Is AP Environmental Science Hard?

Instructor: Jessica Keys
Like any other high school class, the difficulty of Advanced Placement (AP) Environmental Science will depend on your attitude towards the work! But what skills are helpful for this subject and what is the course really like? This article aims to answer these questions while showing you were to find some helpful study resources.

AP Environmental Science: What Might Make This Course Difficult?

It might comfort you to know that the course material for AP Environmental Science is not considered to be especially difficult. In fact, AP Environmental Science has gained something of a reputation as being one of the easier AP courses. This might contribute to its popularity, but it could also cause some students to underestimate the effort required to be successful.

Your interests and abilities, as well as the time you're willing to devote to what is still considered college-level course material, will largely determine whether or not you find this course difficult. Before enrolling, think carefully about the course's features and their potential caveats, some of which are outlined below.

Interdisciplinary Coursework

AP Environmental Science requires a keen interest in the intersection of ecology and social science as well as an understanding of how environmental systems (including human systems) interact and affect each other, for better or for worse. As a result, you might study subjects like ecology, agriculture, the creation and consumption of energy resources (both natural and man-made), environmental law, history and conservation. If these are the kinds of topics that motivate you and spark your curiosity, that's a clear leap over a big hurdle!

However, AP Environmental Science is still a science course. Remember that you'll be using scientific methods and concepts in order to conduct experiments, interpret quantitative data presented in visual formats (e.g. graphs, charts, diagrams) and draw meaningful connections between interrelated topics.

If you've taken the recommended algebra, life science and physical science prerequisites, you'll likely already be familiar with these processes. Conversely, the course's interdisciplinary nature may come as a surprise to students who are used to other science subjects and are not expecting to learn about history, law or even political issues.

Labs and Field Trips

If you're itching to get your hands dirty - literally! - by interacting with ecological systems in real life, AP Environmental Science won't leave you disappointed. This class has an active lab component where you'll be expected to take a hands-on approach to your studies; for example, a lesson on water pollution might be augmented by a field trip to a local river where you'll collect and analyze samples. You might also track the growth of a plant species under certain conditions or monitor wildlife in the field.

However, class field trips to a local wildlife preserve may sound fun (and they are!), but if you already have a difficult schedule and are only taking AP Environmental Science as filler, you may not be able to devote your full time and attention to the lab work involved.

The AP Exam

The capstone of any AP class is the AP exam. The AP Environmental Science exam features 100 multiple-choice questions and four essay questions. Predictably, this exam will test your retention of knowledge about the subject as well as your ability to translate visual data.

It's worth mentioning that the average score for this exam was only 2.55, according to May 2016 figures from The College Board. Moreover, less than half of test takers earned a 3 or higher, with 3 being the typical minimum score required to receive college credit.

Help Is On the Way!

If you would like to learn what to expect from the AP test, not to mention the course, The College Board's website features course overviews and sample exam questions for every available subject, plus real student answers from past essay-form questions.

If you're already taking AP Environmental Science and looking for a little boost, check out's resources on the subject:

Each of these resources is self-paced, allowing you to study exactly what you need to study, anytime, anywhere. Plus, the help and review course features short quizzes you can use to shore up any areas you're struggling with or track your progress as you prepare for the AP exam.

Earning College Credit

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