Advanced Placement Courses: An Overview

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Introduction

Taking AP classes is an excellent opportunity for students to experience college-level coursework and earn college credit. There are over 30 courses to choose from that cover topics like art history, psychology, and computer science. With 38 courses available, you may ask yourself, how do I choose just one?

We’ve got you covered. This guide will give you a breakdown of all 38 AP courses, what to consider in your decision-making process and an overview of the exams. With our help, you’ll have your AP courses picked out in no time.

Courses

There are six categories of AP courses:

  • Arts
  • English
  • History and Social Science
  • Math and Computer Science
  • Sciences
  • World Languages and Cultures

We’ll look at each category, their classes, and a brief description of each class.

Arts

There are three classes offered under the AP Arts category:

  • AP Art and Design Program
  • AP Art History
  • AP Music Theory

AP Art and Design Program

The AP Art and Design Program has three courses: AP 2-D Art and Design, AP 3-D Art and Design, and AP Drawing. In these courses, you can experiment with art and design and communicate your ideas about your work in writing or visual presentation.

AP Art History

This course will teach you about art history from 30,000 BCE to the present. You will analyze these works of art and sharpen your observation, discussion, reading, and research skills.

AP Music Theory

In AP Music Theory, you will study the processes of music to recognize, understand, and describe these processes and the basic materials of music. You will develop these skills by listening to, reading, writing, and performing a wide range of music.

English

The English category offers two AP courses:

  • AP English Language and Composition
  • AP English Literature and Composition

AP English Language and Composition

AP English Language and Composition will develop your critical reading and writing skills. You will analyze non-fiction texts throughout history and write essays where you explain an idea, argue a point, or persuade your reader of your argument.

AP English Literature and Composition

In AP English Literature and Composition, you will read works of fiction, poetry, and drama from different periods and cultures. You will learn to understand and evaluate these literary works and write essays explaining and supporting your analysis of them.

History and Social Sciences

There are nine history and social sciences courses offered. The nine classes are:

  • AP Comparative Government Politics
  • AP European History
  • AP Human Geography
  • AP Macroeconomics
  • AP Microeconomics
  • AP Psychology
  • AP United States Government Politics
  • AP United States History
  • AP World History: Modern

AP Comparative Government Politics

This class examines the political institutions of six countries: China, Iran, Mexico, Nigeria, Russia, and the United Kingdom. You will compare how each country addressed different political issues and analyze data and readings to support your arguments about each political system.

AP European History

AP European History studies Europe’s cultural, economic, political, and social developments from 1450 to the present. In this course, you will analyze texts, visual sources, and other historical evidence and use the analysis of these texts to support your historical arguments in essays.

AP Human Geography

AP Human Geography is the study of humans and how they have understood, used, and changed the surface of the Earth. You will learn geographers’ skills and thinking processes and apply them to examine patterns of the human population, migration, and land use.

AP Macroeconomics

This class explores the principles of economics and how they apply to the economic system. You’ll analyze these financial concepts using graphs, charts, and data.

AP Microeconomics

Microeconomics is the principles of economics that apply to the individual within the economic system. In this course, you’ll also use graphs, charts, and data to analyze, describe, and explain financial concepts.

AP Psychology

AP Psychology is a course that examines the theories and methods of human behavior and mental processes. You’ll study the concepts of psychology by reading and analyzing data from psychological research studies.

AP United States Government Politics

In AP United States Government Politics, you will study the political system and culture of the U.S. You will be expected to read, analyze, and discuss the U.S. Constitution and other historical documents. This course requires you to complete a research or applied civics project.

AP United States History

AP United States History studies cultural, economic, political, and social developments that have shaped the U.S. The course spans from 1491 to the present day. In this course, you will analyze texts, visual sources, and other historical articles. You will write essays using these texts and evidence to support a historical argument.

AP World History: Modern

AP World History: Modern focuses on the time from 1200 CE to the present day globally. You will study the cultural, economic, political, and social developments that shaped the world during that time. You can expect to analyze texts, visual sources, and other historical evidence and apply that to writing essays that support a historical argument.

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Math and Computer Science

There are six AP courses offered under the Math and Computer Science category:

  • AP Calculus AB
  • AP Calculus BC
  • AP Computer Science A
  • AP Computer Science Principles
  • AP Precalculus
  • AP Statistics

AP Calculus AB

AP Calculus AB consists of 8 units, and you will explore differential and integral calculus concepts, methods, and applications throughout these units. You will learn to understand the theoretical basis of calculus and to solve equations by applying the knowledge and skills you’ve gained from the course.

AP Calculus BC

AP Calculus BC is similar to AP Calculus AB in that you will explore the concepts, methods, and applications of differential and integral calculus. In this course, you will also explore parametric, polar, and vector functions. You will use the skill and knowledge you gain throughout the course to perform experiments, investigations, and solve problems.

AP Computer Science A

AP Computer Science A is an excellent opportunity to get familiar with the concepts and tools of computer science. You will learn an introductory computer science understanding by learning a subset of the Java programming language. You will do hands-on work designing, writing, and testing computer programs that solve or accomplish tasks.

AP Computer Science Principles

AP Computer Science Principles focuses on the principles that underlie computing science. You will develop the skills that computer scientists use and work on your own or as a team to address real-world issues by using the tools and processes of computation.

AP Precalculus

This course is for any student ready to take precalculus in high school. You should consider taking AP Precalculus if you intend to complete Geometry and Algebra 2 before your senior year.

AP Statistics

In AP Statistics, you will study the major concepts and tools used to collect, analyze, and draw conclusions from data. Through discussions and activities, you will learn about statistics, and you will design surveys and experiments.

