Graph of the Week: Which AP Tests are the Most Popular?


The College Board's Advanced Placement (AP) Exams were back in the news this week, as the Oklahoma Stage Legislature heated up the controversy around the AP US History Exam. This item made us wonder: Exactly how many students are taking the AP US History Exam? Is it even one of the more popular AP tests?

The answers are "lots" and "yes," respectively. 

According to data from College Board, who administers the exams, 459,000 US high school students took the US History exam in 2014. This makes the test the second most popular, with only the English Language & Composition exam seeing more students (497,000). The English Literature & Composition test came in third (390,000 students), while Calculus AB (282,000) placed fourth overall but first among STEM tests.

So now we know where most students each year are spending their time, but which exams are gaining popularity the fastest? 

We calculated the compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of the number of test takers for each exam from 2010-2014 and found that Human Geography took the top spot, with a brisk 14.8% growth rate over that period. The  often-discussed Computer Science exam grew at an even 14% per year, while Chinese Language and Culture grew 12.4%.

The graph below plots each AP exam by its growth rate and the number of students who took the test in 2014. We also show the average growth rate over that period and the average number of students taking each AP test. Out of 33 AP exams, only English Language & Composition, Psychology and World History already had more than the average number of test takers and grew faster than average exam.

But enough with the positive superlatives! The German Language exam was the only test to shrink from 2010-2014, shedding students at a rate of -1% a year. Additionally, the Japanese Language & Culture exam had just 1,942 students in 2014. Our guess is that we won't be hearing much about those two exams this year.

What data would you like to see in our Graph of the Week? Drop us a line at!

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