I-12a: Advanced Placement Exams Taken in Broad Academic Fields, 1996–2015

Source:The College Board, “AP Program Participation and Performance Data 2015,”; and The College Board, “AP Data—Archived Data,” Student counts used to calculate the rate of exam-taking: U.S. Department of Education, Institute of Education Sciences, National Center for Education Statistics, “Digest of Education Statistics 2015” (online version), Table 105.30,, accessed 7/12/2016.

National trend data on Advanced Placement (AP) course-taking in specific subjects is not publicly available, but the College Board does publish data on the number of AP exams taken annually in each subject, as well as the average scores and demographics of those taking the tests. While exams are offered in more subjects in the humanities than in any other field, the data reveal that the level of test-taking in a field cannot be attributed solely to the extent of the exam offerings in that field. For example, in 1996, although the number of subjects for which exams were offered in the natural sciences was equal to that offered in the social sciences, considerably more exams were taken in the natural sciences. However, by 2005 the number taken in each field was similar, a fact attributable not to a dramatic expansion of offerings in the social sciences but to a large increase in the number of students taking a single exam, U.S. government and politics, which represented no less than 40% of all social science tests taken in any given year. Even though the humanities field encompasses a larger number of subject exams than the other broad fields, most of the humanities exams are taken by relatively few students (e.g., in 2013, only 6,667 students took the Latin exam, as compared to 140,006 who took the chemistry test). The high levels of humanities test-taking are largely driven by the popularity of a handful of exams offered in the field. For example, in every year through 2014 more exams were taken in a single humanities discipline, English, than were taken in either the natural science, social science, and math/computer science fields. Publicly available information does not indicate how many of the students exams took more than one humanities exam (e.g., the European history exam in addition to the more commonly taken English exam) in a given year, nor the extent to which the taking of multiple exams has contributed to the increase in AP exam-taking in the humanities.

Back to Humanities Indicators