If you have (or are) a student in high school, chances are you’re thinking about AP classes. They’re offered by many high schools nation-wide, and are wonderful opportunities to pursue subjects at a rigorous, collegiate level. With so many options to choose from, it can be daunting to select the best AP classes for your student. In today’s post, we’ll cover some AP classes high school students should take.
Discover the benefits of taking AP classes in high school
There are many potential benefits to taking AP classes in high school. They include:
- Increased preparedness for college
- Ability to pursue an academic interest at a deeper level
- Increased competitiveness for university admissions
- Advanced academic community with other high-achieving peers
- Ability to earn college credit in high school
Find out which AP classes are available to high school students
College Board, well known for also administering the SATs, offers 38 advanced placement courses. These courses cover a wide variety of topics, from science and math to humanities to music.
When picking a set of AP classes to take, students should focus on ones that hold their interest and are potentially relevant to their desired college major. Academically-inclined students may want to take a range of different AP classes to get college-level instruction in many disciplines. We’ve chosen some classes to feature that may be of interest to students who like programming.
For students who want exposure to CS concepts and lots of coding in high school, AP Computer Science A is a natural fit. This introductory coding course covers many fundamental programming concepts and techniques, and teaches students the basics of Java. For students who want more of a general understanding of the world of computer science, AP Computer Science Principles is another good course. To get the best education from these classes, students should learn Python first.
AP Calculus AB/BC
Calculus is often a requirement for any science or engineering major, and getting a solid foundation of the subject in high school is extremely helpful: rather than cram this class in first semester Freshman year, take it in high school and spend more time really understanding the concepts that will underlie everything else. BC has a few additional topics than AB, but depending on the high school, one need not take AB before BC.
While not obviously related to CS, psychology is an extremely important discipline for any student who wants to study Artificial Intelligence. Understanding topics like human conceptions of ethics and learning how humans think can help set students up to have a more well-rounded approach to disruptive technologies such as AI/ML.
How many AP classes should a student take?
AP classes are typically more challenging than honors classes, and therefore require more time. A full year AP course is equivalent to a semester college course, so while the pace is slower, the content is still more in depth than an equivalent high school course. Additionally, many students spend lots of time studying for the final examination, and may be required to do some additional study over the summer.
Thus, students should consider this increased difficulty when signing up for AP classes. Many high achieving students take between 4-8 AP classes over the course of their high school career, but only you know your tolerance for increased workload. It is also worth noting that there is no requirement to take an AP class before taking the corresponding AP exam. This allows students who don’t have certain AP classes at their school to still attempt to earn college credit.
How are AP classes scored?
The “final exam” of an AP class is the AP test. Offered in the spring, the AP test is a summative assessment of the entire contents of the course. This exam is scored on a scale of 1-5, with 5 being the highest. A score of 3 is considered passing. Depending on the college, some universities may offer credit for scores of 3 or higher.
Which are the easiest AP classes?
Certain AP exams tend to have substantially higher pass rates than others. This does not mean these classes are easy, though: the notoriously difficult BC calculus has one of the highest rates of students earning a 5. Because AP exam takers are self-selecting, it is worth noting that these pass rates are skewed towards people who like the subject. Students who love STEM are more likely to find classes such as AP Chemistry and AP Computer Science easier.
That being said, according to College Board, the five AP classes with the highest rate of 5 scorers are:
- Chinese Language
- Japanese Language
- Calculus BC
- Physics C Mechanics
- Computer Science
Which are the hardest AP classes?
Interestingly, the majority of the “easy” classes are STEM-based. The more humanities-based classes tend to have a wider range of students taking them, and thus, a much wider distribution of scores. The following five exams have the highest percentage of students scoring the lowest possible mark:
- Human Geography
- Economics – Macro
- Physics 1
- Environmental Science
- U.S. History
These rankings should be taken with a grain of salt, however. When choosing AP classes, it is a good idea to pick subjects you are especially interested in, and attempt to balance writing-heavy humanities and computationally-intensive STEM classes.
Can you retake an AP exam if you score low?
You can retake an AP exam. However, these exams are offered once a year, so if you get an undesirable score your first time, you will have to wait a year for another shot. Additionally, all attempts will be sent to colleges, including any less good scores you might wish to omit.
AP classes high school students should take
Know you know which AP classes high school students should take. We hope this guide has been helpful in providing more information about AP classes. If you’re still wondering if a class like AP computer science is right for you, check out or post on choosing the best AP CS course for you. Or, if you’re already enrolled, take our live online award-winning AP Computer Science course to help prepare for the exam or build your skills as you work through the class.
Written by Sarah Rappaport, who graduated from Northwestern University with undergraduate and graduate degrees in engineering and music. She's now working on a masters in data with Georgia Institute of Technology. She taught math and computer science with Teach for America for two years, and now works as a Systems Engineer.