Which AP Classes Should You Take? (2023)

Advanced placement (AP) classes can help high schoolers gain admission into selective colleges.

Taking advanced placement (AP) classes in high school can help you earn college credit alongside your diploma and lead to tuition savings as an undergraduate. AP classes prepare learners to take tests on college-level knowledge in 38 subjects. Students who receive passing scores on these tests can earn college credit.

This article explains the benefits of taking AP classes, the hardest and easiest AP classes, and how much money you can save by taking AP tests.

What Are AP Classes?

The AP program — offered by the College Board — allows students to earn college credit for taking high school classes. Students can take AP classes in 38 areas, including English, social science, math, and various languages. At the end of the year, students take the relevant AP test for their subject, thereby earning college credit. However, not every school offers AP classes.

Why Should You Take AP Classes?

High schoolers take AP classes for several reasons. First, by passing AP tests, students can earn credit toward their college degrees, saving time and money. Rather than paying college tuition prices for a class, learners pay one exam fee. Similarly, AP credits allow students to skip introductory classes obynce they start college.

Finally, these courses help high schoolers gain admission to competitive colleges. An AP class shows colleges that an applicant can complete college-level work. Learn more about how to apply to college.

How Are AP Classes Scored?

The College Board scores AP exams on a 1-5 scale. These exams are scored by a team of AP teachers and college professors who teach in the subject area. The College Board considers a 3 to be a passing score, and many colleges grant credit for scores of 3 or higher.

Financial Benefits of Taking AP Classes

Taking AP classes can save students thousands of dollars in college tuition. Signing up for an AP exam typically costs $95 per test. If you score a three or higher on the exam, you can often earn three college credits.

According to the National Center for Education Statistics, in-state public schools charge $4,402 in tuition and fees per semester, while private universities cost nearly $15,000 per semester. Using AP tests, you could earn a semester's worth of college credit while spending only $380 — significantly less than the cost of earning 12 credits at a four-year college or university.

What Are the Easiest AP Classes?

All AP classes challenge high school students to work at a college level, but some AP classes are more difficult than others.

The easiest AP classes report a high pass rate and a high number of students who score a perfect five on the exam. The AP exams with the highest scores include calculus, physics, and computer science.

(Video) ARE AP CLASSES WORTH IT? 5 Reasons to Take AP Classes

AP language exams typically report a high pass rate as well, including Chinese (89.9%), Japanese (89.9%), and Spanish (88.7%).

AP Exams With Highest Scores
AP Class Percentage of 5 out of 5 Scores
Chinese Language 60.1%
Japanese Language 45.3%
Calculus BC 43.0%
Physics C Mechanics 37.7%
Computer Science 26.7%
Source: College Board

What Are the Hardest AP Classes?

While all students excel in different subjects, there are a few AP tests where most test-takers do not earn a passing score.

The AP tests with the lowest pass rates are English literature (49.7%), environmental science (49.2%), and human geography (49.1%). More students pass the statistics (59.7%) and computer science classes (69.6%) than English literature.

The hardest AP classes also have the highest percentage of students earning the lowest possible score (1). The following table includes the AP exams with the lowest scores.

AP Exams With Lowest Scores
AP Class Percentage of 1 out of 5 Scores
Human Geography 34.1%
Economics - Macro 26.2%
Physics 1 25.9%
Environmental Science 25.4%
U.S. History 24.3%
Source: College Board

How Many AP Classes Should I Take?

Unfortunately, when it comes to how many AP courses to take, there's no magic number that applies to all students. To know how many AP classes you need, first consider your goal in taking AP classes.

High schoolers take AP classes to stand out on college applications and to earn college credits. If you're mainly taking AP classes to impress colleges, taking classes in several different subjects can create a well-rounded application. Concentrating your classes in a specific area — like your future college major — can also help. With this strategy, it makes sense to spread out your AP classes over several years.

If you're mainly taking AP classes for college credits, it may make more sense to load up your schedule during senior year. You won't have AP test scores by college application deadlines, but you can still earn credits toward your college degree.

How Many AP Classes Do Colleges Look For?

Colleges often consider the number of AP classes on a transcript when evaluating applicants. The more competitive the school, the more AP classes they expect to see. That's because AP classes demonstrate a high schooler's readiness for college. Many look for an average of five classes, though some prefer up to eight.

