Is AP US History Hard? Expert Discussion (2023)

Is AP US History Hard? Expert Discussion (1)

AP classes are typically more challenging than regular high school classes, but did you know that some APs are harder than others? Based on testing statistics and an examination of the curriculum, we can come up with accurate assessments of the true difficulty level of each AP class.

In this article, I'll analyze AP US History exam scores, student testimonials, and course content to give you a clear picture of how hard this popular AP class really is!

What Determines the Difficulty of an AP Class? 5 Key Factors

There are five factors we must consider when deciding whether AP US History is a difficult class compared with other APs. We'll give you a quick rundown of these below before answering our main question: is AP US History hard?

Factor 1: Pass Rate

This first factor is the percentage of students who earn a 3 or above on the exam. Lower pass rates might indicate a more difficult class; however, sometimes pass rates in the hardest subjects are unexpectedly high because only the most dedicated students take those classes. A smaller group of more serious students makes for a larger percentage of passing scores overall.

Factor 2: 5 Rate

The 5 rate is the percentage of students who earn 5s (the highest possible score) on the AP test. If the 5 rate is on the lower side, it could indicate that the material is more difficult to master.

A low 5 rate can also sometimes happen with very popular classes. The proportion of students who are prepared for an AP test tends to decrease as the total number of students taking it increases.

Factor 3: Content Difficulty

This boils down to the amount of material the AP course covers and how advanced that material is. Some courses have high 5 and pass rates because their content is extremely challenging and only very driven students will take them—not because they're easy classes.

Factor 4: Student Testimonials

What do students say about the class? There should be some consistency based on the fact that everyone learns essentially the same curriculum, and everyone ends up taking the same test. Student feedback can provide more information about the day-to-day challenges of the AP class and the nature of the workload.

Factor 5: Timing of the Class

The final factor to consider is when students usually take the AP class. Classes that students take later in high school will be more difficult overall, though some students perceive them as being easier than other AP classes that they took when they had less experience. The reverse is true of classes that students take as underclassmen.

Is AP US History Hard? Expert Discussion (2)When you've taken too many AP tests in your time.

What Do Statistics Say About the AP US History Exam?

To start off, I'll examine the statistics for pass and 5 rates on the AP US History exam in 2020.

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AP US History Pass Rate

The 2021 pass rate for AP US History was 47.1%. Only a handful of other AP exams have lower pass rates. This comparatively low pass rate would suggest that the US History test is difficult, but we can't say that for sure yet.

For AP US History, since it's one of the most popular AP classes (the number of students enrolled was second only to AP English Language and Composition in 2021), the pass rate might likewise be skewed slightly lower because there are so many students at different levels of preparation who take it.

That said, students who take AP US History also tend to be students who are better prepared and have probably taken other AP and/or honors classes as well. The low pass rate might be slightly illusory because of the sheer number of people taking the test, but students who take it are (overall) high-achieving, so the data still points to the test being pretty hard.

This fact is strongly linked to the difficulty of the content and intensity of the workload in AP US History, which I'll describe in more detail later in this article.

AP US History 5 Rate

The 5 rate for AP US History in 2021 was 10.1%. Nine other AP exams had lower 5 rates than AP US History (while 28 had higher 5 rates). This would again suggest that the US History test is more difficult compared with other AP tests; however, 5 rates can also be skewed high or low depending on the popularity of the class and the types of students who take it.

Some objectively difficult classes have high 5 rates because they're less popular, and the students who do take them are more well prepared and dedicated to the subject (Chinese Language, for example). AP US History is a popular class, so there might be a wider spectrum of preparedness among students, bringing down the 5 rate.

As I mentioned in the first part of this section, though, it's also a class that's usually taken by the most high-achieving students, so there shouldn't be wide-ranging problems with a lack of preparation. The low 5 rate combined with the types of students who take AP US History suggest that it is a difficult test.

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Is AP US History Hard? Expert Discussion (3)

So far, based on testing statistics, we're leaning toward the conclusion that AP US History is hard. Let's take a look at the other factors to see whether they line up or not.

Is AP US History Hard? Expert Discussion (4)

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Besides being the best AP score, 5 is also the ideal number of fingers for a human. What a kooky koincidence!

Is the APUSH Content Difficult?

