AP Psychology Exam: 2021 Results
The following data reflect the 262,700 students worldwide who took either the paper or the digital AP Psychology Exam in May. Data from students who tested in June is not yet available.
AP Psychology 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.
Of these 262,700 students, 6 students achieved a perfect score from all professors/readers on all free-response questions and correctly answered every multiple-choice question, resulting in the rare and impressive feat of earning all 150 of 150 points possible on an AP Psychology Exam.
It’s also important to honor the efforts of students who don’t earn a score of 3+ on the AP Psychology Exam, but who nonetheless developed basic understandings and skills in the course. As a reminder, the most recent research on AP Psychology 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 11 In-School Paper Exam
The largest exam date for AP Psychology was May 11, so the following information is specific to the exam version administered on that date.
As usual in this subject, students scored significantly higher on the multiple-choice section than on the free-response questions. But given the value this academic discipline, which has expertise in measurement science, places on the objective reliability of multiple-choice assessments, the free-response questions contribute less to an AP Psychology score than they do in other AP subjects.
- Course Units:
- AP Psychology students demonstrated strongest mastery of Units 1 (Scientific Foundations of Psychology), 8 (Clinical Psychology), and 9 (Social Psychology). About 20% of students answered virtually every question on these topics correctly, a big achievement.
- AP Psychology students generally demonstrated least mastery of Unit 7 (Motivation, Emotion, and Personality), in which just 3% of students knew the material exceptionally well. Unit 2 (Biological Bases of Behavior) was the second weakest unit.
- Skill Categories:
- Students’ strongest skill was analyzing psychological research studies (Skill Category 3); 34% of students answered most or all of these questions correctly.
- Students scored lowest on questions related to defining/applying concepts (Skill Category 1); performance of this skill is not especially weak, it’s just not at the same level as students demonstrated on the other course skills.
Free-response section:The two different sets of free-response questions for the paper exams proved to be very similar in difficulty.
Students performed somewhat better on the Research Design question (Question 2) than on the Concept Application question (Question 1):
- Concept Application question: 8% of students earned 6–7 points out of 7 possible; 35% earned 0–1 point(s).
- Research Design question: 6% of students earned 6–7 points out of 7 possible; 23% earned 0–1 point(s).
Students performed significantly better on the Research Design question (Question 2) than on the Concept Application question (Question 1):
- Concept Application question: 5% of students earned 6–7 points out of 7 possible; 42% earned 0–1 point(s).
- Research Design question: 10% of students earned 6–7 points out of 7 possible; 25% earned 0–1 point(s).
The May 20 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.
- Differences in versions of the exam. The net result for this year’s AP Psychology Exams is that out of 150 points possible, some of the digital versions were more difficult than the paper versions and some of the digital versions were easier than the paper versions. As a result:
- On the easiest digital version, a student needed to earn 5 more points to receive an AP score of 5 than students who took the paper version.
- On the hardest digital version, a student needed to earn 7 fewer points to receive an AP score of 5 than students who took the paper version.