The Hardest AP Classes – 2023 Edition (2024)

Building your high school course schedule can sometimes feel like playing Tetris. Can you maneuver every course into just the right sequence? What happens if two classes that you want to take are only offered during the same period? And how difficult are certain AP classes, anyway? Feel like those blocks are falling too fast yet? You’re not alone. Many students find it necessary to consider course difficulty when finalizing their schedules, and although course decisions should always be made in conjunction with your school counselor, read on for a breakdown of considerations regarding the hardest AP classes.

What is the hardest AP class?

If you ask an avid marathoner to run ten miles with you, they won’t even blink. Now, ask the same question to a 5K-dabbler, and they’ll likely tell you they’d rather reorganize their sock drawer. To sum it up, the “difficulty” of a particular distance is entirely relative–just like AP classes. Math and science whizzes may struggle with writing-intensive courses like AP English Literature or US History, while Shakespeare gurus may balk at AP Physics or Chemistry. When building your schedule, be honest with yourself about your strengths. Perhaps you feel comfortable taking AP Calculus and Biology simultaneously but would rather avoid doubling up on literature and/or history courses.

There’s also a difference between class difficulty and exam difficulty, although the two sometimes go hand in hand. Due to the intense preparation, it’s often said that a harder AP class=an easier AP exam experience. Moreover, more popular & widely offered classes, like AP Chem, may have lower pass rates because the students who take them may not be appropriately qualified.

Alternatively, if you’re self-studying for an exam not offered at your school, you’ll have different considerations than a student who is taking a full-year AP course taught by an instructor with a record of 4s and 5s. Likewise, experienced AP teachers whose students have a solid track record of passing the exam will make a huge difference in your preparation. The courses that you’re most interested in earning college credit for may factor into the decision as well. For example, you may decide to throw your energy behind Physics 1 rather than Environmental Science because you hope to pursue the hard sciences in college and want to get a head start.

Hardest AP Class Chart

By pass rate percentage, here are the hardest AP classes ranked from most to least difficulty:

AP Exam% scoring a 3 or above
Physics 143.2%
US History48.3%
Human Geography53.2%
Environmental Science53.8%
Calculus AB55.6%
English Language & Composition55.7%

However, this list is not without shortcomings. AP US Government and Politics, Human Geography, and Environmental Science are generally considered to be among some of the easiest AP classes. Since relying on just one data point rarely (if ever) reveals the full picture, we’ve taken pass rate, overall student reviews, and course material difficulty into consideration when building our list of hardest AP classes:

1) AP Biology

  • Number of Students Taking Exam (2022): 237,338
  • % Scored a 3 or Higher: 67.8%
  • % Scored a 4 or 5: 38.1%

The course is broken into eight sections that cover topics like cellular energetics, gene expression, and ecology. Each section is broken into 6-13 modules that you’ll be moving through quite quickly–sometimes, one per class period.

2) AP Calculus BC

  • Number of Students Taking Exam (2022): 120,238
  • % Scored a 3 or Higher: 76.9%
  • % Scored a 4 or 5: 56.8%

Don’t let the high pass rate fool you–Calc BC moves quickly and expects students to have high-level math skills. Also, the course covers more units than Calc AB (10 vs. 8). The class will likely be challenging regardless, but if you haven’t taken Calc AB as a foundation, this may prove to be one of your hardest AP classes.

3) AP Chemistry

  • Number of Students Taking Exam (2022): 124,780
  • % Scored a 3 or Higher: 54%
  • % Scored a 4 or 5: 29.5%

“What, like it’s hard?” Legally Blonde’s Elle Woods famously uttered to slack-jawed Warner (in regard to getting into Harvard Law). You’ll look just like Warner if you ever hear another student proclaim the same about AP Chem–it is infamous for its difficulty. You’ll be moving quickly and covering an astounding amount of material while you’re at it–often an entire module every 1-2 days. Additionally, topics include intermolecular forces, chemical reactions, and thermodynamics, among others.