AP US History covers the past few hundred years of history in the United States, so there's a lot to remember for the exam; however, memorization isn't the main challenge. Throughout the test, you're asked to analyze historical documents, demographic charts, and political illustrations from various historical periods. You have to apply your background knowledge to these sources and draw conclusions by blending skills of factual recall and deeper analysis.

The free-response section is particularly challenging in this regard. Writing a coherent, well-supported argumentative essay on such a high-pressure test isn't easy. And for the Document-Based Question, you also have to incorporate at least six of the seven sources into your essay while using outside knowledge to bolster whatever point you're making.

I would argue the content is challenging because of the way you're asked to synthesize what you've learned and relate it to themes that span multiple periods in history. These types of assessments are usually reserved for college classes because of the high-level thinking skills required. You have to look beyond the facts to draw larger informed conclusions.

Is AP US History Hard? Expert Discussion (5)You want me to synthesize the what now?

Do Students Think AP US History Is Hard?

History was my best subject in high school, but I definitely didn't think AP US History was an easy class. The tests were always challenging because my teacher had us take them with the same time constraints as those on the real AP exam. We would have one 50-minute class period to answer a bunch of multiple-choice questions and write a long essay. I remember the tests being stressful, but most people did well on the final AP exam because they knew what to expect.

APUSH was time-consuming outside of class because of the number of textbook reading assignments and outside projects. We had "seminars" every couple of weeks in which we were assigned to different sides of a historical issue and made to have a class debate. We had to do write-ups of each seminar and were graded for participation in the debate. There were also quizzes on the nightly readings at the beginning of every class, so your grade would suffer if you didn't do the homework.

The consensus among other students (based on what I've seen in online forums) is reflective of my experience. Most say that AP US History is a lot of work. Not all of it is difficult, and much of it is interesting, but it will take up a big chunk of your time. You have to be prepared to put in the effort, especially if you prefer science and math to the humanities, and the type of work you do in the course doesn't come as naturally to you.

I'd also like to consider briefly the last of the five factors I mentioned in the first section, which is when students tend to take this class. AP US History is typically taken later in high school (during junior or senior year). Many students have already experienced other AP classes, and all are familiar with the high school workload.

Still, they find AP US History challenging in comparison with other AP classes. Our theory in the section on testing statistics has held true here as well: it seems that APUSH is a tough class from any angle.

Is AP US History Hard? Expert Discussion (6)You're required to use authentic study materials and methods from each period. Sorry, electricity didn't go mainstream until the 1920s.

Will AP US History Be Hard for You? 3 Ways to Find Out

It seems like APUSH is a hard class overall, but every student is different. You might have to do more research and self-reflection before you decide definitively whether this class will fit comfortably into your schedule.

Here are a few measures I recommend taking if you want to get a clearer picture of what your experience with APUSH might be like.

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#1: Ask Teachers and Past Students About the Class

The most reliable way to decide whether AP US History will be difficult for you is to ask students and teachers who are familiar with the class and exam to give you their perspectives. If you know any older students who have similar academic records to you, ask them what they thought of the class and overall workload. You can also ask your current history teacher if they think you'll be able to handle AP US History based on your performance this year.

Alternatively, you could ask your guidance counselor what their opinion is of the class based on the performance of past students. Every AP US History class is slightly different because teachers have the freedom to design their own curriculum within the course framework.

#2: Be Aware of Your Academic Strengths and Weaknesses

Which subjects challenge you the most? If you're better at quantitative subjects such as math and science and struggle with subjects that require lots of reading, writing, and memorization of facts, you can assume that AP US History will be difficult for you.

On the other hand, if you prefer subjects that incorporate critical-reading skills and essay writing (and you have some interest in history), the class will probably be much easier for you.

Keep in mind that AP US History might be different from other history classes you took earlier in high school. Lower-level history classes are about factual recall, whereas the skills you need for AP US History are more analytical. In other words, it's about applying your knowledge rather than just restating it.

#3: Check Your Class Schedule

AP US History is a time-consuming class, so you should consider your schedule to make sure you aren't overloading yourself by adding it into the mix. If you're taking other challenging AP classes at the same time, be prepared for a daunting workload. Don't take on too much, or you'll end up sacrificing your sanity and/or GPA.

