Is AP Computer Science A easy or hard? We reveal the AP Comp Sci A difficulty rating, based on a unique combination of 2021 pass rate data, and 2,627 class reviews from real AP alumnae collected by r/APStudents.

Is AP Computer Science A Easy Or Hard?

AP Computer Science A is considered quite easy, with class alumnae rating it 4.2/10 for overall difficulty (the 24th-most-difficult out of the 28 large AP classes surveyed).

The pass rate is about average vs other AP classes, with 67% graduating with a 3 or higher.

AP Computer Science A is a relatively small class (63,980 entries last year), and 97% would recommend the class.

Is AP Computer Science A Easy or Hard – Difficulty Rating

AP Comp Sci A alumnae reviewers rated the class as enjoyable, especially with prior programming knowledge and a good grasp of the concepts underlying the course.

You can see how AP Comp Sci A compares to other classes for difficulty in the below chart:

AP Computer Science A difficulty

We’ve highlighted AP Comp Sci A and related computer science classes (Computer Science Principles) only – to see the full version of this chart, check out our article ranking ALL the AP classes from easy to hard.

You can read more about AP Computer Science Principles here.

How Difficult Is AP Comp Sci A- As Rated By Class Alumnae

AP Computer Science A is considered quite easy, with class alumnae rating it 4.2/10 for overall difficulty, making it the 24th-most-difficult out of the 28 large AP classes surveyed.

AP Comp Sci A difficulty

What Is the AP Computer Science A Pass Rate 2021?

The AP Comp Sci A 2021 pass rate was 67%, about average in comparison with other AP classes.

A high percentage of students attained a 5 (25%) – the highest percentage of passing grades. Almost half the average percentage of students received a 2 (12%), whereas more than average received a 1 (21%).

AP Comp Sci A pass rate

AP Comp Sci A Pass Rate / Score Distribution Over Time: 2021, 2020, 2019…

The AP Computer Science A score distribution has not varied significantly over the past 5 years of exams, with only a minor increase in the pass rate in 2019 and 2020.

Is AP Computer Science A Time Consuming To Study: As Rated By AP Comp Sci A Alumnae

AP Comp Sci A is rated as quite low study time required relative to other AP classes.

A survey of AP alumnae asked for a rating out of 10 for time needed to study each class, with 1 = least time needed, 10 = most time. The average rating for AP Computer Science A was 4.1/10 (vs the average across all AP classes of 5.3/10).

Is AP Comp Sci A Easy or Hard To Self-Study

AP Computer Science A is rated as quite easy to self-study relative to other AP classes.

A survey of AP alumnae asked for a rating out of 10 for how easy each class is to self study, with 1 = easiest to self study, 10 = hardest to self study. The average rating for AP Computer Science A was 4.3/10 (vs the average across all AP classes of 5.7/10).

How Hard Is AP Computer Science A: 104 Real AP Comp Sci A Alumnae Share Their Experiences

If you’re looking forward to taking AP Comp Sci A, it’s important to take both the positive and negative feedback in context. There are multiple factors that could contribute to a great or poor experience of the class, such as a particularly weak teacher and your personal preferences as a learner.

An impressive 97% of AP Computer Science A alumnae would recommend the class.

The majority of the reviews focus on the importance of understanding programming concepts, exam techniques, and having prior programming knowledge.

1.      AP Comp Sci A is skill based: make sure you understand the concepts

“Your success in this course really depends on how well you grasp early programming concepts. This is not one of those APs that you can study for a little and get a 5, it is more skill based.”- AP Computer Science A Score: 4

“Make sure you get a very good grasp of what OOP (Object-Oriented Programming) is, because if you understand the flow of a program, you are in very good shape for the exam. Looking up common algorithms (particularly sorting algorithms) would probably be pretty useful too. Stack overflow can be very useful too but don’t copy without figuring it out yourself.” – AP Comp Sci A Score: 4

“Do all the reading assigned to you. Also understand why something in a program is happening the way it is so that you can fix it; don’t just randomly adjust code til it works – you learn nothing that way.” – AP Computer Science A Score: 5

“Make sure you understand the early concepts. The test doesn’t not go very in depth, so it’s not too hard. If a FRQ isn’t making sense, you need to take a breath and start underlining the steps. They aren’t meant to get you to overthink, but if you can resist that then they’ll be straightforward. … All in all, I found it to be a really fun class; however, it could be difficult if you have a bad teacher; mine was really good.” – AP Computer Science A Score: 5

