AP Microeconomics Exam: 2021 Results

The following data reflect the 73,461 students worldwide who took either the paper or the digital AP Microeconomics Exam in May. Data from students who tested in June are not yet available.

AP Microeconomics 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 24% 20%
4 28% 24%
3 17% 16%
2 12% 17%
1 18% 23%

Of these 73,461 students, 10 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 Microeconomics Exam.

It’s also important to honor the efforts of students who don’t earn a score of 3+ on the AP Microeconomics Exam, but who nonetheless developed basic understandings and skills in the course. As a reminder,the most recent research on AP Microeconomics 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 12 In-School Paper Exam

The largest exam date for AP Microeconomics was May 12, so the following information is specific to the exam version administered on that date.

Multiple-choice section:

  • Course Units:
    • AP Microeconomics students’ strongest unit was Unit 3, Production, Cost, and the Perfect Competition Model. 20% of students answered virtually every question about this unit correctly.
    • AP Microeconomics students’ most imperfect unit was, fittingly, Unit 4, Imperfect Competition. 22% of students answered 75% of questions about this unit incorrectly.
  • Big Ideas:
    • Of the four “big ideas” of AP Microeconomics, students earned far and away the best scores on questions about Costs, Benefits, and Marginal Analysis. 24% of students earned a perfect score on questions about this big idea.
    • The most challenging was Market Inefficiency and Public Policy, the only one of the 4 big ideas for which the average was less than 50% correct answers.

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 1.

Free-Response Questions–Set 1:

  • Question 1 (Long): AP Microeconomics students generally scored very well on this question: 24% earned 9 or 10 points out of 10 possible, an impressive showing.
  • Question 2 (Short) was the most challenging component of the free-response section, with 8% of students earning no points on it, and 27% earning 4 or 5 points out of 5 possible.

Free-Response Questions–Set 2:

  • This set of questions (in particular, Question 2 (Short) on externalities) was somewhat more difficult than Set 1. Accordingly, to ensure the Set 2 students were not penalized for having the more difficult set, adjustments were made to the “cut scores” (i.e., the number of points required on the 90-point exam for AP scores of 3, 4, and 5). The net result: Set 2 students could earn an AP score of 3 with 4 fewer points than Set 1 students, and the other cut scores were similarly adjusted to align with the psychometric analysis.

The May 28 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 Microeconomics Exams is that out of 90 points possible, the digital exams proved somewhat more difficult than the paper, so to adjust for that variation in difficulty: version, and a few of the digital versions were similar to or easier than the paper version. As a result:
    1. To receive a 3+ on the digital versions, students needed to earn 6–10 fewer points (depending on the version) than students who took the paper exam.