What Are the Key Differences in AP Classes?

Thursday, March 14, 2024
Students Taking Test Classroom

Advanced placement classes are a significant undertaking for any high school student. Because AP exams can be used for college credit at some of the most prestigious universities, the curriculum for these classes is much more rigorous than the average student may be used to.

If you are thinking about adding a few AP classes to your high school schedule, you may be wondering if there are any differences between these courses. Are some easier than others? Find out what you need to know as you consider whether AP classes are right for you and how to incorporate them into your course plan.

How AP Classes Differ From Each Other

Advanced placement classes are meant to be structured in a way that makes them equally rigorous. Therefore, classes do not generally differ in the level of difficulty offered to students. However, there are a few ways in which courses differ from each other.

Subject Matter

Many students who decide to take AP courses base their course selection on the subject matter. The College Board, the organization responsible for offering the AP program, breaks courses into several subject matter categories, including:

  • Capstone

  • Arts

  • English

  • Sciences

  • History and Social Sciences

  • Math and Computer Science

  • World Languages and Cultures

Each category features multiple courses that students can take to challenge themselves or try to get college credit. A few high schools will offer all of these categories, but most participating in the AP program will offer at least a few.


High school students often progress through courses and subjects in a way that is predetermined by their school or district. For example, students may have to take environmental science before they can enroll in biology or chemistry.

Your school will likely offer AP courses in a similar fashion. You may not be able to take some classes until junior or senior year due to the prerequisite knowledge that must be acquired. 


Although all AP classes should offer a college-level curriculum, some cover more material than others. AP United States History and AP Chemistry are two courses that high school graduates often remember as having a lot of material that students must memorize in order to do well on the exam. 

How easy these courses are for you will likely depend on how interested you are in the curriculum, your level of prior knowledge, and your ability to recall information.


The purpose of most AP classes is to introduce you to college-level work and help you gain knowledge in a particular subject area. Additionally, an AP Capstone Diploma Program is offered at a few select schools. 

The courses included in the program — AP Research and AP Seminar — are designed to develop students’ skills in research, analysis, writing, and presenting. Rather than teaching specific content, these courses help students develop their academic prowess for success in the college arena.

The “Easiest” AP Classes

Although the basic premise of the AP program is that all courses offer the same level of rigor, students can’t help but wonder what the easiest AP classes are. Some want this information so they can enroll in AP courses without having to do much work. Others want to know they’ll be able to maintain their high GPA and score well on the AP exam.

Unfortunately, there is no way to know what the easiest and hardest AP classes are — assessments of this nature will almost always be subjective. However, you can use objective data gathered by the College Board to find out which AP exams students typically score the highest and lowest on.

According to the College Board’s 2023 AP score distributions, the 10 exams on which the highest percentage of students scored a three or above include:

  1. AP Seminar (85%)

  2. AP Drawing (84.8%)

  3. AP Chinese Language and Culture (84.4%)

  4. AP Spanish Language and Culture (83.8%)

  5. AP Research (83.6%)

  6. AP Calculus BC (78.5%)

  7. AP English Literature and Composition (77.2%)

  8. AP Japanese Language and Culture (76.9%)

  9. AP Chemistry (75.1%)

  10. AP French Language and Culture (74.7%)

Keep in mind that the only true way to know which courses will be easiest or hardest for you is to take them yourself.

Making the Right Choice Is Key

The entirety of your high school or college career will not depend on a few courses, but it is important to carefully consider whether and how you might add AP classes to your schedule. 

Your college admissions officers will want to know that you challenged yourself in high school with rigorous academics. However, it is important to also ensure that you can handle the workload you take on and maintain good grades.

Ultimately, your choice in advanced classes will come down to your prior academic knowledge, current skill set, individual interests, college aspirations, tolerance for difficulty, and desire to learn. 

It’s a good idea to know which classes most people find easiest or hardest. It’s an even better idea to know which classes will help you reach your own goals. Aligning your AP course choices with your personal mission is the key to making the right choice.