Sciences

The Sciences category has seven AP courses:

  • AP Biology
  • AP Chemistry
  • AP Environmental Sciences
  • AP Physics 1: Algebra-Based
  • AP Physics 2: Algebra-Based
  • AP Physics C: Electricity and Magnetism
  • AP Physics C: Mechanics

AP Biology

This AP course will teach you the core principles, theories, and processes of living organisms and biological systems. You will get to do hands-on laboratory work and investigate natural phenomena.

AP Chemistry

In AP Chemistry, you will learn the fundamental concepts of chemistry, including the structure and states of matter, intermolecular forces, and reactions. There will be hands-on lab investigations, and you will use chemical calculations to solve problems.

AP Environmental Sciences

This course focuses on the interrelationships of the natural world. You will analyze environmental problems that are both natural and human-made. This course requires laboratory investigations as well as fieldwork.

AP Physics 1: Algebra-Based

If you’re interested in physics, this is a great introductory course. You will learn the foundational principles of physics in this course and explore Newtonian mechanics and work, energy, and power. Other foundational principles you will learn about are mechanical waves and sound and simple circuits, and you will investigate these phenomena through lab work.

AP Physics 2: Algebra-Based

AP Physics 2 builds off your foundation of physics and expands it. You will study topics like:

  • Fluids
  • Thermodynamics
  • Electric force, field, and potential
  • Eclectic circuits
  • Magnetism and electromagnetic induction
  • Geometric and physical optics
  • Quantum, atomic, and nuclear physics

There are hands-on and inquiry-based activities as well as laboratory work.

AP Physics C: Electricity and Magnetism

In AP Physics C, you will explore the concepts of:

  • Electrostatics
  • Conductors
  • Capacitors
  • Dielectrics
  • Electric circuits
  • Magnetic fields
  • Electromagnetism

Laboratory work and in-class activities will use calculus to solve problems.

AP Physics C: Mechanics

This course will explore the concepts of:

  • Kinematics
  • Newton’s laws of motion, work, energy, and power,
  • Systems of particles and linear momentum
  • Rotation
  • Oscillations
  • Gravitation

There will be laboratory work and in-class activities to investigate these phenomena using calculus.

World Languages and Cultures

The World Languages and Cultures category consists of the following:

  • AP Chinese Language and Culture
  • AP French Language and Culture
  • AP German Language and Culture
  • AP Italian Language and Culture
  • AP Japanese Language and Culture
  • AP Latin
  • AP Spanish Language and Culture
  • AP Spanish Literature and Culture

AP Language and Culture

In each of these courses, you will develop language skills and learn more about the culture in the language you are learning worldwide. You’ll practice communicating in that language and study newspaper articles, films, music, and books.

AP Latin

AP Latin differs slightly from the other language and culture courses. In this course, you’ll read and analyze Latin literature and explore ancient Roman history and culture. You will translate passages from the writings of Vergil and Caesar and examine them in class discussions and presentations.

AP Spanish Literature and Culture

In this course, you’ll explore literary works written in Spanish to build your language skills and cultural knowledge. You’ll read, analyze, discuss, and write about literature written by Spanish, Latin-American, and U.S. Hispanic authors throughout history.

Who Should Consider Taking the Class

When deciding which AP course to take, you should consider your interests and what you’d like to study in college. You can earn college credit with your AP exam score, allowing you to skip some of the introductory courses in your major. If you’re unsure which major you’re interested in, AP courses are an opportunity to explore different areas of study and see what interests you.

Each school offers different AP courses, so speak with a college counselor to see which classes your school offers. To get the inside scoop, it’s always a good idea to talk with your fellow students, particularly those who have already taken the AP course you’re considering. They will give you their opinion about the difficulty of the course and whether or not they’d recommend it.

When deciding, consider your grade and previous experiences with AP classes. Courses like AP Human Geography or AP World History: Modern are usually taken by ninth or tenth-graders because they are less complicated than other courses and are a good introduction to AP courses. While more challenging courses, like AP U.S. History or AP World Languages and Cultures courses, are taken by upper-level students.

On our website, you can find more in-depth guides about individual AP courses, like AP Human Geography or AP Art History, to name a few. If you find a course you’re interested in, keep exploring it further to ensure it’s the right fit.

How Hard is the Exam?

Exam difficulty depends on the AP course. All the exams are challenging, but some are more manageable than others. For instance, in 2022, over 40% of students scored a 5 in AP Calculus BC and AP Japanese Language and Culture. While for AP Spanish Literature and Culture, AP Physics 1, and AP Environmental Science, less than 10% of students got a 5.

The difficulty of the exam shouldn’t dictate whether or not you take the course, but you should consider if you can manage the challenge. If it’s a course you’re curious about and are excited to push yourself, then you should take a more difficult AP course.

Your exam score will be the total of your section scores. Most AP exams consist of 2 sections, the multiple-choice and the free-response. Your score is a weighted combination of these two sections. Some AP courses have other aspects of the exam that contribute to your score.

All AP exams are scored on a five-point scale, and your final exam report will also include recommendations about your qualifications to receive college credit. In 2022, the overall mean score for all AP exams was 2.92, with more than 60% of exams earning a score of 3 or higher.

For a more in-depth understanding of the exam, read our AP Exam Guide.

Conclusions

Taking AP classes is a great opportunity to experience college-level coursework, explore your interests, and earn college credit. Speak with your college counselor and other students to find out which courses might suit you. Class enrollment usually takes place in the winter before the upcoming school year.

Continue to explore the topics that pique your interest by reading our AP Course Guides to learn more.

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