Is AP Psychology Hard?

Student wearing glasses and yellow shirt studying for AP psychology
August 28, 2023


Reviewed by:

Former Admissions Committee Member, Columbia University

Reviewed: 05/03/23

AP classes look good to colleges. You may have heard about AP psychology and its difficulty from other students. Read on to learn the answer to “is AP psychology hard?”

AP psychology is one of the most popular AP courses for which the College Board offers an exam. The course covers a lot of information on the progression of psychology to help students understand each topic and recognize how it’s changed. Students will memorize a good amount of vocabulary to prepare for the exam. 

Many students take psychology as their first AP class. They often wonder if AP psychology is hard. The course may start as daunting if you have no expectations for the amount of coursework required for an AP class. If you need guidance or wonder what to expect, you’re in the right place to learn.

Below you’ll find answers to help you determine the true difficulty of AP psychology.

Is AP Psychology Hard? Factors To Consider

Is AP Psychology hard? The short answer is no. However, there are several factors to consider before you take the class. You’ll want to focus on what you consider the most important to your success in AP psychology. Ask yourself what ways of study work best for you. AP psychology rewards students that study hard.

Student Opinion

Most students will tell you that AP psychology is one of the easiest AP courses. However, many of them have taken other AP courses already, which prepared them for class going in. Your judgment will tell you if you can handle the class; however, the coursework only pushes some students to study more on average.  


Most schools don’t have every AP class option since teachers tend to move around. Because of this, AP psychology is a great class for self-study. If the available teacher(s) are not for you, or your school doesn’t offer AP psychology, try self-studying for the exam. All you’ll need is a text or review book and guidance on how to write the exam essay.  

Exam Difficulty and Average Scores

Don’t let the lower-than-average student score deter you from taking AP psychology. The best way to determine an AP exam’s difficulty is by the percentage of fives scored. AP psychology’s rate of five is 17%, showing that the exam is easier for the average student. The high number of first-time AP exam takers explains the lower pass rate. 

Compared to Other AP Courses

Compared to other exams, AP psychology doesn’t have any extra difficult exam components than other more challenging tests. The AP psychology course material is straightforward and doesn’t require more thorough explanations like a history class. It also doesn’t require any complicated math, like a science class.

AP Psychology Exam

After signing up for the class, your next step is learning how the AP psychology exam works. Over two sessions, you will take two sections of the exam: free response and multiple-choice. Your exam then goes off to be scored both digitally and by examiners. So long as you study well, you should receive a good result. 

The Exam Format

The AP Psychology Exam has two major sections: the multiple-choice and free response short essay sections. If you study well, you should easily understand the multiple-choice questions. However, the free response questions will take preparation to understand how you should approach answering them.  

The bulk of the AP psychology exam is the 100 multiple-choices that cover the broad strokes of what you will have learned by taking the class. You will have one hour and ten minutes for this test section. The questions will be relevant to the course topics and have the student apply applicative, analytic, and investigative skills. 

Most of the multiple-choice questions cover your understanding of the concepts you covered during AP psychology. Expect to see questions covering social, cognitive, clinical, and developmental psychology and the researchers behind them. You will see some questions that cover how to read data or the scientific process. 

The harder portion of the AP psychology test that students must learn about is the free response short essays. If you’re taking the class, your teacher should prepare you with explanations and practice versions of the question. If you’ve taken other AP classes before, you may find the essay structure familiar to what you know.

The free response you will take separate from the multiple-choice and will have 50 minutes to complete two essays. The questions will test your understanding in two areas–your grasp of a list of concepts and the design behind a research-based problem. Your response must be understandable and thoroughly explained. 

How Is the AP Psychology Exam Scored?

Your overall AP psychology exam score will apply the value of each section to the AP grading scale. The 100 multiple-choice accounts for two-thirds of your grade, with the two free responses covering the other third. These values then plug into the AP score, with the equivalent of an A, a score of 5, a 4 -A to -B, a C to 3, and with a 1 or 2, anything lower.

Each multiple-choice will have five choices–A to E. You must pick the correct answer to earn full credit. Every question on the exam is worth two-thirds of a percentage point. 

The free response questions test how well you can apply each term correctly according to the presented problem. Ensure you don’t leave out any terms you’re asked to apply. Each free response question is worth a sixth of your grade!

Is the AP Psychology Exam Hard?

Overall, the AP psychology exam should be easy, so long as you have effectively studied using your textbook and the class. The multiple-choice question focuses more on knowledge and less on your understanding of each topic, making them easier. The free response asks you to apply knowledge rather than analyze it, which is also easier.

One of the best ways to review for the exam is by finding previously released exam versions from the College Board. You can use it as a study guide to help you prepare!

The College Boards also offer past AP psychology free response exam questions to give students an idea of what to expect. While some questions may be outdated scientifically, both resources are still useful!  