“It’s not that hard but you really need to understand the concepts. Luckily the number is not overwhelming. Also, read REALLY carefully. I wasted multiple 10 minutes in practice tests (luckily) because I missed a bracket.” – AP Computer Science A Score: 5

2.      Most students recommend learning programming before taking AP Comp Sci A

“Actually create programs. You can get through the class purely based on conceptual knowledge, but practical application of the knowledge will help on and beyond the AP test.’ – AP Computer Science A Score: 5

Learn coding beforehand. I took a free online course on edX the summer before and breezed through the class. Practice all the official released FRQ’s before the exam.” – AP Comp Sci A Score: 5

You should have some coding knowledge, especially if you plan on self studying. Otherwise, you will have a hard time.” – AP Computer Science A Score: 3

“I would recommend learning some basic Java over the summer because knowing some beforehand definitely helped me in the class. I would also recommend doing some practice FRQs because I feel that doing them definitely did help with preparation for the test (although we did them during class). Overall easy 5” – AP Computer Science A Score: 5

“Very accessible class even without prior programming experience” – AP Computer Science A Score: 5

“’I came in with prior programming experience, though it should be noted none in Java. Even then, it was really just learning the syntax and the little differences in how Java handles things like classes and algorithms and structures compared to other languages.” – AP Comp Sci A Score: 5

3.      Some students found the exam easy, others found it required focus

“FRQs are the easiest thing I have ever seen since they give WAY too much time to do them. I quintuple-checked my answers and half the testing room fell asleep.” – AP Computer Science A Score: 5

“Pay attention in class. There are a lot of not intuitive specific cases in Java that you have to know. The AP test will specifically ask you questions on these cases. Don’t assume you know something just because it seems right.” – AP Computer Science A Score: 5

“Concepts not too hard at all, but memorization of little facts is definitely required for the AP Exam. AP Exam MCQs were harder than expected; it is easy to make a small error that leads to an incorrect answer that is in fact a choice. In other words, it is very hard to catch small errors on the MCQs.” – AP Comp Sci A Score: 4

“For MCs, it’s important to be able to walk through every step of a program and know what’s going on, like pass by value, pass by reference, etc. For FRQs, they’re really quite straightforward and never require more than around 10/15 lines of code. Super easy if you spend some time writing programs. FWIW, I got a 99 in the class and a 5 on the exam with minimal review, but I’d chalk it up to prior experience so YMMV.” – AP Comp Sci A Score: 5

4.      Experiences with self-studying were largely positive

“I took this as an online course, so I basically self-studied it. I took it as a freshman, and it wasn’t that hard. I would recommend studying 1 hour a day starting from January and it should be an easy 5. Use Barron’s for sure.’ – AP Comp Sci A Score: 4

“Basically self-studied 6 weeks before exam and got a 4.” – AP Computer Science A Score: 4

“I rated it difficult to self study because my teacher was the biggest resource in helping me with it.” – AP Comp Sci A Score: 5

“If you don’t know java or any cs language, don’t self study it unless you can appropriately allocate your time. It takes a lot of time to get used to object oriented programming. If you already know how to code, go for self studying. It may even be less work than the actual class.” – AP Computer Science A Score: 3

What Does It Take To Succeed: How To Study For The AP Comp Sci A Exam

What is AP Computer Science A? Course Outline & Requirements

According to College Board:

“AP Computer Science A introduces students to computer science through programming. … The course emphasizes object-oriented programming and design using the Java programming language.”

Prerequisites for AP Comp Sci A are: successful completion of a first-year high school algebra course (recommended). Students should be able to “use a Cartesian (x, y) coordinate system to represent points on a plane”. Prior computer science experience is not required.

The course has a lab requirement: “a minimum of 20 hours of hands-on, structured lab experiences to engage students in individual or group problem solving”.

You will develop skills in:

  • Determining required code segments to produce given outputs
  • Determining the results of given codes and values
  • Writing and implementing program code
  • Testing code for correctness, equivalence and errors
  • Describing the behaviour and conditions that produce results

The exam consists of one 3-hour exam, with 50% (90 minutes) of multiple-choice questions (MCQs) and 50% (90 minutes) for four free-response questions.

For more details, see: College Board’s AP Computer Science A course page.

