AP Macroeconomics Exam: 2021 Results

The following data reflect the 112,644 students worldwide who took either the paper or the digital AP Macroeconomics Exam in May. Data from students who tested in June are not yet available.

AP Macroeconomics score distributions, 2019 vs. 2021

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 19% 18%
4 23% 20%
3 17% 14%
2 15% 16%
1 26% 32%

Of these 112,644 students, 60 students achieved a perfect score from all professors/readers on all essays and correctly answered every multiple-choice question, resulting in the rare and impressive feat of earning all 90 of 90 points possible on an AP Macroeconomics Exam.

It’s also important to honor the efforts of students who don’t earn a score of 3+ on the AP Macroeconomics Exam, but who nonetheless developed basic understandings and skills in the course. As a reminder, the most recent research on AP Macroeconomics students who earn a 2 on the exam found that these students proceeded to earn higher grades when taking the course in college than students with the same high school GPA, SAT score, race, and gender.

The May 10 In-School Paper Exam

The largest exam date for AP Macroeconomics was May 10, so the following information is specific to the exam version administered on that date.

As usual, students scored significantly higher on the multiple-choice section than on the free-response questions.

Multiple-choice section:

  • Course Units:
    • AP Macroeconomics students demonstrated solid mastery of Unit 2, Economic Indicators and the Business Cycle. 15% of students earned a perfect score on the group of questions about this unit. And students’ understanding of Unit 1, Basic Economic Concepts, is unsurprisingly strong.
    • The most challenging unit for students was Unit 4, Financial Sector. 18% of students answered most or all of these questions correctly, and 21% of students answered most or all of these questions incorrectly.
  • Free-response section:

    For exam security, several different sets of free-response questions were administered. The following analysis will focus on one of the most widely administered sets, Set 2.

    Free-Response Questions–Set 2:

    • Question 1 (Long): Students generally earned a higher percentage of the possible points on this question than the 2 short free-response questions. 4% of students earned all 10 points possible; 7% earned 9 points; 9% earned 1 point; 16% earned 0 points.
    • Question 2 (Short) was ultimately the most challenging question on this year’s exam, really dividing stronger and weaker students. 15% earned perfect scores on this question, while 35% didn’t earn a single point on it.

    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:

    1. 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.
    2. 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.
    3. Differences in versions of the exam. The net result for this year’s AP Macroeconomics Exams is that out of 90 points possible, the digital exams proved significantly more difficult than the paper, so to adjust for that variation in difficulty:
      1. To receive a 3+ on the digital versions, students needed to earn 11–17 fewer points (depending on the version) than students who took the paper exam.