AP Art History: 2021 Results

The following data reflect the 18,552 students worldwide who took either the paper or the digital AP Art History Exam in May. Data from students who tested in June are not yet available.

AP Art History score distributions, 2021 vs. 2019

The following table enables comparisons of student performance in 2021 to student performance on the comparable full-length exam prior to the covid-19 pandemic:

AP Score 2019 2021
5 12% 11%
4 24% 19%
3 27% 24%
2 25% 30%
1 12% 16%

The May 6 In-School Paper Exam

The largest exam date for AP Art History was May 6, so the following information is specific to the exam version administered on that date.

Students scored significantly higher on the multiple-choice section than the free-response section.

Multiple-choice section:

  • Content: This is the first year I’ve seen similarly strong student performance across every geographical region. In the past, students have frequently scored highest on African art; this year, we saw similarly strong performance on Pacific Art (nearly half the students got every Pacific Art question correct this year), Asian Art, Indigenous American Art, and Global Contemporary Art. Student performance was just slightly weaker on European Art than on other units. Congrats to AP Art History teachers for cultivating such solid understanding of diverse regions’ and cultures’ artistic creations.
  • Big Ideas: The only idea students generally struggled with was Big Idea 2: Interactions with Other Cultures, in which students need to demonstrate an understanding of how one region’s art influenced or was influenced by other cultures.
  • Skills: AP Art History students generally did very well on skills 1–7, especially skill 5, visual analysis of unknown works. The most challenging skill for students was generally skill 3, comparison of works of art.
  • Media: Students were not significantly better or worse on questions about architecture vs. painting/drawing vs. sculpture vs. other media, another good indication of how well AP Art History teachers are doing at helping students explore a diverse image set. In the past, students almost always scored significantly lower on questions about architecture, but that’s not at all the case this year—in fact, students performed slightly stronger on architecture questions than on questions about painting or sculpture. But again, student performance was solid across all media.

Free-response section:

  • For student performance, the high points of this year’s paper exam were 2 short essays that both happened to focus on works of art in Rome. AP Art History teachers: are you as envious as I am of anyone able to be in Rome these days, to see such monuments and masterpieces without the crowds that usually surround them?
    • Short Essay #3, in which students analyzed the Laocoön. Many aced this question: an astounding 25% earned perfect scores of 5/5 points possible on it.
    • Short Essay #6, the final question of the exam, in which students examined continuity and/or change via Zaha Hadid’s MAXXI museum: 15% earned perfect scores of 5/5 points possible on this question.
  • But otherwise, students really struggled with the free-response section on this year’s exam:
    • Long Essay #2: the influence of other cultures on later European and American art. 35% of students were unable to identify a single work of European or American art between 1750 and 1980 that had been influenced by another culture, earning 0 out of 5 points possible on this long essay. This repeats the pattern we saw in the multiple-choice section: many students had not developed an understanding this year of how the creation of specific works of art was influenced by other cultures. On the other hand, it’s clear there was incredible teaching and learning happening in some classrooms, as 20% of students earned 5–6 points out of 6 possible on this essay, and a powerful 15% of students earned the top point, the complexity point—a far larger percentage than we see in other essay-based subjects that also have complexity or sophistication points.
    • Performance was also quite weak on Short Essay #4 on the Bayeux Tapestry, but weakest of all on Short Essay #5, the attribution of the Kongo power figure

    The May 19 Digital Exams

    To support student access, different testing modes—paper and digital—were essential. To protect exam security, many different exam versions were necessary. Accordingly, to provide students with similar opportunities for success regardless of which version they took, each version of the exam had to be analyzed separately by psychometricians to identify its unique difficulty level so that standards for scores of 3, 4, and 5 could then be separately identified for each exam version. Analyses focused on:

    • Differences in the testing mode (paper or digital). For sections of the exam that proved easier to take digitally, the digital versions require more points for each AP score. For sections of the exam that proved easier to take on paper, the paper exam requires more points for each AP score.
    • Differences in the difficulty of specific questions. When exam questions prove easier, more points are required for each AP score, and when exam questions prove more difficult, fewer points are required on one version than another.
    • The net result for this year’s AP Art History Exams is that out of 140 points possible on each version, the digital versions proved somewhat more difficult for 4s and 5s. Accordingly, to adjust for that variation in difficulty:
      • To receive a 5 on the digital versions, students needed to earn 7–11 fewer points (depending on the difficulty of the version) than students who took the paper exam.
      • To receive a 4 on the digital versions, students needed to earn 4–8 fewer points (depending on the difficulty of the version) than students who took the paper exam.
      • To receive a 3 on the digital versions, the difficulty levels varied more between the paper and digital versions. Accordingly, to receive a 3 on a digital version, depending on the version students needed to earn 1 point more than, or the same number of points as, or 2–3 points fewer than students taking the paper exam.