Examiners’ Reviews: Takeaways From AP Computer Science A Test Assessors

College Board released the following official comments about the 2021 exam results:

  • “As usual, students scored significantly higher on the multiple-choice section than on the free-response questions.”
  • “AP CSA students’ strongest performance was on Unit 4, Iteration. 22% of students earned perfect scores on this unit’s questions.”
  • “AP CSA students generally demonstrated solid understanding of each unit; the only unit where many students struggled was Unit 10, Recursion. 21% of students couldn’t answer any questions about that unit correctly.”
  • “AP CSA students’ strongest practice was Code Testing; 34% of students earned perfect scores across questions related to this skill.”
  • “The most challenging skill for students in the multiple-choice section was practice 2, Code Logic. Students generally earned somewhat lower scores on questions that required this practice.”
  • “The most challenging part of this year’s AP CSA Exam was [FRQ] Q4 (2D Array). 13% of students earned perfect scores of 9/9 points possible on this question. 29% of students earned 0/9 points.”

For best results, you may therefore want to consider investing a little extra study time in Unit 10 “Recursion”, and Skill 2 “Code Logic”, as well as practicing for the FRQs.

For more details, see: College Board’s AP Computer Science A 2021 exam results page.

How To (Self) Study AP Comp Sci A: Advice From Class Alumnae

Practicing for the exam (especially FRQs) is vital for success …

Practice FRQs frequently! Multiple choice should be easy to answer as they are generally more basic, logical questions. Answer FRQs from previous years!” – AP Computer Science A Score: 5

“Practice the FRQs. You need to familiarize yourself with the format and the types of questions. It takes time to get used to Object Oriented Programming. Make sure to spend a lot of time on that.” – AP Comp Sci A Score: 3

“Make sure to practice writing and shortcuts to tracing code throughout the year or in detail before the exam; one of the best resources is old AP FRQs! u got this :)” – AP Computer Science A Score: 5

Do a bunch of practice exams and questions, and you’ll be good to go. I started seriously prepping about a week before and was fine.” – AP Comp Sci A Score: 5

“Know your loops, and do a lot of practice FRQs” – AP Computer Science A Score: 5

… including writing code by hand!

Practice writing code on paper and know the actually process your compiler goes through so you don’t make silly mistakes during the exam!” – AP Comp Sci A Score: 5

“Make sure to practice handwriting code it’s very different then just typing” – AP Computer Science A Score: 5

There are some helpful coding resources available

“If you can solve most of the CodingBat challenges, you will be able to do well on FRQs. The BluePelicanJava textbook helped me out a lot” – AP Computer Science A Score: 5

“Solve the problems before writing down code for the free response section. For working on projects, “Rubber Ducky” bugs. Also, most compilers have a debugging section that shows what is being called and how variables are being changed.” – AP Comp Sci A Score: 5

“Coding Bat, interactive python Java review, Practice it, and barrons” – AP Comp Sci A Score: 5

“Be sure to do all the practice tests and then review your answers in the book. Barron’s book is very useful. There are also many other websites that help such as codingbat which have good practice exercises.” – AP Computer Science A Score: 5

Success in AP Comp Sci A often comes down to consistent preparation!

“Do the in-class assignments but also program on your own. Make a cheat sheet with syntax for variable declarations and loops, i.e. Java Quick Reference, and review that. Practice combinatorics.” – AP Computer Science A Score: 5

“Actually pay attention, the information is crucial for the test. You must know vocab, begin practicing open responses from the start of the course – at least looking at them.” – AP Comp Sci A Score: 1

“Do as many programming assignments as possible. Do worksheets if your teacher has them. Trace code yourself” – AP Comp Sci A Score: 5

“When studying, I would do like multiple choice problems like everyday throughout the year personally. Not too hard, and not too time consuming. Do like 5 problems a day and I would say you’re perfect” – AP Computer Science A Score: 3

Best books and test prep resources for AP Computer Science A

The most popular textbook for test prep and review for AP Comp Sci A is Barron’s, used by 86% of students. It has an average rating of 4.6/5.0 from reviewers on Amazon.com.

Best AP Computer Science A Textbooks for Prep & Review

Other popular AP Computer Science A test prep / review books and resources for include:

Where next?

Find out how AP Computer Science A compares to other classes: click here for an overview of all AP Classes ranked by difficulty, from easiest to hardest.

Or check out how other computer science courses are rated with our analysis of Is AP Computer Science Principles Hard?

Wishing you every success in the class!


Higher grades, less sweat

Download my free exam success cheat sheet: all my #1 must-know strategies to supercharge your learning today.

    Your privacy protected. No spam. Unsubscribe any time.