4) AP English Language and Composition

  • Number of Students Taking Exam (2022): 520,771
  • % Scored a 3 or Higher: 55.7%
  • % Scored a 4 or 5: 31.5%

AP Lang requires students to work through nine different units as they develop skills in analysis, evaluation, and argumentative & persuasive writing. You’ll be reading a variety of nonfiction pieces (such as essays, speeches, and memoirs) and will be expected to display high-level critical writing on the exam.

5) AP English Literature and Composition

  • Number of Students Taking Exam (2022): 339,401
  • % Scored a 3 or Higher: 77.9%
  • % Scored a 4 or 5: 44.2%

Unlike several of the other courses profiled, AP Lit does not have a scary sub-50 pass rate, and students tend to do better than on the more popular AP Lang exam. However, the class is known to require an intense amount of reading and writing, and the test itself requires students to be well-versed in literary analysis and have the ability to produce three high-level, full-length essays in under two hours.

Hardest AP Classes (Continued)

6) AP Language Exams

  • Number of Students Taking Exam (2022): Chinese (15,277); French (19,554); German (4,450); Italian (2,194); Japanese (2,765); Spanish (155,931)
  • % Scored a 3 or Higher: Chinese (86.9%); French (71.6%); German (65.6%); Italian (70.5%); Japanese (75.4%); Spanish (81.8%)
  • % Scored a 4 or 5: Chinese (67.8%); French (36.8%); German (39.1%); Italian (43.2%); Japanese (58.3%); Spanish (52.1%)

Unless you’ve been taking a language for 3-4 years, think hard before taking an AP language class or exam (Chinese, French, German, Italian, Japanese, and Spanish are offered). While there are no official prerequisites, it is assumed that you are in your fourth year of language study (or equivalent). In sum, if you just started taking French last year, the AP class and exam may be one of your hardest AP classes. However, if you’ve been taking French since seventh grade, you have a much better chance of success.

7) AP Latin

  • Number of Students Taking Exam (2022): 4,832
  • % Scored a 3 or Higher: 27.3%
  • % Scored a 4 or 5: 57.1%

According to the CollegeBoard, AP Latin is “equivalent to an upper-intermediate level college course in Latin” rather than an introductory college course (as most other APs are). In addition to studying works by Vergil and Caesar, students will be expected to become proficient in Latin translation and analysis in order to do well on the exam.

8) AP Physics C: Electricity and Magnetism

  • Number of Students Taking Exam (2022): 19,978
  • % Scored a 3 or Higher: 55.1%
  • % Scored a 4 or 5: 69.4%

The self-selecting nature of Physics C (students should have previously taken calculus) explains its high pass rate, but the class itself is anything but easy. Consequently, both Physics C courses (Mechanics as well as Electricity & Magnetism) are regarded as two of the hardest AP classes that you can take in high school. You’ll cover topics like electrostatics, conductors, and electromagnetism over the course of five units. Finally, the course includes intensive lab work.

9) AP Physics 1

  • Number of Students Taking Exam (2022): 144,526
  • % Scored a 3 or Higher: 43.2%
  • % Scored a 4 or 5: 24.9%

At many high schools, AP Physics is notorious for its difficulty level. In addition, it has the lowest overall pass rate of any AP exam. Students undertake laboratory work (which they are encouraged to save, as colleges may request to see it before granting credit) while completing extensive work in seven subjects, such as kinematics, energy, and harmonic motion.

10) AP US History

  • Number of Students Taking Exam (2022): 456,520
  • % Scored a 3 or Higher: 48.3%
  • % Scored a 4 or 5: 26.4%

Covering 1491 to the present, APUSH is well-known for requiring heavy reading, a great deal of writing, and extensive knowledge of myriad historical events. At the beginning of the course, you’ll cover about 100 years of history every two weeks. Then, as you move into the 1750s (and beyond), you’ll cover about 50 years every 2-3 weeks.

Final Thoughts – Hardest AP Classes

Above all, deciding which of the hardest AP classes to Tetris into your course load will largely be a matter of personal preference, level of preparation, and motivation to succeed. Whether you’re pursuing a full-year AP class offered through your high school, an online AP course, or a self-guided course of study, we wish you the best of luck as you build a rigorous yet realistic schedule.

