there is comparatively less to cover before the exam.

Also keep in mind that some schools weight AP classes, so they can boost your GPA if you do well.


Average AP Passing Rates: What We Can Learn

The passing rate for each AP test is where many students start when trying to figure out the easiest AP classes. Check out our table below to see which exams have the most and least students pass.

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%
Seminar 86.8% 6.7%
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%
Calculus BC 80.6% 42.6%
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%
Research 70.3% 16.8%
Microeconomics 69.5% 23.5%
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%
Psychology 64.2% 19.1%
Biology 64.1% 6.4%
Physics 2 63.5% 12.9%
Latin 63.4% 12.5%
Art History 61.2% 11.1%
Music Theory 60.9% 19.2%
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%
European History 56.0% 9.3%
Macroeconomics 57.6% 17.4%
Calculus AB 57.5% 18.7%
English Language and Composition 55.0% 9.1%
World History 55.0% 8.5%
Statistics 54.3% 13.6%
English Literature and Composition 52.6% 6.8%
Chemistry 52.4% 10.1%
United States History 50.9% 10.8%
Environmental Science 49.4% 9.5%
Gov. and Politics - United States 49.3% 11.1%
Human Geography 48.9% 10.7%
Physics 1 41.9% 5.4%
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.

Notice that some of the exams with the highest passing rates, Chinese, Spanish Language, and BC Calculus, are not the easiest AP classes or tests by any estimation. They have high pass rates because the students who take those classes are ones, in general, who have had plenty of prior preparation.

This also includes the AP Studio Art Classes—the AP exam is really a portfolio you submit. AP art students put in tons of work during the year preparing pieces for their portfolio. You have to have prior art experience to put together a solid portfolio; you can’t just waltz into AP art as a novice!

So what does this mean? If you are strong in a subject, you have a good chance of doing well on the AP exam, even if it has a reputation of being tough. But don't just go by the national passing rates when signing up for classes!

On the flip side, note that some of the exams with the lowest passing rates—Environmental Science, US Government, and Human Geography—are not necessarily the hardest AP tests. In fact, at many schools they have a reputation for being easy.

So why are their passing rates low?

One reason is that many high schools let freshmen and sophomores take these courses since they are comparatively easier. However, since they are many students’ first-ever AP exam, the students can struggle because all AP exams are challenging and tough to pass.

Also, students might underestimate these exams and not study enough. Especially if they are taking multiple APs in one year, they might, say, neglect Environmental Science while trying to study for Physics.

So even if an AP course has a reputation for being easy, or the class at your school isn’t that hard, do not underestimate the exam. All AP exams are difficult and you have to put in study time to do well on the test.


By Reputation, What Are The Easiest AP Exams?

We’ve talked about personal strengths, teachers, and passing rates. But you’re probably still wondering: across the board, which AP classes and tests tend to be easy, and which ones are hard?

Easiest AP Classes and Tests:

  • Psychology
  • Human Geography
  • Environmental Science
  • US Government

Some schools teach US Government as a half-year course since it has less material. Psychology is mostly memorization and only has two free response questions on the test. (Compare that to AP Chemistry, which has seven.)

Environmental Science is conceptually easier to understand than Physics, Biology, or Chemistry for most students. Human Geography centers around learning and applying models, and has less raw memorization required than the AP history exams.

Statistics, Computer Science, and Economics (both macro and micro) are often also cited as easier tests if you have background in the subject and/or good teachers.

Which APs are often seen as the most difficult?

Hardest AP Classes and Tests:

  • English Literature
  • English Language
  • BC Calculus
  • Physics C (both Mechanics and Electricity and Magnetism)
  • Biology

Again, this can change if you are strong in any of these subjects and/or your school has a great teacher.


You do still have to memorize the structure of the brain, among other things, for AP Psychology. If memorization isn't your strong suit, it might not be so easy.


Are AP Language Classes Easy?

Finally, we want to address the language AP exams. As we saw above, AP Chinese has the highest passing rate of any exam. AP Spanish also has a very high rate (89% of student pass), as well as AP Japanese (77% of students pass).

Why are their passing rates so high? It’s because students don’t just learn these languages in one year. Most students only take AP language if they have been taking a language for several years. Many students who take the AP language exams even speak that language at home or may have studied abroad. This explains the high passing rates.

What this means: if you do have lots of experience with a language, you should definitely try to take the AP language exam. Colleges frequently use AP language scores to place you in first year language courses, or even to excuse the foreign language requirement.

In other words, the AP language exams are a great way to show your foreign language skills to colleges—and will be pretty easy to pass as long as you have the experience. But don't sign up for them just because they appear easy based on their passing rates. You can't learn Chinese in a year!




What Do Colleges Want?

As a final note, you should keep in mind why you are taking AP classes in the first place—to get college credit, and also to strengthen your college applications.

In general, colleges want to see two things out of your high school classes: that you are challenging yourself, and that you are developing specific academic interests.

If you only take the AP exams with easy reputations, it might look like you’re not challenging yourself. This is especially true if your high school offers the traditionally “tough” courses like calculus and literature.

In other words, don’t load up on a bunch of “easy” APs just to have them on your transcript. Colleges will see through it.

Instead, take APs that are interesting to you and support what you want to study in college. This will often result in a balance between easier and harder exams. For example, a future political science major might take AP US History (challenging) and AP US Government (easier). Or a future environmental engineer might take AP Calculus BC (hard) and Environmental Science (easier).

The bottom line? Play to your strengths!


What’s Next?

Curious about what the AP tests themselves are like? Learn about how long AP tests are and how to deal with fatigue.

Also studying for the SAT? Learn to improve a low math score and how to write a strong essay. Aiming for perfection? Get tips from our resident 1600 full-scorer.

Going with the ACT instead? Get tips for the essay and get study tips from our perfect 36 full-scorer.


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
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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