AP Music Theory: 2021 Exam Results

The following data reflect all 16,169 students worldwide who took the AP Music Theory Exam this year on any exam date prior to June 12.

Total group score distributions, 2021 vs. 2019

The following table enables comparisons of student performance in 2021 to student performance prior to the covid-19 pandemic:

AP Score 2019 2021
5 21% 20%
4 18% 18%
3 25% 23%
2 23% 23%
1 13% 16%

The May 12 Exam Questions

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

Multiple-choice section:

  • Units: Unsurprisingly, students scored highest on questions from Unit 1 (Music Fundamentals I: Pitch, Major Scales and Key Signatures, Rhythm, Meter, and Expressive Elements), but also generally scored well on questions from Unit 8 (Modes and Form).
  • Units: The exam did not include many multiple-choice questions from Unit 5 (Harmony and Voice Leading II: Chord Progressions and Predominant Function) or Unit 7 (Harmony and Leading Voice IV: Secondary Function), but students found them far and away the most difficult components of the multiple-choice section.
  • Big Ideas: AP Music Theory students triumphed on questions about Big Idea 4: Musical Design— many students answering almost every such question correctly. Students also scored well on questions about Big Idea 3: Form. In contrast, many students struggled with questions about Big Idea 1: Pitch.
  • Skill Categories: Students performed somewhat better on questions requiring them to analyze performed music (Skill Category 1) than on questions requiring them to analyze notated music (Skill Category 2). On the few questions that asked students to convert between performed and notated music (Skill Category 3), students performed best of all.

Free-response section–Theory questions:

  • Students scored highest on question 3, harmonic dictation, with ~30% of students earning 20 or more points (out of 24 possible).
  • The most difficult question for many students was question 2, dictation of a bassoon melody, on which nearly 30% of students earned 0–1 point(s) out of 9 possible.
  • The question that best predicts a student’s overall AP score is question 1, dictation of a violin melody. It’s a difficult question, so students who can earn 3 of the 9 points possible are generally getting an overall score of 3 on the exam, and students who can earn 7 of the 9 points possible are generally getting an overall score of 5 on the exam.

Free-response section–Sight-singing questions:

  • Most students found both of these questions quite difficult, and similar in difficulty. On each question, about 10% of students earned all 9 points possible. On the first question, 12% of students earned 0 or 1 point(s); on the second, 20% of students earned 0 or 1 point(s).