When to Take AP Classes

There's no set rule about the best time to take AP classes, and it depends on which classes your school offers. PrepScholar recommends taking 1-3 AP classes in your sophomore year, 2-4 AP classes in your junior year, and 3-5 AP classes in your senior year.

Can You Take an Exam if You Didn't Take an AP Class?

Yes. High schoolers can sign up for AP exams even if they do not take an AP class in that subject. This option allows students at schools that do not offer AP classes to still receive college credit. However, while test-takers in this position can earn college credit, the AP test will not appear on their high school transcripts.

(Video) How many AP classes should I take?

Do You Have to Take an Exam if You Take an AP Class?

No. Students who enroll in AP classes do not need to take the exam at the end of their class. Some may choose to take AP classes for the added academic challenge without planning to complete the exam.

Are There AP Alternatives?

Several states offer AP alternatives. For example, the Running Start program allows high schoolers in several states to earn college credit by taking college courses through local community colleges.

Started in Washington State, the Running Start program now also operates in Hawaii, Montana, Illinois, and New Hampshire. The dual-credit courses count toward high school graduation requirements while also granting college credits.

Remember: you don't need to enroll in an official AP class to take an AP exam. Students can sit for an AP exam and earn credits for passing scores even if their schools don't offer AP classes in that subject.

Finally, high school students can make their college applications stand out even without earning AP credit. Pursuing an internship or apprenticeship in high school might not provide college credits, but it can still help during the application process.

Frequently Asked Questions

How Are the Tests Formatted?

The format varies depending on the subject. In general, students complete a multiple-choice section and a written section. During the written section, a test-taker may write an essay, solve a problem, or complete a spoken exam.

What Is the Scoring Scale?

The score on AP tests ranges from 1-5. Most colleges offer credit for students who earn a passing score of three or higher, but each school differs. Make sure to contact your prospective colleges about specific AP score requirements.

(Video) Roasting Every AP Class in 60 Seconds

How Long Are the Exams?

Most AP exams take 2-3 hours.

When Are AP Exams?

The College Board administers AP exams in 38 subjects in the first two weeks of May every year.

(Video) AP Tier List 2021! Valedictorian spills the tea!

Can You Take an AP Test Online?

Yes. It is possible to take AP tests online. In 2020, all AP tests moved to an online format due to COVID-19. Current students interested in taking AP classes online for college credit should talk to their school counselors, as this may change in the future.

Can You Retake an AP Test if You Scored Low?

Yes. Students can retake an AP test if they receive a low score. However, the College Board only offers AP exams once per year, so you will have to wait. Learners can also request to withhold or cancel scores.


What AP classes should I take test? ›

When Should I Take AP Classes?
GradeRecommended Number of AP Classes to TakeRecommended AP Classes
11th Grade3-5English, Calculus AB, Biology, Spanish (or other foreign language), U.S. Government and Politics
12th Grade3-6Chemistry, Physics C, Calculus BC
2 more rows

What is the best number of AP classes to take? ›

Aim for four to eight AP exams in your junior and senior years. For competitive Ivy League schools, admission officers also want to see AP courses for core subject areas and additional courses. If possible, aim to pass about seven to 12 AP exams if applying to these highly selective schools.

What is the easiest AP class to take? ›

Top 10 Easiest AP Classes by Exam Pass Rate
  • Physics C: Mechanics. 84.3% 41.6%
  • Calculus BC. 81.6% 44.6%
  • Spanish Literature. 75.1% 17.6%
  • Physics C: Electricity and Magnetism. 74.4% 40.4%
  • Physics 2. 73.3% 14.0%
  • Computer Science Principles. 71.6% 10.9%
  • Psychology. 71.3% 22.4%
  • Computer Science A. 70.4% 25.6%

Is taking 2 AP classes enough? ›

Take as many as you can handle without spreading yourself too thin. Make sure you will have time to study for the ACT or SAT this year. An Ivy League hopeful might take 3 to 5(!) AP classes, while if you're aiming for less-selective schools, 2 or 3 would be enough.

What AP classes do colleges like best? ›

If you are going for the most competitive colleges, you should take the toughest core courses available at your school—including AP English Literature and/or Language, Calculus or Statistics (or both!), US, World, or European History, and at least one of the sciences (Biology, Chemistry, Physics).

