Course Tour—AP Psychology

The Basics

Many high schools offer students the chance to take AP Psychology, an equivalent course to a college-level introduction to psychology. This course explores the history of psychology and the ideas, theories, and methods of the scientific study of behavior and mental processes, getting at the reasons behind why we think and act the way we do. The concepts of psychology are mainly taught through reading and discussion, with the additional data analysis of research studies, which serves as a good introduction to interpreting data and research in the social sciences.

In taking this course, you can investigate the following topics (and more): 

  • nature vs. nurture

  • how we feel, see, and react to any other stimuli

  • memory

  • how we develop

AP Psych is often seen as an “easy” AP course, but is this perception accurate? Let’s take a look. 

The Exam

As with most AP courses, at the end of the year, you have the option to take the AP exam. The typical AP Psych exam matches the following format:

  • Multiple Choice section comprised of 100 Questions (1 hour 10 minutes) [67% of score]

  • Two Free Response Questions: Concept Application Essay & Research Essay (50 minutes) [33% of score]

This optional exam is taken at the end of the year. In 2021, 3 testing dates will be available in May and June with options for traditional paper testing or digital exams.

For 2021 AP Psychology testing, the digital version of the test will contain the typical multiple choice and free response question sections.

The Statistics*

  • In 2019, 311,215 students took the AP Psych course exam. 

  • The mean score was a 3.09, with 64.5% of test takers passing with a score of 3 or above. (2019)

  • 20.5% scored a 5! (2019)

  • In 2020, during the unprecedented online FRQ AP exam, the passing rate rose to 71.3%, and 22.4% of test takers scored a 5.

Typically, the statistics do show a higher rate of 5s on the AP exam than the average AP exam. When compared to other humanities courses like AP English Language & Composition or the  AP history courses, the average passing rate of AP Psych is higher, signaling that the AP exam may offer less difficulty to the average test taker. The level of difficulty on the exam doesn’t necessarily mean the course will be a breeze (mostly dependent upon the instructor), but it does signal why this is considered one of the “easier” AP courses to take.

*All statistics are sourced from College Board 2019 & 2020 score distributions.

Additional Course Facts

  • Most students took it in 12th grade, but 11th was also very popular.

  • Coursework is mostly focused on learning the terms and histories of various psychological subfields and applying that knowledge to research and case studies. If you are skilled at memorization, then this course should be relatively straightforward. 

  • Some colleges will accept a passing AP score as college credit, which can decrease college costs.

Should you take this?

AP Psych is a great course for anyone who wants to know how our brains tick. Biology covers our muscles and our biological processes, but Psychology helps us understand why we are who we are. How do we learn? Why does one person have a greater capacity for kindness or cruelty than another? What makes us creative? Why do we love? If you’ve ever asked yourself any of these questions, then AP Psych is the intellectual playground for you.

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