The Guide to AP Classes – H&C Education (2023)

Most high school students are familiar with what AP classes are, and a good amount of U.S. high schoolers have taken at least 1 AP class and/or exam. But what are the benefits and drawbacks of taking an AP class, both during and beyond high school? We’re here to answer the most commonly-asked questions about the Advanced Placement program.

The Guide to AP Classes – H&C Education (1)

Advanced Placement, or “AP,” is a program created by the College Board that offers college-level curricula and exams to high school students. You might recognize the College Board as the group that also runs the SAT and PSAT/NMSQT, as well as offers financial aid and college admissions resources. Even though the classes are taught by each school’s respective faculty, the curriculum and exam material is standardized, earning each student an exam score from 1 to 5 based on their level of mastery.

In the class of 2021, 1,178,256 U.S. public high school graduates — 34.9% of all public high school graduates in the country — took at least 1 AP exam. The pandemic made AP testing a bit more complicated, but a digital testing option made AP tests a bit more accessible than before. However, this year, most AP exams will be administered in the traditional pen-and-paper format, and the AP exams are set to begin in May and will continue over the course of several weeks.

For students who are also in the process of picking their classes for the upcoming year, you may be wondering which APs, if any, are a good fit for you and the potential impact it could have on the rest of your time in high school and in the college admissions process. Here are some of our answers to the most common questions we get asked about AP classes and exams.

Why should I take AP classes?

The best reason for taking AP classes is different for every student. However, there are some quantifiable benefits, such as a GPA boost, college credit, the advantage in college admissions, and more, that apply to most AP students. Strong AP scores can also help students receive merit-based financial aid and scholarships, especially in the subjects they’d like to pursue in college and beyond. And nowadays there are so many free resources available to help students tackle even the most challenging AP classes that you won’t have to struggle alone to keep up with your work.

AP classes are more difficult than the standard high school class, but they give students a taste of what a college curriculum may feel like. As a result, they can help students go to college feeling more prepared and self-assured about their academic careers, which can be invaluable.

Which AP classes should I take?

The answer to this question depends on myriad factors — i.e. academic strengths and interests, prerequisite classes taken, teacher recommendations, room in your schedule, and more. Basically, you should take the AP classes that will challenge you, but not to the point where you’re sacrificing your success in other classes or hindering your ability to fulfill other commitments.

Just because an AP class is hard and may “look good” on a transcript doesn’t mean it’s a good fit for you. While colleges often look favorably on students who push themselves in all of their subjects, it’s not worth tanking your GPA and damaging your mental health to take a class that is incredibly difficult. For instance, if you’re a stellar humanities student, there’s no need to take AP Physics and AP Chemistry. Instead, focus on AP history and English classes, while throwing in some moderately difficult STEM classes like AP Statistics, AP Psych, or AP Biology, if possible. And if you’re not sure which class would be the best fit for you, ask previous teachers what they think might fit your skillset — you will likely need their recommendation anyways to take certain AP classes.

If you’re a first-year high school student planning out your longer-term academic plan, look at what juniors and seniors in your school often do. Usually, there is some kind of track that advanced students follow with some variation depending on the factors mentioned above. Make sure you have enough time to fulfill any prerequisites and meet credit requirements for graduation and consider where you can step outside of your comfort zone to push yourself or explore new interests.

How many AP tests should I take?

This answer to this question will also vary from student to student and school to school. Most schools place a limit on when students can start taking APs and, especially in the first two years of high school, how many they can take per year. For instance, it’s common that students only take 1 AP in their second year (often an AP History class), and then expand that number in their junior and senior years. While some students are an exception to this trajectory, it’s important for most students to cover the fundamentals of their core subjects before moving on to the more advanced courses.

Furthermore, many schools offer a limited number of APs due to the availability of school resources. It’s important to note that in the college admissions process, your transcript will be considered in the context of how many advanced classes are offered, so don’t worry if your friend at a bigger school is taking 10 APs if you are only allowed to take 5. College admissions officers want to see that you’re challenging yourself, so make the most of the different AP offerings that you can access at your high school.

