AP Psychology Exam Information

Learn What Score You'll Need and What Course Credit You'll Receive

Studying the Brain
Studying the Brain. Chris Hope / Flickr

AP Psychology is one of the more popular Advanced Placement subjects, and well over a quarter of a million students take the exam each year. Many colleges will award credit for a score of a 4 or 5 on the exam, and some schools will also offer course placement. It's possible that a high score on the exam will fulfill a general education requirement in college.

About the AP Psychology Course and Exam

The AP Psychology course and exam cover a wide range of subjects that are likely to be found in a college or university introductory psychology class.

The learning objectives of the course are broken down into twelve content areas:

  1. History and Approaches. This section examines at the inception of the field of psychology in 1879 and traces changing approaches to the study of the subject. Students need to be familiar with some of the major figures who have contributed to the study of psychology including Sigmund Freud, Ivan Pavlov, and Margaret Floy Washburn. 2 to 4 percent of the multiple choice questions will focus on this material.
  2. Research Methods. This important section looks at the methods used to develop and apply theories that explain behavior. 8 to 10 percent of the multiple choice questions will focus on research methods.
  3. Biological Bases of Behavior. This part of the course focuses on the hard-wired aspects of behavior. Students learn about the way in which the nervous system and genetic factors contribute to behavior. This section represents 8 to 10 percent of the AP Psychology exam multiple choice section.
  1. Sensation and Perception. In this section, students learn about the ways in which organisms are able to detect stimuli in their environment. This section makes up 6 to 8 percent of the multiple choice section of the exam.
  2. States of Consciousness. Students learn about variations in consciousness such as sleep, dreams, hypnosis, and the effects of psychoactive drugs. This section accounts for just 2 to 4 percent of the multiple choice questions.
  1. Learning. This section accounts for 7 to 9 percent of the course and explores the differences between learned and unlearned behavior. Topics included classical conditioning, observational learning, and the ways that biological factors relate to learning.
  2. Cognition. Related to learning, this section explores how we remember and retrieve information. Topics also include language, creativity, and problem solving. This part of the course accounts for 8 to 10 percent of the multiple choice questions.
  3. Motivation and Emotion. Students learn about the biological, social, and cultural factors motivate behavior and influence emotion. 6 to 8 percent of the multiple choice questions will be on this section.
  4. Developmental Psychology. This section explores the ways behavior changes from conception to death. Topics include prenatal development, socialization, and adolescence. On the exam, 7 to 9 percent of the multiple choice questions will focus on these topics.
  5. Personality. 5 to 7 percent of the exam will focus on the ways humans develop the patterns of behavior and personality characteristics that affect how others relate to them.
  6. Testing and Individual Differences. In this section, students examine the ways that psychologists construct and score assessments to measure intelligence. This subject area represents 5 to 7 percent of the multiple choice questions.
  1. Abnormal Behavior. In this section, students explore the challenges that some individual have to adaptive functioning. Students study both current and past conceptions of psychological disorders. 7 to 9% of the exam's multiple choice questions focus on this section.
  2. Treatment of Abnormal Behavior. Students examine the ways that different types of psychological disorders are treatment as well as some of the major figures in the development of different treatments. These topics represent 5 to 7 percent of the multiple choice questions.
  3. Social Psychology. 8 to 10 percent of the multiple choice questions focus on the ways the individuals relate to one another in social situations.

AP Psychology Score Information

In 2017, 302,369 students took the AP Psychology exam. 194,071 (64.2%) of those students received a score of 3 or better, typically the cut-off score for earning college credit.

Many schools, however, require at least a 4 on the exam before students earn college credit or course placement. 

The distribution of scores for the AP Psychology exam is as follows (2017 data):

  • 5 - 19.1%
  • 4 - 25.1%
  • 3 - 20.0%
  • 2 - 14.6%
  • 1 - 22.2%

The mean score was a 3.06 with a standard deviation of 1.42. Keep in mind that AP exam scores are not a required part of college applications, and if you aren't happy with your AP Psychology score, you can choose to not submit it. If you earned a good grade in the AP class, it will still be a positive factor on your college applications.

College Credit and Course Placement for AP Psychology

Most colleges and universities have a social science requirement as part of their core curriculum, so a high score on the AP Psychology exam will sometimes fulfill that requirement. Even if it doesn't, taking the AP Psychology course will help prepare you for college psychology courses, and having some background in psychology can also be useful in other areas of study such as literary analysis (to understand, for example, why characters in a novel behave the way they do).

The table below provides some representative data from a variety of colleges and universities. This information is meant to provide a general overview of the scoring and placement information related to the AP Psychology exam. You'll need to contact the appropriate Registrar's office to get AP placement information for a particular college, and even for the colleges below, the placement information will change from year to year as the AP exam changes and college standards evolve.

AP Psychology Scores and Placement
CollegeScore NeededPlacement Credit
Hamilton College4 or 5Intro to Psych Prerequisite Waived for 200-level Psych classes
Grinnell College4 or 5PSY 113
LSU4 or 5PSYC 200 (3 credits)
Mississippi State University4 or 5PSY 1013 (3 credits)
Notre Dame4 or 5Psychology 10000 (3 credits)
Reed College4 or 51 credit; no placement
Stanford University-No credit for AP Psychology
Truman State University3, 4 or 5PSYC 166 (3 credits)
UCLA (School of Letters and Science)3, 4 or 54 credits; PSYCH 10 placement for a 4 or 5
Yale University-No credit for AP Psychology

You can see that some of the country's most elite and selective universities such as Stanford and Yale do not offer placement or credit for AP Psychology.

A Final Word About AP Psychology

The reality is that AP Psychology is not one of the most valuable AP courses you can choose. Colleges are likely to give more weight to subject areas such as AP Calculus, AP English, and natural sciences such as AP Biology and AP Physics. That said, any AP class shows that you are pushing yourself to take challenging courses, and all AP classes strengthen your college application. Also, colleges always encourage students to follow their passions in high school, so if you love the social sciences, AP Psychology will be an excellent way to demonstrate that passion.

In broad terms, a strong academic record is the most important part of your college application. Success in challenging courses such as Advanced Placement is one of the best ways to show that you are ready for the academic challenges of college.