Is AP Psychology Hard?

Student wearing glasses and yellow shirt studying for AP psychology
February 15, 2024
5 min read
Expert Reviewed


Reviewed by:

Former Admissions Committee Member, Columbia University

Reviewed: 02/15/24

AP psychology challenges students with college-level material. Learn about the course load, key concepts, and exam format to determine if it aligns with your academic strengths.

The College Board's AP Psychology course provides high school students with a rigorous introduction to the field of psychology. Covering key concepts, theories, and historical developments, it equips students with foundational knowledge they can apply to more advanced study. The curriculum explores the progression of ideas in psychology over time, underscoring how our understanding of the human mind and behavior continues to evolve.

The difficulty level of AP psychology is manageable for motivated students. Those new to AP classes may initially feel overwhelmed by the academic rigor. However, with proper guidance on course expectations and self-discipline in studies, success is well within reach. If you need guidance or wonder what to expect, you’re in the right place to learn.

Is AP Psychology Hard? Factors To Consider

AP Psychology is widely considered one of the easier AP courses, with a difficulty rating of 3.5 out of 10 from class alumni. This makes it the second easiest out of all AP classes surveyed. The pass rate is around 60% and 17% of students earn top scores of five on the exam.

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.

student writing on paper

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 is 2 hours long and consists of 100 multiple choice questions and 2 free response questions. The exam tests knowledge on 14 major areas of psychology such as research methods, biological bases of behavior, and abnormal psychology.

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 is 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?

The AP Psychology exam consists of 100 multiple choice questions worth 2/3 of the score and two free response questions worth 1/3. Each multiple choice question is worth 1 point. The free response questions have 7 parts each worth 3.57 points. So the maximum raw score is 150 points.

Ap Score College Grade Equivalent Qualification Percentage Needed on the Exam
5 A+ or A Extremely well qualified 70-75%
4 A-, B+, or B Very well qualified 60-69%
3 B-, C+, or C Qualified 50-59%
2 C-, or D Possibly qualified 40-49%
1 D-, or F No recommendation 0-39%

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?

psychology books

The AP psychology exam is relatively easy, as 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 it 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?

AP Psychology is a good choice for motivated high school students interested in the workings of mental processes and behavior. Covering topics like the brain, sensation and perception, psychological disorders, and more, it provides a rigorous introduction to the field of cognitive function.

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?

male student writing on paper

The best time to take AP Psychology is either junior or senior year of high school. Sophomores can succeed in the course with strong academic skills. Reasons to take it later include:

  • Juniors and seniors have more advanced reading and study abilities to handle a college-level course.
  • It complements other APs in the social sciences students tend to take later like Government.
  • Seniors can use it as a lighter course alongside heavy courseloads when applying to colleges.

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

If you still have questions about the difficulty of AP psychology, we’ve answered the most frequently asked questions in the section below.

1. Is It Worth It To Take AP Psychology?

Yes, taking AP Psychology can be a valuable experience for students interested in human behavior and mental processes. It offers a chance to earn college credit while still in high school, potentially saving time and money in college. 

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 considered relatively easy, with a difficulty rating of 3.5/10. It's easier to pass, especially for those who have taken an AP class before. The exam requires less preparation time compared to other AP classes, and most students find it easier than most other AP courses

3. Is AP Psychology a Fun Class?

Yes, AP Psychology is generally considered a fun class. It's a popular course that delves into the psychology of human behavior and mental processes. The course is known for being engaging and thought-provoking; students often find it interesting and enjoyable.

4. Is AP Psychology the Easiest AP Class?

AP Psychology is one of the easiest AP classes, with a difficulty rating of 3.5/10 by the class alumnae. It's the 2nd-easiest out of 28 large AP classes surveyed. The course is heavily based on vocabulary and memorization, making it more manageable with good study habits.

5. Who Should Take AP Psychology?

AP Psychology is ideal for students interested in exploring human behavior and mental processes, aiming to earn college credits in high school. It's recommended for those curious about psychological theories, development, and research methods.

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

AP Psychology is not considered hard for a first-time AP class. It's one of the easier AP courses, focusing on vocabulary and memorization. Many students choose it as their first AP due to its manageable content and the engaging nature of psychology.

7. Does AP Psychology Count Toward GPA?

Yes, AP Psychology counts towards your unweighted GPA, as do all AP classes. This inclusion can be particularly beneficial since AP Psychology is considered easier than many other AP courses, potentially boosting your GPA with a strong grade.

Final Thoughts

AP Psychology can be a rewarding class for motivated students. While the difficulty level of AP Psychology is considered less challenging than some other APs, it still requires diligent study of key concepts and theories. Students unfamiliar with the AP format can use this course to acclimate to the advanced curriculum and testing approach.

Success in AP Psychology requires a consistent review of course material to master the breadth of topics covered. Students who put in the time to deeply understand studies and apply concepts through practice questions are well prepared for the exam. While passing is achievable for those willing to work hard, it is by no means guaranteed without putting in the requisite effort. 

By staying engaged throughout the course and seeking help when needed, students can develop the skills and knowledge to excel on the AP Psychology exam.

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