AP Humanities: What Courses Should You Take?

CollegeBoard offers over 20 different Advanced Placement (AP) courses focused on humanities topics. The term “humanities” is a fancy way of categorizing disciplines that study human society and culture; humanities courses include a broad range of topics, such as World Languages, Economics, Literature, and History. 

The AP Humanities Courses are sorted into 4 sub-categories:

  • Arts

  • English

  • History & Social Science

  • World Languages & Culture

Though there are over 20 AP Humanities courses, the most popular AP Humanities Courses (excluding the languages) are

  1. AP English Language & Composition

  2. AP United States History

  3. AP English Literature & Composition

  4. AP Government & Politics: United States

  5. AP Psychology

Other common Humanities within San Diego County are AP World History, AP European History, and AP Art History. 

AP English Language & Composition is consistently the most popular AP Humanities Course. While schools do vary in the availability and recommendations for which AP course to take when, most students will take AP English Language & Composition and AP US History--the two most popular AP Humanities courses--their junior year. 

Total Test Takers for Common AP Humanities Classes 2018 & 2019.png

So, which common AP Humanities course is considered the most difficult?

Let’s take a look at the 2019 Pass/Fail Rates for these courses.

2019 Top AP Humanities Pass Rates (2).png

Based upon the 2019 Pass/Fail Rates, the difficulty ratings of the most common AP Humanities exams are as follows (1 being most difficult to pass with a 3 or higher):

  1. AP English Literature & Composition [49.7% students score 3 or higher]--AP Lit’s difficulty primarily comes from the larger amount of reading and the level of in-depth analysis of literary novels, poetry, and plays required. If you’re a book-lover and potential English major, this is a great class to take. [Usually Senior Year] 

  2. AP US History [53.6% students score 3 or higher]--AP US History covers US history from 1491 CE to current day and challenges students to recall specific details and critically analyze historical documents. [Usually Junior Year]  

  3. AP English Language & Composition [54.3% students score 3 or higher]--In comparison to AP Lit, AP Lang covers a broader range of texts (speeches, visual texts, articles, etc.), requires critical analysis of these texts, and translates rather easily into subjects outside of your English courses. [Usually Junior Year]

  4. AP US Government & Politics [55.10% students score 3 or higher]--In comparison to AP US History, this course is more focused on the inner workings of the US government and political ideologies that shape current politics. [Usually Senior Year]  

  5. AP World History [55.4% students score 3 or higher]--This course tackles a broad range of history (starting 1200 CE) and focuses on central concepts concerning the development of civilizations. [Usually Sophomore Year]

  6. AP European History [58.1% students score 3 or higher]--This course centers around the developments of Europe (starting 1450 CE)  is more specifically focused than World History but less focused than US History. Most schools offer either World or European History, not both. [Usually Sophomore Year]

  7. AP Art History [63.1% students score 3 or higher]--In terms of history course, this course looks at history (starting as early as 300,000 BCE) through the lens of artwork and an emphasis on visual analysis. [Usually Junior or Senior Year]

  8. AP Psychology [64.5% students score 3 or higher]--This course provides a survey of psychological concepts and challenges students to analyze research studies and data. [Usually Junior or Senior Year]

Some AP exams have higher passing rates but lower percentages of students scoring 5s, which can be a good sign that the exam is challenging. For example, while the AP World History exam is only the fifth lowest passing rate for the most common AP Humanities, this exam had the second lowest percentage of students scoring 5 at 8.6%. 

There are always a number of factors to take into account when deciding the difficulty of an AP course and whether to take that course. For instance, what are your strengths and interests, your prospective colleges AP Policies, and the experience level of the course’s instructor? 

Consider your strengths and your interests. 

How good are you at memorization? Several of the humanities courses require a large amount of memorization in order to succeed both in the course and on the AP Exam. For instance, AP United States History requires students to recall movements, names, wars, and dates throughout centuries of history. Another example of a memorization-heavy course is AP Art History, which requires both an understanding of large themes and cultures and the ability to recall specific artworks’ names, dates, and media. 

Do you like reading? Be forewarned the AP English and History courses do require a lot of reading. For instance, AP English Literature greatly benefits students who enjoy reading and writing about novels, plays, and poems. 

How are your critical thinking and analysis skills? Courses, such as AP English Literature and AP English Language, challenge you to go beyond simply summarizing texts and consider how writer is making specific choices to create an intended result. 

How strong are your writing skills? The majority of the AP Humanities courses have Free-Response Questions that count towards 50% or more of the test. 

Look ahead at what the AP Policies are for the colleges you’d like to attend. Some colleges accept scores of 3 or higher to fulfill general education requirements, while other colleges only accept scores of 4 or higher. 

Ask around about the Instructor. With AP Humanities, the quality of instruction can vary greatly, so it’s important to ask around. How long has the instructor been teaching the course? Did the previous students enjoy and succeed in the course? How do students usually perform on the AP Exams?

Back to blog