What is the least taken AP class? ›

Many of the least popular AP exams are world language tests, as these exams generally target a more niche group of students. What's more, some languages are less commonly taught at high schools than others (e.g., Japanese and Italian courses are rarer than Spanish courses).

Is 4 APs too much junior year? ›

Junior Year

Depending on what kind of school you want to go to, you should be taking between 3 and 5 AP® classes this year. You will need to manage your time well, however, as you also need to study for the SAT® or ACT® during this time.

Do colleges prefer AP or honors? ›

Colleges like them both. Both honors and AP courses are rigorous courses that most high schools weight more heavily on your transcript. AP courses, however, culminate in the AP Exam. Good AP scores show colleges you are ready to succeed at college-level work and can even earn you college credits.

What AP class has the highest passing rate? ›


What AP class has the lowest passing rate? ›

Despite a reputation as one of the most difficult AP classes, Physics 1 is also one of the most popular—144,526 students took it in 2022. Physics 1 has the lowest pass rate of any AP exam (43.3%) along with one of the lowest percentages of students scoring a 5 (just 7.9%).

Which AP class has the highest 5 rate? ›

Furthermore, some decidedly hard exams, like Chinese, Calculus BC, and Physics C, have very high 5 rates—up to 49%+ for Chinese!

What is the hardest AP class to self study? ›

[8] AP Chemistry is rated as the hardest of all AP classes if you're self-studying, at 8.3 / 10.

What GPA is an A in AP class? ›

Many schools treat AP classes differently when calculating a student's grade point average (GPA). Rather than the traditional 4.0 scale, AP classes are weighted on a 5.0 scale — in an AP class, an A is equivalent to 5.0 instead of 4.0, and a B is equal to 4.0 instead of 3.0.

How many AP classes is impressive? ›

To be competitive at some of the most highly selective colleges in the country, 8-12 AP courses may be the sweet spot amount, assuming the student can handle that level of rigor. There are no colleges out there that require you to take 14, 17, or some other obscene number of Advanced Placement offerings.

What is the second hardest AP class? ›

Environmental Science:

The second hardest AP class is environmental science, with a passing rate of 53.4%. This class is often known for students underestimating the course.

Do colleges care if you take easy AP classes? ›

Because AP classes have a significant effect on GPA and rank, they can also impact your AI score. If a student doesn't meet a college's minimum AI threshold, they're unlikely to be admitted, and may even be rejected automatically.

Do honors classes boost your GPA? ›

A lot of high schools uses a weighted GPA scale, giving a GPA boost to students who take honors and AP classes. For example, an A in a college prep class might earn you a 4.0 while an A in an honors class gets you a 4.5 and an A in an AP class results in a 5.0.

What GPA do colleges look at? ›

Colleges consider your unweighted or weighted high school GPA alongside other grades, including your semester GPA and cumulative GPA. Admissions officers look at your official transcripts to contextualize your GPA and understand which classes you thrived.

Is it OK to fail an AP class? ›

What happens if you fail an AP class? If you fail an AP class, then your GPA will likely drop as it would for a normal class. This grade also shows up on your transcript. However, you may be able to retake the class the following year to raise your grade and increase your GPA.

Is it OK to not take a lot of AP classes? ›

Making your application competitive

When college admissions officers pour through thousands of applications, students who do not take AP courses will pale in comparison to those who have taken AP and other advanced courses.

Is 14 AP classes a lot? ›

For students aiming for the Ivy League and Top 20 schools in the United States, a good target is to take (and pass) 10-14 AP classes throughout your high school career — or 3-4 each year.

How many AP classes do valedictorians take? ›

Additionally, starting with the class of 2027, students must take at least six advanced placement, dual enrollment or early college classes to be considered for valedictorian status.

Can you get into Ivy League without AP classes? ›

The Ivy leagues don't discriminate if your school doesn't offer you AP classes. However, if your school offers AP classes and you don't take the opportunity to take them all they will notice that and it's not a good thing. This really depends on how many your school offers.

Is it bad to take 5 AP classes junior year? ›

You can definitely take 5 APs, but just make sure to stay on top of your work and spend a good amount of time studying to make sure you know the material.