Is AP US History Hard? Expert Discussion (7)Pay attention to warning signs that your eyes might be bigger than your academic stomach.

Conclusion: So Is AP US History Hard?

Based on all the factors we've examined in this article, it's safe to say that AP US History is a hard class compared to most other APs. It has lower pass and 5 rates, the content is as a whole quite challenging, students testify to a heavy workload, and most students don't take it until their junior or senior year.

Think carefully before you decide to enroll in APUSH, but don't underestimate yourself. Even if it's a challenge, most students also think it's an engaging and interesting class. There's also no denying that you'll learn valuable analytical skills that'll definitely come in handy later on in your academic career!

What's Next?

Looking for resources to help you get through APUSH with minimal suffering? Check out our list of the best review books available for AP US History.

You can also read our ultimate AP US History study guide for advice and links to tons of online practice questions!

US History is on the more difficult end of the AP spectrum. But are there any easy AP classes to balance out your schedule? Read this guide to find out which AP classes will be easiest for you.

Want to improve your SAT score by 160 points or your ACT score by 4 points? We've written a guide for each test about the top 5 strategies you must be using to have a shot at improving your score. Download it for free now:

Is AP US History Hard? Expert Discussion (8)

Is AP US History Hard? Expert Discussion (9)

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Is AP US History Hard? Expert Discussion (10)

Samantha Lindsay

About the Author

Samantha is a blog content writer for PrepScholar. Her goal is to help students adopt a less stressful view of standardized testing and other academic challenges through her articles. Samantha is also passionate about art and graduated with honors from Dartmouth College as a Studio Art major in 2014. In high school, she earned a 2400 on the SAT, 5's on all seven of her AP tests, and was named a National Merit Scholar.

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Is AP U.S. History the hardest? ›

The Pass Rate

Additionally, only 11% of AP U.S. History students pass the exam with a perfect score, compared to 17% of students on average across all AP exams. That said, while most advanced placement courses challenge students, the AP U.S. History course is among the more difficult of the AP subjects.

Is AP U.S. History the hardest AP class? ›

AP U.S. History is one of the hardest AP classes in the humanities and in general. U.S. History's reputation for difficulty doesn't scare many students away, though—it's the second-most popular AP class (456,520 students took it in 2022).

Why is the AP U.S. History exam so hard? ›

It also involves a lot of reading, writing, and critical thinking. In addition to memorizing historical facts and events, you'll need to synthesize and analyze information to present arguments persuasively. For these reasons, AP U.S. History is generally considered a rigorous course with a difficult exam.

What is the hardest part of the APUSH exam? ›

DBQ stands for Document Based Question and is arguably the most difficult component of the APUSH exam. The DBQ is in the essay-writing section of the exam, where students are expected to write a clear and concise essay that revolves around ten to twelve primary-source documents.

What is the easiest AP class ever? ›

Easiest AP exams by pass rate
  • AP Art & Design: Drawing.
  • AP Art & Design: 2-D.
  • AP Calculus BC.
  • AP Chinese Language.
  • AP English Literature.
  • AP French Language.
  • AP Government & Politics.
  • AP Italian Language.
Jan 13, 2023

Is it bad to fail AP U.S. History? ›

If you fail or your score on the AP® US History exam is not high enough to receive college credit at the institution of your choice, it is important not to panic! You can retake the AP® US History exam as many times as you choose to achieve a higher score. The exam is given once a year in May.

What is the highest failed AP exam? ›

AP Physics 1 is the hardest AP class with the least passing rate of 51.6. It means almost half of the students fail this exam. It's 3 hours exam consist of 50 MCQs and 5 free-response questions.

What AP class has the lowest pass rate? ›

9) AP Physics 1

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 5 APs too much? ›

An Ivy League hopeful might take 3 to 5 AP classes, while if you're aiming for less-selective schools, 2 to 4 would be enough. Senior Year: Take more APs in core subjects and additional subjects, again being careful not to overburden your schedule and to leave time for college applications.

What is the most passed AP exam? ›

After all, if not many students can pass an AP test, doesn't that mean it's one of the hardest tests? But when you look at the data, the exams with some of the highest passing rates (Spanish, Chinese, Physics C: Mechanics) are often considered among the hardest.