Can I actually get college credit for taking an AP class?

Yes, but it depends on the kind of credit that your college or university accepts. Many liberal arts colleges with a highly specialized and unique curriculum or elite institutions may not accept any of your AP credits, but that can depend on your major as well. Many schools will allow you to opt out of gen-ed or low-level courses if you have an AP score of 3 or higher in that subject, even if those credits might not count towards your graduation requirements, and they will allow you to take higher-level courses earlier. Additionally, self-directed projects in classes like AP Research can help you score extracurricular and employment opportunities on campus faster.

It’s important to note that AP credits, while considered to be college-level coursework, are not the same as dual enrollment courses, which are actually offered through a local higher education institution. The two types of credits will likely be seen differently at each college and university, so make sure to check with your registrar before your first year of university to see what might be counted.

Do I have to take AP exams if I take an AP class? If I have the choice, should I take the AP test?

The answer to the first question depends on your school’s requirements. For instance, some schools require you to take the test (not necessarily pass — i.e. get a 3 or above) to get credit for the course. Obviously, in that case, you will be taking the test and likely preparing for it during your class sessions.

If your school doesn’t require you to take the test, it’s still in your best interest to take it. There is a fee associated with the exam, but if you qualify for a fee reduction, the cost decreases from $96-144 to $53 per exam. You’ve spent a full year learning the material on the test, so it’s usually worth making the most of the hard work you’ve put in by taking it.

What are the potential drawbacks of taking AP classes?

Since AP classes teach collegiate-level material, they’re fast-paced, and the workload is heavy. Oftentimes, AP courses, especially STEM classes, will be some of the hardest classes high school students will take over their four years of high school.

If you do choose to take an AP class, it’s important that you make enough time between all of your academic and extracurricular commitments to complete the course to the best of your abilities. Otherwise, AP classes can take a toll on your GPA and mental wellbeing. And if there is a specific and unique class your school offers but conflicts with an AP class, it is important to consider what might be most engaging and useful to you based on your academic goals.

If you’re concerned about a specific AP class, ask your teacher or counselor if they think it’s a good fit for you at this time in your academic career.

How do I prepare for AP exams?

It’s important to create a study plan well in advance — if you haven’t started studying for this year’s exams, get started today! That way, you can make sure to review the intricacies of the material while familiarizing yourself with the structure of the exams. Practice tests, whether on the College Board website (check out the AP Classroom resources), Khan Academy, or in a review book, are a great way to experience testing conditions and gauge your preparedness so you can figure out what you need to review.

If you’re struggling with preparing for the exams on your own, you can hire a tutor. with our standardized test specialist. We work with you to create a comprehensive study plan and keep you on track to excel.

Contact us today to set up a free consultation with one of our tutors!


How do I find my AP test answers? ›

If you've taken an AP Exam and want to review your answers to the free-response section, you can ask us to send your free-response booklet to you for a fee of $10 per available booklet. Fill out the Free-Response Booklet Request Form and return it by September 15 of the year you took the AP Exam(s).

What percent is a 5 on an 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.

What was the hardest AP class? ›

For example, we looked at r/APStudents on Reddit and found that students generally considered the following AP classes to be among the hardest:
  • AP Calculus BC.
  • AP Chemistry.
  • AP English Literature.
  • AP Latin.
  • AP Physics 1.
  • AP Physics C E&M.
  • AP Physics C Mechanics.
  • AP US History.
Jan 24, 2023

What is the hardest AP class College Board? ›

Hardest AP Class Chart
AP Exam% scoring a 3 or above
Calculus AB55.6%
English Language & Composition55.7%
5 more rows
Jan 30, 2023

Is one day enough to study for an AP Exam? ›

How many hours you need to spend on studying for AP tests every week is going to depend a lot on how much material you need to review and how comfortable you are with the format of the exam questions. In general, though, you should expect to study for several hours a week split over two to three sessions.

