High school students planning for college and hoping to stand out on college applications should consider taking Advanced Placement (AP) classes. Designed to give students a taste of college-level study, AP courses are more challenging than the average high school class. College boards take them into consideration when evaluating college applications, and colleges may also use AP exam results to award college credit or place students in advanced courses once their college career begins. This strategy allows students to get a head start on their college education.
The AP program offers 38 courses, some of which are more difficult than others. While harder to pass, difficult AP classes like Physics, Statistics, and Human Geography look great on college applications if students do well on the exams. These exams are scored on a scale from 1 to 5, with 3 being a pass and 5 being the highest.
Below are the 10 most difficult AP classes, broken down by passing rates. Bear in mind that many of the classes listed here are core classes, taken by many students with a range of skill levels. A specialized class like Calculus is harder than Human Geography, but also attracts students who have higher-than-normal math skills. Place students with less advanced math skills in Calculus and they may struggle more than they would in English or Geography. Ultimately, the most difficult AP classes are the ones in which you don’t have a background in the course material and core concepts – challenges which can be overcome with dedicated study and the help of a talented tutor.
AP World History covers nine distinct eras of world history starting at 1200 C.E. and ending just before modern times. Overall, the course covers 800 years of global history, culminating in a three-hour and 15-minute exam. The course has a pass rate of 60.5%, with 9.2% of students earning a 5 on the exam.
English Language and Composition
When students consider which AP classes may be the most difficult, they tend to think of the sciences. However, the AP English Language and Composition course is one of the most challenging. It requires students to demonstrate mastery of reading, interpreting texts, and arguing in favor of their interpretation. The final three-hour exam includes 55 multiple-choice questions and three free-response questions. The pass rate is 60.1%, with 9.3% of students scoring a 5.
Is AP Statistics hard, or is that just a myth? On the one hand, the pass rate is only 60%, but the number of students who earn top marks on the exam is an impressive 16.2%. The course focuses on the collection, organization, analysis, and interpretation of qualitative and quantitative data. The final exam includes 40 multiple-choice questions and six free-response questions.
AP European History covers the cultural, economic, and political events that shaped Europe from the mid-15th century to the present. Students must develop arguments based on historical patterns and evidence. The final exam is similar in structure to AP World History, with a pass rate of 59.3%. 13.7% of students earn a 5 on the exam.
AP Human Geography has a 59% pass rate, so it’s no cakewalk. The course studies human migration and land use, exploring how these factors affect the environment and available resources. The test consists of 60 multiple-choice questions and three free-response questions, with only 11.8% of test takers achieving the highest possible scores.
United States History
AP U.S. History is another history course where students must familiarize themselves with 100s of years of history, in this case from 1491 to the present day. Students learn to connect historical outcomes to people and policies. The exam includes 55 multiple-choice questions and four free-response questions, including one document-based question where students develop an argument based on seven documents. The course has a pass rate of 58.7%, with 13% of students earning a 5 on the exam.
US Government and Politics
AP U.S. Government and Politics examines the U.S. political system, policymaking, civil rights, and government institutions. The exam includes 55 multiple-choice questions and four free-response questions based on political concepts, documents, and court decisions. The course has a pass rate of 57.5%, with 15.5% of students earning top marks on the exam.
AP Chemistry requires more than a knowledge of chemistry. Students must also be able to apply algebra to their work, design experiments, and support scientific claims with evidence. Coursework includes large amounts of memorization and homework. Only 56.1% pass the exam, which includes 60 multiple-choice questions and seven free-response questions. Earning a 5 on the exam puts you in the top 10% of students.
AP Environmental Science explores the earth through biology, chemistry, geology, and mathematics, and students often struggle to keep up with course material. The exam has a 53.4% pass rate and consists of 80 multiple-choice questions and three free-response questions. All told, 11.9% of students earn perfect scores.
The hardest AP course is AP Physics 1. This advanced course has a 51.6% pass rate; almost 50% of students fail, and only 8.8% score a perfect 5. The course covers college-level instruction on electrical charge, force, and Newtonian mechanics. The grueling exam contains 50 multiple-choice questions and five free-response questions. Difficult though it is, a 4 or 5 score on the AP Physics 1 exam stands out on college applications.
Tutoring Gives You the Edge in AP Classes
No matter how difficult your student’s AP courses may be, tutoring can help. A tutor is key to helping students process and master challenging AP subject matter while teaching them the study skills they need to prepare for high school and college exams. Contact Revolution Prep for more information, or enroll now in private tutoring.