Let’s break down a free response question. 

  • Ray is trying to build an online business selling roller skates. A friend of hers takes videos of her tricks. A small group gathers and cheers whenever they see a trick. Apply each of the following terms to the scene. 
  • Vestibular sense
  • Social facilitation
  • Incentive theory. 

When taking the free response test, the following tips will help make the exam section easier. Read the instructions carefully, and include everything to receive full credit. 

  • Consider the second section like a report, and interpret the data. Make sure to touch on each vocabulary term asked for by the question. 
  • To earn full credit, you must correctly identify every included term. 

In the case of the question, you’d then apply the terms to the scenario.

  • For the vestibular sense, Ray's vestibular sense, created by her inner ear, helps her maintain her sense of balance and ability to perform tricks while roller skating. 
  • For Social facilitation, you’d describe how Ray's task would be made easier or harder by the fact that the crowd watches her. If the tricks are already hard, she will find them even more challenging. If she’s well practiced, they may feel effortless. 

Now it’s your turn! Try to apply the last term, incentive theory, to the problem and how Ray is affected by it.  You'll succeed if you’re thorough and knowledgeable about the term, but ensure you apply it to Ray.

Should You Take AP Psychology?

Yes! If you have AP psychology available through your high school, try to take it. The course will challenge you to learn topics you may need to familiarize yourself with. The AP course may also help spark an interest in psychology as a future career path. You never know what may inspire you!

If you need an incentive, colleges do look at your AP scores as a factor when considering college applications. Taking as many AP classes as possible will improve your admissions chances to any school. Universities will also reward you for taking an AP course by counting the class as a college credit, so long as you score a four or higher.    

When Should You Take AP Psychology?

Since all AP psychology classes are only open to high school students, the earliest you could take AP psychology is during your first year. However, some high schools only open the class to junior and senior students, as the topics covered in the class may need some layers of science education to understand.

However, all students should be able to manage the AP psychology course, especially considering the class design is easier than other AP courses. The knowledge you’ll learn will provide context to the science and a more modern understanding of mental health.

FAQs: AP Psychology

Below are common questions such as "is the AP psychology exam hard?"

1. Is It Worth It To Take AP Psychology?

Yes, AP psychology is worth taking. The course will help contextualize other scientific subjects and give you an idea if you want to pursue the subject for your college major. AP Psychology is also a more manageable course than the other AP classes, as you won’t have to learn skills to keep up with the workload. 

Colleges look at students more favorably if they have taken AP courses. If you worry about your admission chances to college, consider AP psychology an easy AP class worth taking!

2. Is AP Psychology Easy To Pass?

AP psychology is easy to pass and will be easier if you have taken an AP class before.  The exam takes less time to prepare for than other classes. Most students that have taken AP psychology will tell you that the course is easier than most other AP classes. 

3. Is AP Psychology a Fun Class?

While the question is subjective, yes, AP psychology can be a fun class. Depending on how your teacher presents the material, what sort of projects you do, and if you find the subject interesting, you will be more likely to have fun.

4. Is AP Psychology the Easiest AP Class?

There is no definitive easiest AP class, but psychology is certainly one of the easiest. The class does not require math knowledge like traditional science classes, functioning more like a social study course. It’s much easier to manage fact-based information rather than take on problem-solving skills in math and science classes. 

5. Who Should Take AP Psychology?

Any student that can manage an AP class will excel in AP psychology. It is best for students that need an extra class for their schedule and find the subject interesting. While you may not use the college credit for your major, the course will contribute to your education. 

6. Is AP Psychology Too Hard for a First-Time AP Class?

Overall, AP psychology is the easiest and best option for anyone taking an AP class for the first time. While yes, the exam does have a lower-than-average pass rate, that may be because the exam grade doesn’t count towards the class, and with all first-time test takers, they may not do as well.

If you’re still worried about AP psychology being hard, especially as a first-time AP class, focus on choosing your AP courses carefully. You can take psychology at a range of grade levels. Take the class later in high school, especially if it’s your first AP. If you’re an experienced AP student, use psychology as an easier course to fill your schedule. 

7. Does AP Psychology Count Toward GPA?

Yes, AP psychology will count towards your unweighted GPA. All AP classes count towards your GPA, so keep that in mind when choosing your courses. The harder AP classes may take a swipe at your GPA. Since psychology is much easier than other AP courses,  it may help boost your GPA with an easy grade.

Final Thoughts

AP psychology is that reliable class that every AP student dreams of-straightforward to understand without asking more of the student. For students less familiar with AP, taking psychology could help introduce the student to the teaching style and workload required  for this class type. 

AP psychology is not hard. It is considered one of the easier AP classes you can take.  Students can take the class if they are prepared to study hard and grasp each topic. The exam isn’t overly complicated, and so long as you understand how to write the simple exam essays, you should pass with flying colors!

Good luck!

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