What percent is a 3 on an AP Exam? ›

AP Score Distributions
AP Research12.6%44.3%
AP Seminar11.6%51.8%

What is a 60% on an AP test? ›

Yes, a 60 is a passing rate in AP classes. The average passing rate in AP is 60-70%.

Is a B+ in an AP class good? ›

In summary:

In theory, a “B" in an AP or honors class is “better" than an “A" in a regular class, but many applicants to top colleges will have all A's in the top classes.

What is a B+ in an AP class? ›

Honors English = B+ (3.8 x 1.0) = 3.8. Algebra II. = B+ (3.3 x 1.0) = 3.3. AP US History = B+ (4.3 x 1.0) = 4.3. Honors Chemistry = C+ (2.8 x 1.0) = 2.8.

What is the rarest AP class? ›

In 2021, the least popular AP exams were as follows, based on number of test-takers:
  • AP Italian (2,102 test-takers)
  • AP Japanese (2,204 test-takers)
  • AP German (4,315 test-takers)
  • AP 3-D Art and Design (4,573 test-takers)
  • AP Latin (4,889 test-takers)

What is the lowest AP score ever? ›

Since a 1 is the lowest score that you can get on an AP® exam, this is not desirable. Thankfully, not many students leave the exam with a 1 unless complications arise during the test and they need to leave, or they are just trying to take the exam without knowing any of the material.

What is the easiest AP to take? ›

Calculus BC

AP Calculus BC has earned a reputation as an easy AP course because many of its students master the material. Most AP Calculus BC students perform at an advanced level — at least one year ahead of their high school class in math — helping them achieve a high pass rate.

How many students fail AP? ›

All AP exams have a passing rate of at least 50%. The most failed AP exams are Physics 1 (failed by 48.4% of all students), Environmental Science (failed by 46.6% of all students), and Chemistry (failed by 43.9% of all students).

What is the most passed AP exam? ›

AP classes: ranked according to frequency of perfect scores
  • German Language and Culture: 18.0%
  • Calculus AB: 17.6%
  • Spanish Language and Culture: 17.3%
  • Comparative Government and Politics: 16.6%
  • Statistics: 16.2%
  • Physics 2: Algebra-Based: 15.4%
  • Human Geography: 14.4%
  • Art and Design: 14.2%
Oct 31, 2022

What happens if you fail an 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.

Can I self study for AP? ›

Whether you're homeschooled, your high school doesn't offer the class (or any AP classes), or you simply prefer independent learning, you can self-study for an AP exam. If you choose to self-study for an AP exam, you'll need to be proactive at the start of the school year.

How many months do you need to prepare for AP? ›

Many students start shifting to AP prep mode 1 to 3 months before test day, usually ramping up by spring break. The goal is to give yourself enough time to get used to AP question types, take a few practice tests, review content, and hone your test-taking strategy.

Is it OK to skip an AP exam? ›

Although there are no consequences from skipping the exam, you might be missing out on some opportunities. The first and most obvious advantage is the college credit. Although many colleges are highly selective about AP results, or don't accept them at all, some still will give you credit.

What is a 50% on an AP test? ›

Step 3: Estimate your Final AP Scaled Score by Using the Chart Given Below:
Composite ScoreScaled Score
1 more row
Apr 12, 2023

What if I get a 2 on my AP Exam? ›

Students who earn AP scores of 2 are well prepared to succeed in introductory college coursework. Compared to academically similar college peers who did not take the AP course, AP students who earn scores of 2 perform as well or better when they take those introductory college courses.

What is 80% on AP Exam? ›

AP Scale Grading
If you got a percentage of...If you got a raw score of... (For FINAL EXAM)Your letter Grade will be...
87% or above94-108A+
9 more rows

Is the AP test curved? ›

Yes, there's a curve on AP exams, especially in relation to the AP Physics C tests. They have a heavy curve, as can be seen by the scoring distributions. A large majority of the test takers pass the exam, and 50 percent score a 5.

