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The hardest AP classes: Top 10 ranked by score distribution

AP classes could be notoriously tricky. So, you must know the hardest AP classes to check what is waiting for you.

AP classes let students try college-level courses and explore their interests while they are still in high school. AP exams boost GPA and are a license to dream college education.  As the College Board offers a plethora of AP exams each year, students often struggle to decide which one to take. Other than the difficulties of different AP courses, students also wonder what the hardest AP classes are. This article provides a list based on AP score distributions.

Top 10 hardest AP classes

AP CLASS/EXAM PASS RATE (3+) PERFECT SCORE (5)
1. Physics 1 51.6% 8.8%
2. Environmental Science 53.4% 11.9%
3. Chemistry 56.1% 10.6%
4. U.S. Government and Politics 57.5% 15.5%
5. U.S. History 58.7% 13.0%
6. Human Geography 59.0% 11.8%
7. European History 59.3% 13.7%
8. Statistics 60.0% 16.2%
9. English Literature 60.1% 9.3%
10. World History 60.2% 9.2%

1. AP Physics 1

It is algebra-based and one of the hardest AP classes covering Newtonian mechanics, simple circuits, mechanical waves, work, energy, power, etc. It has seven units and covers relevant topics. The exam tests the concept of the students about the scientific concepts of the different units. It has a duration of 3 hours divided into two sections of 1 hour and 30 minutes. The multiple-choice section includes 50 questions, and the free-response section contains 5 questions.

2. AP Environmental Science

It combines biology, chemistry, geology, etc., and is one of the hardest AP classes for students to score a 5 on. While the AP class itself might be easy, the AP exam is definitely no joke. AP Environmental Science features nine units that cover biodiversity & ecosystem of the living world, populations, earth systems & resources, land, water & energy consumption, atmospheric, aquatic & terrestrial pollution, and global changes. Students need to do lab work and field experiments. The exam tastes the understanding of the course concepts and how a student designs research studies for solving environmental problems. Section I of the exam comprises 80 multiple-choice questions. Section II contains 3 free-response questions.

3. AP Chemistry

AP Chemistry covers intermolecular forces, structure, and states of matter, and needs knowledge of High School chemistry courses and Algebra II. Students learn to design experiments for testing predictions and to support claims with evidence. The course contains nine units that include chemical reactions, kinetics, thermodynamics, equilibrium, acids & bases, etc. The exam duration is 3 hours and 15 minutes and is divided into two sections. Section one is for 1 hour and 30 minutes and contains 60 multiple-choice questions. Section two is for 1 hour and 45 minutes. It contains 7 free-response questions.

4. AP United States Government and Politics

The course covers the institutions & key concepts of the political system and culture of the United States. Students need to read, analyze, and interpret the U.S. Constitution and other relevant documents in this class. The course has five units that cover the foundations of democracy, civil liberties & rights, etc. The exam duration is 3 hours and like other courses, it has two sections. The duration of Section I is 1 hour and 20 minutes. It includes 55 questions. Section II contains 4 free-response questions and has a duration of 1 hour and 40 minutes.

5. AP United States History

The course covers nine different historical periods from 1491 to the present. By taking this class, students develop skills to analyze the claims and evidence. They further learn to connect various historical developments. The exam duration is 3 hours and 15 minutes and includes three sections. There are 55 multiple-choice questions to be answered in Section IA. Section IB is for 40 minutes and includes 3 short questions.  And Section II contains 2 free-response questions.

6. AP Human Geography

The course explores human migration and is one of the hardest AP classes. It also teaches students to think geographically and study different types of maps. Students also learn about the cultural & political patterns and the processes involved. It further covers rural and urban land-use patterns and industrial and economic developments. There are two sections. Students need to answer 60 multiple-choice questions in 1 hour and 3 free-response questions in 1 hour and 15 minutes.

7. European History

It covers explores the history of Europe from c. 1450 to the present. The course has nine units. It covers renaissance & exploration, absolutism & constitutionalism, scientific, philosophical & political developments, cold war & contemporary Europe, etc. The exam duration is 3 hours and 15 minutes in three sections. Students need to answer 55 multiple-choice, 3 short-answer, and 2 free-response questions.

8. AP Statistics

It is one of the hardest AP classes for students and involves the collection, analysis, and interpretation of data for conclusions. Students need to have a second-year algebra course for this. They also learn about the major statistical concept and tools through the nine units of the course. The exam is divided into two sections of 1 hour and 30 minutes each. Students need to answer 40 multiple-choice questions in the first and 6 free-response questions in the second section.

9. AP English literature and composition

It involves reading, analyzing, and interpreting complex. Students get the unique opportunity to explore characters, settings, languages, structures, tone, and perspectives with literary analysis of the works. The course has 9 units that cover short fiction, poetry, longer fiction, or drama of different levels. The exam is for 3 hours. It is divided into two sections. The multiple-choice section contains 55 questions and has a duration of 60 minutes. The second section includes 3 free-response questions and has a duration of 2 hours.

10. World History

It used to cover everything from the pre-historic time to the present earlier. But, the College Board has changed the structure. It now covers the history of human civilization from c. 1200 CE to the present. It teaches students to analyze and evaluate historical developments and happens to be one of the hardest AP classes. The course is divided into 9 units that include land-based empires, transoceanic interconnections, cold war & decolonization, etc. Students need to answer 55 multiple-choice, 3 short-answer, and 2 free-response questions.

The above rank is a rank of AP class difficulty according to the pass rate. However, pass rate does not always mean that the class itself is difficult. Please see AP class difficulty image below for AP class difficulty rating according to Reddit:

hardest ap classes

Summing up

To take any of the hardest AP classes, one needs to get info about them at the school. Students should also consider their strengths and weaknesses. They must select one that complements their skill and relates to the intended college major. Now that you know the hardest AP classes you can check out my post on the easiest AP classes.

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