Are B's in AP classes good? ›

If you take AP classes and get B's, don't worry too much. Colleges take the difficulty of your classes into consideration, and a lot of admissions officers are impressed by students who challenge themselves with the tougher courses.

Do colleges look at 10th grade? ›

Colleges will look at your sophomore grades, whether it's to see if you maintained an acceptable GPA or improved from the year before. Getting a headstart with strong grades and challenging school work alongside extracurricular activities can make all the difference when you reach your senior year.

How much do AP classes boost your GPA? ›

While honors courses usually add 0.5 points to your GPA, AP classes often add 1 point. In other words, a 3.5 GPA would be boosted to a 4.0 in an honors class and a 4.5 in an AP class.

What is a 70% on the AP exam? ›

Usually, a 70 to 75 percent out of 100 translates to a 5. However, there are some exams that are exceptions to this rule of thumb. The AP Grades that are reported to students, high schools, colleges, and universities in July are on AP's five-point scale: 5: Extremely well qualified.

What is the highest GPA with AP classes? ›

How does the AP GPA scale work? Unlike a traditional 4.0 scale, AP courses are graded on a weighted scale that goes up to 5.0. On a traditional scale, a 4.0 is an A, 3.0 a B and so on. On the AP weighted grading scale, a 5.0 is an A, 4.0 a B and so on.

What AP class gives the most credits? ›

Math, science, and foreign language exams tend to give the most credit.

What if you fail an AP class but pass the exam? ›

On the other hand, if you fail the class but pass the exam, the outcome depends a bit on your school's grade policy. Some schools might allow failed grades to be changed on a transcript with a passing AP score, but these policies vary from school to school.

What grade is AP failing? ›

The College Board considers a score of 3 or higher a passing grade. That said, some colleges require a 4 or 5 to award credit. Whether a 3 is a good AP score depends on the colleges you're applying to.

Do colleges care if you don't take an AP exam? ›

Perhaps the test was too expensive, or they couldn't make the exam date. It could also be because none of their potential colleges accept AP credits. Either way, colleges will not look down on you for abstaining from taking the exam.

What are impressive AP classes? ›

Most universities, especially Ivy League schools appreciate students who take full advantage of challenging courses while maintaining a high GPA.
Best AP classes for Ivy League schools
  • AP English.
  • AP Chemistry.
  • AP Biology.
  • AP Computer Science Principles.
  • AP World History.
  • AP US History.
  • AP Psychology.
  • AP Economics (Macro)
May 22, 2020

What is the easiest AP exam to get a 5? ›

The five easiest exams for self-study are as follows:

AP Environmental Science. AP Human Geography. AP Psychology. AP US Government and Politics.

Is AP Bio the hardest AP? ›

AP Biology is one of the more difficult APs based on its challenging curriculum, the low rate of students who earn 5s on the exam, and the consensus from students on the demanding nature of the class. Ideally, you should take an Intro to Biology class before you take AP Biology so that you're fully prepared for it.

Is AP psych the easiest AP? ›

Is AP Psychology Easy Or Hard? AP Psychology is considered very easy, with class alumnae rating it 3.5/10 for overall difficulty (the 2nd-easiest out of the 28 large AP classes surveyed). The pass rate is slightly lower than other AP classes, with 59% graduating with a 3 or higher.

Do colleges look at self study AP? ›

First off, colleges measure students' coursework and performance based on the curriculum offered and the grades earned. Not the AP exam scores. Hence, self-studying for additional subjects is irrelevant because it isn't the same as taking a class and earning semester grades in it.

Which AP Can I self study? ›

Did you know you can take an AP exam and earn college credit without taking the AP class? Consider self-studying for these seven popular AP exams.
1. AP World Languages
  • Chinese.
  • French.
  • German.
  • Italian.
  • Japanese.
  • Latin.
  • Spanish.

What GPA is a B+ in AP? ›

5 for any class taken at the intermediate level, and 1.0 for each class taken at the AP® or honors level.
Here's how to calculate your weighted GPA.
Letter GradeUnweighted GPA
8 more rows
Mar 1, 2022

What GPA is a C+ in AP? ›

What Is a Weighted GPA?
Letter GradePercentageAP/IB GPA
8 more rows
Feb 17, 2021

What is the highest GPA ever? ›

A GPA higher than 5.0 is rare, but school point systems are occasionally structured so that students taking advanced classes can rack up bonus points. One student even managed to land a stunning 10.03 GPA by taking 17 advanced classes at a school that awarded bonus points.