How much do AP classes boost your GPA? ›

GPA Weight

At many high schools, honors and AP classes both offer more heavily weighted training compared to regular classes. 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 grade is a C+ in an AP class? ›

AP Class Grading Scale
GradeStandardAP Weighted
4 more rows
Nov 14, 2020

Is it OK to get BS in AP classes? ›

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.

Is it better to get an A in honors or B in AP? ›

So what looks better to admissions officers: playing it safe and getting the A in a regular course or taking a more challenging Honors or AP course, but getting a B or a C? The answer that most colleges will give you is that it's better to get an A in the Honors/AP class.

What GPA is an A in an 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.

What will an F do to a 3.8 GPA? ›

Will an F ruin my GPA? The short answer is (surprisingly): No. If you have one “F” and all other grades in a 40-course program are “A” grades, your GPA will drop from a 4.0 to a 3.9. So, your existing GPA will be impacted, but will not be “ruined.”

Is 80% a B+ or A? ›

PercentLetter Grade
87 - 89B+
83 - 86B
80 - 82B-
77 - 79C+
8 more rows

What GPA is an AP B+? ›

Now we'll show you some examples of these grades in action.
ClassGradeUnweighted GPA
AP® EnglishB+3.3
AP® ScienceA-3.7
2 more rows
Mar 1, 2022

Has anyone gotten a 100% on an AP exam? ›

While it won't give you any more college credit or show up on your score report, a perfect score on an AP exam—that's full credit for all exam portions—is an impressive accomplishment. Only a very small number of students get perfect scores each year.

Are AP classes harder 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.

Is AP or IB harder? ›

IB is more rigorous than AP because it requires higher grades than other classes do (i.e., A). This means that students who take IB won't necessarily be able to take as many classes at their local community college or state university—they'll need to apply for admission through another route first!

What is a bad AP score? ›

Advanced Placement exams are graded on a relatively simple 5-point scale. The top score is a 5, and the lowest score is a 1. The average score will vary for different subject areas, but for selective colleges, a score of 4 or 5 will often be needed to impress the admissions folks and earn college credit.

Are AP classes harder than college? ›

In general, all AP classes are challenging and the exams are difficult, since they're meant to be at the same level of an introductory college class. That said, we'll explore some factors that could make an AP class and test harder or easier.

Do colleges care about AP Exam scores? ›

Most of the time, it is up to you whether a college will look at your AP exam scores during the admissions process. The vast majority of colleges do not require that you submit your scores at the time of application. If you scored a 4 or 5 on all of your AP exams then by all means self-report.

How many AP classes does the average student take? ›

If that answer isn't fully satisfying, here is a look at the average number of APs students tend to take over the course of their high school years, broken down by college selectivity: Selective schools: around 7–12 APs. Semi-selective schools: 4–8 APs. Less selective schools: 1–5 APs.

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. It's 2 hours and 40 minutes exam with 80 MCQs and 3 free-response questions. It provides methodologies, concepts, scientific principles.

What is the easiest AP classes for freshman? ›

Easiest AP exams by pass rate

AP Calculus BC. AP Chinese Language. AP English Literature. AP French Language.

Do colleges care if you fail an AP? ›

Colleges will not look at your score

According to the College Board, over 75% of admissions officers surveyed said that a poor AP score would have no impact on an application. If you are still worried that your college may be off put by a low score, you can opt not to send your AP score.

Is it OK to fail an AP class? ›

If the Class Was a Graduation Requirement, You Will Have to Take the Class Again: If the AP class was part of your graduation requirements, and you haven't taken another class that fulfills that spot for the requirement, you'll have to take that AP class or another class that fulfills that requirement again.