Is APUSH hard to self study? ›

AP US History

Self-studying for APUSH is considered easier than self-studying for most of the other history APs because most American students will already have some background knowledge in US history. The scope of information is also narrower than AP European History or AP World History, so there's less to learn!

Should I take APUSH as a sophomore? ›

AP US history is one of the most commonly accepted AP credits by colleges around the country. Honors history in sophomore year teaches you how to excel in AP US history if you decide to do that in your junior year. It teaches you skills that you will need to pass the AP test and get college credit.

Has anyone gotten a perfect score on APUSH? ›

Last year he was a stellar APUSH student, and his perfect AP score perfectly reflects that. His teacher, Ms. McCarthy said she was “very proud of his work,” describing him as “far and away the hardest working APUSH student last year.” Oliver Berke is a humble man.

What percent of APUSH is a 5? ›

Frequently Asked Questions: APUSH Score Calculator

Based on the 2022 AP score distributions, only 10.8% of students received a 5. Alternatively, you would need to have earned 74.6% of the total available composite points on the AP US exam to score a 5.

Are AP classes unnecessarily hard? ›

In general, there is a lot of material to cover in AP classes, so they tend to be more challenging than regular classes—especially courses like AP Calculus, AP Biology, AP Physics, US and World History, and English. These are all much harder than their regular or honors equivalents.

How many AP classes does the average student take? ›

Although over 80% of high schools in the United States offer some type of AP class, the average number of AP classes taught hovers somewhere around 8. Depending on your demographics, academic circumstances and overall AP culture of your area, the average number of APs taken by a student may vary significantly.

Is 6 APs too much? ›

Yes, it's too much. You could be that one person who can handle this schedule, but something has to give, and your Junior year needs to be REALLY strong in order to keep you competitive. AP Calc AB is solid for anything above a 3, but bear in mind that over 30% of students who took the test last year scored only a 1.

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.

What is the average AP score US history? ›

Average or Mean AP Exams Scores
AP Test SubjectMean Score% with 3 or Higher
Spanish Literature2.9264.9
World History2.7152.2
US History2.5247.2
42 more rows
Mar 16, 2023

Do AP classes boost 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.

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.

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.

Can a bad AP score hurt you? ›

You may also take AP exams and never reveal your scores to universities if you're not happy with your results. This means that even a bad AP score can't negatively affect your application. Every year, students get into top universities without any AP scores on their resumes.

What is the hardest AP class ever? ›

Physics 1

This class combines physics, scientific inquiry, and algebra. AP Physics 1 is considered one of the hardest AP classes, covering topics like Newtonian mechanics and electrical charge and force. Students also spend about 25% of their class time performing college-level lab experiments and writing reports.

How much harder is AP US history? ›

Is AP US History Easy Or Hard? AP US History (APUSH) is considered moderate difficulty, with class alumnae rating it 5.9/10 for overall difficulty (the 11th-most-difficult out of the 28 large AP classes surveyed). The pass rate is much lower than other AP classes, with 48% graduating with a 3 or higher.

Is AP US history harder than AP World History? ›

Because of the emphasis placed on details in US History, most people would say that AP US History (or APUSH) is harder than AP World History, but in reality, it depends on your skillset. They're just different.

Is AP US history hard to get a 5 on? ›

Is it hard to get a 5 on the AP US History exam? Yes, the AP US History exam is actually considered one of the harder AP exams due to the amount of memorization and writing skills required. It has a lower pass and 5 rate compared to most other AP exams.

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 least passed AP class? ›

9) AP Physics 1

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.

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.

Is AP U.S. History worth taking? ›

APUSH might very well be worth time, tears, and effort if getting a head start in college is a top priority for the student in question. Taking a series of AP classes in high school could very well save students from having to take certain sections of general education when they reach college.

Is AP U.S. History easy to self study? ›

AP US History

Self-studying for APUSH is considered easier than self-studying for most of the other history APs because most American students will already have some background knowledge in US history. The scope of information is also narrower than AP European History or AP World History, so there's less to learn!

What is a good grade in AP U.S. History? ›

What is a good AP® US History score? If you score a 3, 4, or 5 on an AP® exam, that is generally considered a good score. The College Board denotes a 3 as 'qualified, 4 as 'well qualified,' and a 5 as 'extremely well qualified. ' Many colleges and universities will offer you college credits for scoring in these ranges.


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