The Hardest AP Classes – 2023 Edition (2024)


What is the hardest AP class ever? ›

The Hardest AP Classes
  • AP Physics C: Mechanics.
  • AP Calculus BC.
  • AP English Literature and Composition.
  • AP United States History.
Dec 12, 2023

Has anyone ever gotten a 0 on the AP exam? ›

A 0 score is theoretically possible but would likely result from a violation of the College Board's exam policies, such as cheating or filling out the answer sheet incorrectly. Simply leaving an exam blank or providing incorrect answers would usually result in a score of 1, not 0.

What AP has the lowest pass rate? ›

At many high schools, AP Physics is notorious for its difficulty level. In addition, it has the lowest overall pass rate of any AP exam.

Is a 3 ok on AP exam? ›

But what is a passing AP score? 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.

What are the top 5 hardest APs? ›

Okay, Seriously, Which AP Classes Are the Hardest? United States History, Biology, English Literature, Calculus BC, Physics C, and Chemistry are often named as the hardest AP classes and tests.

What is the most failed AP exam? ›

If you're looking at pass rates, Physics 1 is the toughest AP exam. And less than 8% of test-takers received a perfect score. Of course, the hardest AP exam depends on your strengths.

Will bad AP scores hurt me? ›

You will not receive college credit

Either way, you shouldn't look at this as a scary consequence. The worst that can happen is that it is as if you never took the exam, if you don't self-report or send in the official score. It won't actually impact you negatively, it will just fail to provide a possible benefit.

Is it OK if I fail my 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.

How do I hide my AP score? ›

  1. Download and fill out the AP Score Withholding Form. Fill out the form with your information, including which exam scores you want to withhold and from which recipients, and sign it. ...
  2. Have a form of payment ready. The fee to withhold a score is $10 per score per score recipient. ...
  3. Send the form and payment.

Which AP is easiest? ›

Easiest AP exams by pass rate
AP SubjectPass Rate (Exam Score of 3+)Median Score
Ap Physics C Mechanics73.4%3.41
AP Psychology58.3%2.71
AP Research82.7%3.3
AP Seminar82.6%3.19
34 more rows
Jan 13, 2023

Is a 60 passing for AP? ›

Is a 60 a passing grade in AP classes? Yes, a 60 is considered a passing grade in AP classes. In AP, the average passing rate is 60-70%.

How rare is a 5 on AP exam? ›

As you can see, while at least 5% of test takers scored a 5 on each AP exam, the perfect scores are teeny, teeny, teeny percentages.

Are AP tests curved? ›

AP test scores are indeed "curved," but it's more accurate to call it a "scaling process." Instead of a traditional curve that compares your performance to other students' performance, the AP exam scaling process converts your raw score (the number of points you earned through multiple-choice questions and free- ...

Is a 70% a 5 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 a 50 on an AP test? ›

As a general guide, though, you can consider roughly more than 70% correct as being in the 5 range, 50-69% for a score of 4, 40-49% for a score of 3, 30-39% for a 2, and below 30% would likely be a 1. Again, these ranges are approximations and can vary by subject and by year.

Which AP class is the easiest? ›

But we did a bit of digging on Reddit in r/APStudents and found that students frequently mentioned the following AP classes and exams as being the easiest: AP Computer Science Principles. AP English Language. AP Environmental Sciences.

What is the easiest and hardest AP class? ›

AP Physics C, AP Chemistry and AP Calculus BC are the three hardest,. AP Human Geography is typically the easiest. Everything else typically falls somewhere in between. That, of course, depends on the school and the teacher.

Is AP Physics 1 the hardest AP class? ›

Because AP Physics 1 ranks as one of the most difficult AP courses, prospective students often consider whether taking the course is worth a potential hit to their GPA.

Which AP class is most taken? ›

According to the College Board, AP English Language and Composition is the most popular AP class. This AP course was taken by 520,771 students in 2022.

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