How many APs does Harvard want? ›

Freshmen who have taken College Board Advanced Placement exams need a total of four full credits to be eligible for Advanced Standing. Credits are earned by scoring 5 on a minimum of four AP tests.

Do AP classes matter senior year? ›

While you don't have to take all of the AP classes your school offers, taking a few, especially during junior year or senior year, will definitely boost your college applications.

How many APs does the average Ivy League student take? ›

Most students who attend extremely selective schools have taken anywhere from 7 to 12 AP courses in high school, although there are exceptions to this rule.

Is self studying AP worth it? ›

Self-studying for an AP exam will be especially worth it if you already have a working knowledge of the subject you're hoping to study for. Remember that you'll want to aim for a score of four or higher. Most colleges won't give credit for a lower score.

Is AP more difficult than honors? ›

AP classes, however, are more challenging than honors classes. These courses cover information, teach skills and give assignments that correspond to college classes. High school students taking AP courses will be held to the same standard as college students.

What is the oldest AP class? ›

A pilot program was run in 1952 which covered eleven disciplines. In the 1955–56 school year, it was nationally implemented in ten subjects: Mathematics, Physics, Chemistry, Biology, English, History, French, German, Spanish, and Latin.

Is 4 aps too much junior year? ›

Junior Year

Depending on what kind of school you want to go to, you should be taking between 3 and 5 AP® classes this year. You will need to manage your time well, however, as you also need to study for the SAT® or ACT® during this time.

What is the hardest 5 Class AP? ›

Top 10 Hardest AP Classes by Exam Pass Rate
AP Class/ExamPass Rate (3+)Perfect Score (5)
1. Physics 151.6%8.8%
2. Environmental Science53.4%11.9%
3. Chemistry56.1%10.6%
4. U.S. Government and Politics57.5%15.5%
6 more rows

Which AP test is the hardest? ›

Physics 1:

AP Physics 1 is the hardest AP class with the least passing rate of 51.6. It means almost half of the students fail this exam. It's 3 hours exam consist of 50 MCQs and 5 free-response questions.

Do you take tests in AP classes? ›

To sum everything up, you don't have to take the AP exam if you take an AP class.

How many AP classes should I take for Harvard? ›

Going up the selectivity chain, the average at Harvard is eight AP classes. To be competitive at some of the most highly selective colleges in the country, 8-12 AP courses may be the sweet spot amount, assuming the student can handle that level of rigor.

Are AP classes harder than college classes? ›

It depends on the rigor of your AP classes and your university classes. AP classes can definitely be more difficult than the introductory-level courses they represent, but once you advance further into the university's curriculum, that's no longer the case.

Is AP more difficult than SAT? ›

Are AP Tests Harder Than SAT Subject Tests? Most students find the material on AP Tests to be more difficult than the material on SAT Subject Tests because it's intended for students who are working at a college level. AP Tests also require more stamina.

Is it bad to get a 1 or 2 on AP exam? ›

The findings show that AP students who earn scores of 1 and 2 have significantly stronger college outcomes than college students who did not take an AP course and exam. AP students may be more likely to attend college and succeed for many reasons in addition to their AP coursework.

Does it look bad if you don't take an AP test? ›

AP exams have very little weight in the admissions process - the courses are what matter more (as do your grades). It won't necessarily look bad if you don't take the exam, but you may miss out on college credit if you end up going to a non-Ivy (or equivalent school).

Do AP classes boost GPA? ›

While honors courses usually add 0.5 points to your GPA, AP classes often add 1 point. In other words, a 3.5 GPA would be boosted to a 4.0 in an honors class and a 4.5 in an AP class. This boost can prove particularly useful if you want to challenge yourself with more difficult training without punishing your GPA.

What happens if I fail AP Exam? ›

What happens if you fail an AP exam? If you fail an AP exam, you will not receive college credit for that course. The good news is that a failed exam does not affect your GPA. In addition, you can retake the AP exam the next year.


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