How many AP do most high school students 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 percent of people fail AP exams? ›

(AP tests are scored between 1 and 5, with anything 3 and higher considered passing.) Most AP tests have a pass rate of around 60% or higher.

Which AP Exam do the most students take? ›

Most Popular AP Courses
  • AP English Language and Composition.
  • AP United States History.
  • AP Psychology.
  • AP Calculus AB.
  • AP Spanish Language and Culture.

Is it normal to fail your first AP test? ›

First, it's important to know that you are not alone in this situation. Many students, especially those taking an AP for the first time, will fail to score the 3 needed to receive college credit. It's important for AP students to go through the following checklist and make the best of a bad situation.

Should I retake an AP exam if I got a 2? ›

If you decide to retake one, you are committing to preparing for a whole school year. You should only retake the AP exam if external factors impacted your test performance the first time AND you're near-positive that the extra effort will pay off in college credit. There's really no other reason to retake an AP exam.

What grade is considered failing for an AP class? ›

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.

How do I find old AP questions? ›

Official Released Free-Response Questions: You can get released free-response questions and sample responses from many years back into the past. From the College Board's AP exam information page, click on your desired exam; scrolling down will take you to the released free-response questions.

How do I find my AP scores from high school? ›

Download and fill out the AP Archived Score Request Form.

Use this form to request your archived scores be sent to a college, university, or scholarship program, or to request a personal copy. Mail or fax it to the address on the form.

How do I find my old AP test? ›

You can see a history of all AP scores you've sent to colleges, universities, and scholarship programs by signing in to our AP student score reporting system and choosing to view Past Score Sends.

What is a 3 on an AP Exam equivalent to? ›

Qualified C

Do AP tests ever repeat questions? ›

A percentage of multiple-choice questions from prior exams are reused every year, guaranteeing the statistical reliability of each AP Exam from year to year.

Do colleges see AP exams senior year? ›

Remember that if you take an AP Exam in your senior year and designate a college to receive your scores, that college will receive your entire score report from all AP Exams you've taken throughout high school unless you have requested score(s) to be withheld or canceled.

How do I delete my past AP scores? ›

To cancel an AP score, you must download the AP Score Cancellation Form. Fill out and submit the cancellation form to AP Services by June 15 of the year you took that exam so the score isn't sent to the college you selected online through My AP. Otherwise, scores can be canceled at any time.

What colleges don't accept AP credits? ›

Nine schools give students no credit for AP work. These institutions include some of the top schools in the country: Dartmouth University, Brown University, the California Institute of Technology, Williams College, and Amherst College.

Can parents check AP scores? ›

Your parents don't have access to your scores, unless you've given them your College Board account login information. If your school, district, or state partners with other educational organizations, your scores and/or personally identifying information may be shared with those specific educational organizations.

What happens if you get a 1 on an AP Exam? ›

In fact, on the AP® rubric, a 1 is described as “no recommendation”. Because of that, no college in the United States of overseas will accept an AP® score of 1 and give you college credit.

How long are AP scores kept? ›

If your last AP Exam was more than four years ago, your scores are archived and you can't view them in our online score reporting system. You can still send these scores to a college, university, or scholarship program, or get a score report sent to yourself, by submitting a form by mail or fax.

Do AP credits expire? ›

Students may receive credit for some courses by taking the College Board Advanced Placement (AP) exam. Test scores are valid for five (5) years. View accepted courses for college placement and/or credit below.

Can you retake an AP Exam if you missed it? ›

If something unexpected happens that prevents you from taking the AP Exam on the date you were scheduled for or you want to take exams that are scheduled for the same time slot, you can talk to your AP coordinator about taking an exam on a later date.

What happens if you fail the AP Exam but pass the class? ›

The good news is that a failed exam does not affect your GPA. In addition, you can retake the AP exam the next year. To prepare, you can re-enroll in the class, study on your own, or hire a tutor who can help you tackle the more challenging subjects on the test.


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