The 5 Easiest AP Classes
Brilliant students who are serious contenders for a spot at an Ivy League or Ivy-equivalent school often take 10+ AP classes. Whether the subject comes easily to them or requires extensive studying is of little relevance. These high-achievers simply aren’t backing down from anything. If you are a more typical college-bound student, you may want to take just 2-3 AP courses over your high school career. If this sounds like you, you may be curious as to what the “easiest” AP classes are generally considered to be.
Let’s dig right into some data…In 2021, over 1.1 million public high school students in the United States took at least one AP test. Over 750,000 of that group scored a “3” or higher on at least one exam. If you are trying to decide how many AP classes to take, revisit our blog on that subject.
How do you determine the easiest AP classes?
Of course, there is no one-size-fits-all formula for determining whether an AP class is “easy”. There are a multitude of factors at play such as:
- The quality/experience of the teacher.
- Whether you are looking for an easy grade or proper prep for the AP test.
- Your own academic strengths and weaknesses.
We recommend talking with your guidance counselor to see which class they feel would be a best fit for a student with your unique profile. Speaking with older students can also shed further light on the pluses and minuses of each AP teacher at your school.
AP scores by subject
One data point we can look to is the AP exam pass rate by subject. Below are the 10 exams that had the highest pass rate (3 or higher) in 2021.
2021 AP Exams with Highest Pass Rate
|AP Exam||% scoring a 3 or above|
|Chinese Language & Culture||88%|
|Art & Design 2-D Design||87%|
|Art & Design: Drawing||86%|
|Spanish Language and Culture||80%|
|Japanese Language & Culture||74%|
|Physics C: Mechanics||73%|
|Italian Language and Culture||72%|
While this data is somewhat helpful, it certainly has its own shortcomings. For example, only around 2,000 students sit for the Italian and Japanese exams each year. The students who do so are among the most advanced language students at their respective schools. At this stage, many have gained a level of fluency that takes many years of study to develop. Similarly with Calculus BC—most individuals taking the test already made it through AP Calc A/B and are among the most accomplished math students in their graduating class. In other words, it is a self-selecting pool of students who sit for these—in reality—very challenging exams.
1) AP Comparative Government & Politics
- Number of Students Taking Exam (2021): 19,292
- % scored a 3 or higher: 72%
- % scored a 4 or 5: 41%
AP Comparative Government & Politics is hardly the most popular class. Just 1,493 schools offered the course. For comparison, 12,941 U.S. high schools offer AP U.S. History. Measuring popularity a different way—students who’ve taken the course have a largely favorable view of it. This course can be a friendly landing spot for many teens seeking out the first AP. You don’t need to have a ton of background knowledge in the government and politics realm to achieve success.
2) AP Psychology
- Number of Students Taking Exam (2021): 288,511
- % scored a 3 or higher: 53%
- % scored a 4 or 5: 35%
AP Psych is a common choice among the “I think I’ll try one AP class before I graduate…” crowd. It is offered at more than 9.500 high schools nationwide. It is also the fifth most popular AP test for students to take. AP Psych ranks only behind English, U.S. History, Environmental Science, and World History in this regard. As a social science course, there isn’t really any prerequisite knowledge needed to try this course.
3) Environmental Science
- Number of Students Taking Exam (2021): 160,771
- % scored a 3 or higher: 50%
- % scored a 4 or 5: 32%
More than 7,000 schools now offer AP Environmental Science, fewer than offer AP Bio or AP Chem. However, a growing number of students are now willing to give this course a go. In fact, more students now take the AP Environmental Science exam than the AP Chem exam. Many future STEM-oriented college students take AP Bio, AP Chem, and AP Physics in high school. The crowd who takes AP Environmental Science is more inclusive, as the course even draws in many future humanities and social science majors.
4) AP Human Geography
- Number of Students Taking Exam (2021): 211,735
- % scored a 3 or higher: 53%
- % scored a 4 or 5: 34%
This course is infinitely easier to find than AP Comparative Government & Politics. It is actually offered at 6,855 American high schools, so chances are decent that it may be within your grasp. If the following areas sound in your wheelhouse, you should give this course serious consideration:
- Connecting geographic concepts to real-life situations.
- Understanding maps, tables, charts, infographics, etc.
- Seeing trends in data.
These are all useful analytical skills and there are no prerequisite courses that will keep you from excelling in this one.
5) AP US Government & Politics
- Number of Students Taking Exam (2021): 283,353
- % scored a 3 or higher: 50%
- % scored a 4 or 5: 24%
Apologies to AP U.S. History and World History as they came close to capturing our final spot. Yet, the winner goes to AP US Government and Politics. While getting a 4 or a 5 is a significant challenge in this course, a “3” is quite attainable for many decent high school students. More importantly, this course will help make you an even more informed citizen, capable of better grasping and analyzing the news of the day. Over 283,000 took this course in 2021, making it among the ten most popular tests.
What if my high school doesn’t offer the AP course I’m looking for?
There are many online schools/programs that offer AP courses online. Further, many are relatively affordable and have a history of successfully preparing students for the exams. You can find out more in our blog: Where Should I Take AP Courses Online?
The other option is to self-study and then sign up to take the exam directly at a local high school. Visit the College Board’s FAQ section for more details.
Easiest AP Classes – Final Thoughts
In conclusion, we hope you have found this list to be useful as you weigh whether or not to attempt an AP class. If you are a solid student who is considering attending college in the future, we strongly recommend attempting at least one AP course while in high school. Of course, you’ll next want to talk to your parents, teachers, counselor, and classmates as you hone in on the right class(es) for you.
Dave has over a decade of professional experience that includes work as a teacher, high school administrator, college professor, and independent educational consultant. He is a co-author of the books The Enlightened College Applicant (Rowman & Littlefield, 2016) and Colleges Worth Your Money (Rowman & Littlefield, 2020).