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Is AP Computer Science Principles Hard?

Dec 12, 2022
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AP Computer Science Principles is one of the two courses offered by the AP program. The other is AP Computer Science A. AP Computer Science Principles is the broader course as it involves computer science fundamentals and focuses on teamwork. The question is, ‘Is computer science a hard nut to crack?’ Computer science is a good study area regarding career prospects, but is the test too hard to pass? Is computer science hard?

If you want to take the AP Computer Science Principles class, you will be relieved to hear that the course is not considered one of the most challenging AP courses. That, however, does not mean that it is very easy. This article will focus on the debate about how hard AP computer science is and whether you should take it. 

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What Topics do the AP Computer Science Principles cover?

AP Computer Science Principles course is focused on helping students understand the fundamentals of computer science and allows them to collaborate on projects. In addition, the course focuses on foundational math skills, especially in terms of algebra, and applies them to computer science.

Below are the major areas of study covered in AP Computer Science Principles:

  • Data
  • Creative Development
  • Programming and Algorithms
  • Impact of Computing
  • Computing Networks and Systems

Factors that determine the difficulty of AP Computer Science Principles

The difficulty of any course generally depends on the academic strengths and weaknesses of the students. But, a few other factors can be used to answer the question, “is AP computer science hard?”. These factors include the difficulty of the course material, the pass rate, and your academic skills.

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The pass rate

The first step to determining how hard AP computer science is by looking at the AP exam passing rates. By evaluating the percentage of students who received the highest score of 5 on the exam, you can start comparing the difficulty level of the AP Computer Science Principles course with that of other courses. 

The AP Computer Science Principles exam in 2021 had an above-average passing rate of 66.4% and a below-average 5-score rate of 12.3%. This implies that students find it challenging to achieve a perfect score on the AP test but can pass it comfortably.

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While the passing rates and perfect scores are major determinants in figuring out the difficulty level of the AP Computer Science Principles course, they are not the only factors. 

How a student perceives an AP course also depends on other factors like their academic strengths and weaknesses, the school’s resources, the teacher’s performance, and the student’s learning style.

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The course material

The amount and difficulty level of the course content are also important determinants in determining the overall difficulty of the course. For example, a course that covers a wide range of syllabi and requires you to remember many different concepts and topics is often perceived as harder than a course whose range of coverage is narrower. 

So is AP computer science hard because of the course material? The AP Computer Science Principles course covers a wide range of study materials that students may find challenging. The learners need to acquire a broad understanding of many aspects of computer science apart from its basics. There are a lot of topics involved. 

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Your subject skills

The difficulty of an AP class also depends on the subject skills of the individual students. Students who have a strong background understanding of the subject will find its classes relatively easier than those who don’t know about the basics. For example, you should consider your mathematical skills when deciding whether or not to take the AP Computer Science Principles class. Those with strong mathematical skills and a good knowledge of algebra will find the class easier than those who are poor at Math. 

When to take AP Computer Science Principles?

If you have decided on taking the AP Computer Science Principles, the next question in your mind must be when to take it. While many schools orient their AP classes so that the students can take them at specific times in their high school careers, there is usually some flexibility. 

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Most students take the AP Computer Science Principles class during their sophomore year or later to develop a good math background by then. However, suppose you are thinking of taking the AP Computer Science Principles class earlier, that is, during the first year of high school. In that case, you can check with your school to find out if there are any prerequisites necessary to understand the classes. 

Consider how you plan on tackling the AP course load as you move through your high school career. For example, instead of taking the AP Computer Science Principles class in your junior year, or if you decide to take it in your sophomore year, you will most likely not be enrolling in any other AP classes. This will allow you to afford more time to deal with the high workload of the AP Computer Science Principles course. 

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Things you need to know about the AP Computer Science Principles exam

Below is the table listing the May 2021 AP Computer Science Principles exam statistics. Around 116,100 students took the test, over 65% of whom scored three or higher. 

Exam score54321
Number of students14,43125,22237,79623,15015,862
Percentage of students12.3%21.6%32.4%19.8%13.5%

Structure of the AP Computer Science Principles exam

Unlike many other AP exams, the AP Computer Science Principles exam is not taken in a single exam block. Instead, it comprises an MCQ section and a performance task section, which require at least 12 hours of class to be completed. 

The MCQ section is timely traditionally, while for the performance task section, every student needs to design their computer program and implement it. The program should be focused on exploring a personal interest or solving a specific problem. For this task, students can choose what type of program they want to design and what they want it to do. 

Section 1 contains 70 multiple-choice questions for which the time assigned is two hours. Section 2 contains one performance task question that takes at least 12 class hours to complete.

How is the AP Computer Science Principles exam scoring done?

Like on all other AP exams, students are awarded a 1-5 on the AP Computer Science Principles exam. Five is the highest or perfect score, and 3 is the passing score. 70% of the overall score is decided by the multiple choice questions, which are scored by a machine. The performance task determines 30% of the score. Finally, a College Board employee scores it.

Students who find the time and multiple-choice exams challenging should take mock exams before the test. 

AP Computer Science Principles: What Score is needed for College Credit?

While the passing score of an AP exam is three or higher, many schools only offer college credit to students with a score of 4 or 5. Some colleges, however, provide credit to students with a score of 3 or higher. 

Should I take AP Computer Science Principles?

Now let us come to the main point. Should you take the AP Computer Science Principles class or not? The truth is whether or not you should take the course should be your personal decision. So, before you take the class, ask yourself if the field interests you, if you have a good math background, and if you can afford time from your schedule to devote to the AP Computer Science Principles class. 

You can talk to seniors at your school who have taken the course in the past years to get an idea about ‘is AP computer science principles hard’ and what the AP Computer Science Principles are like at your particular school. They can provide valuable information about how hard AP computer science is at your school, the teachers, the workload, and the difficulty level of the course as perceived by them. 

Conclusion

No course is easy unless you are interested in it. And no one can tell you whether or not you should register for a specific course other than yourself and answer the question, “is AP computer science principles hard.” So, take your time to reflect, and then come up with your decision about whether or not you want to take the AP Computer Science Principles course. 

Frequently Asked Questions

1. Is the AP Computer Science Principles course worth the effort?

A. AP Computer Science Principles can help you build a good resume for college and probably earn you credit at a decent college. You can also get to learn valuable information in the classes. If you find the field exciting and are determined to work hard, go for it. It is worth it.

2. Is coding experience required to take AP Computer Science Principles?

A. No, coding experience is not required to take AP Computer Science Principles. Only a good algebra background is needed. However, coding is a valuable skill for the AP Computer Science Principles class and life. 

3. Should I take AP Computer Science Principles or AP Computer Science A?

A. Which of the two you should take depends on the specific skills you are interested in learning. For example, students who are already comfortable with Java and are interested in programming can take the AP Computer Science A, while those who want a more fundamental understanding of computer science and a general overview of the field can take the AP Computer Science Principles.

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