What’s Tested on the AP Psychology Exam?

August 1, 2021

The AP Psychology exam has two parts: a multiple-choice section and a free-response section. You will have two hours to complete the whole test. The multiple-choice portion of the exam contains 100 five-choice (A to E) questions. You will have 70 minutes to complete this section. 

The score for the multiple-choice section of the AP exam is based on the number of questions answered correctly. No points are deducted for questions answered incorrectly or left blank. Since there is no “guessing penalty,” you should make sure you answer every multiple- choice question on the exam. 

The free-response section of the test consists of two questions, and you must answer them both. Unlike most other AP exams, you will not be given a choice of topics. You will have 50 minutes to complete this portion of the exam. Some students find writing two full essays in such a short amount of time to be difficult. 

Your overall composite score (ranging from 1 to 5) on the exam will take into account your performance on both the multiple-choice and free-response sections, with the multiple- choice section counting for twice as much. This means that two-thirds of your score depends on your performance on the multiple-choice questions, and the other one-third of your score is based on the quality of your essays. 

Each year, the exact breakdown of the percentage of people who earn each score differs. More information on score breakdowns in past years is available from the College Board

College Board Unit

% of Items on the AP Psychology Test

Scientific Foundations


Biological Bases of Behavior


Sensation and Perception




Cognitive Psychology




Motivation, Emotion, and Personality


Clinical Psychology


Social Psychology


AP Psychology Exam Skills to Master

Starting with the 2020 AP Psychology test, the College Board began “keying” multiple choice items to one of 3 skills, in addition to which content area the item is addressing. 

  • AP Psychology Skill 1 - Concept Understanding: applying concepts, theories, and perspectives in context. 
  • AP Psychology Skill 2 - Data Analysis: understanding and making inferences based on numerical data. 
  • AP Psychology Skill 3 - Scientific Investigation: analyzing and explaining examples of research studies. 

Notice that Skill 1, Concept Understanding, is different from the other two skills. Every multiple choice item on the AP Psychology exam is an example of “concept understanding” because every item requires you to understand and use psychological concepts in a scenario or other context. Answering AP Psychology multiple choice items always require you to know psychological concepts well enough to define, apply, compare, or evaluate that concept in order to identify the correct answer.

Skills 2 and 3 (Data Analysis and Scientific Investigation) are different than Skill 1. These are more specific skills and apply to only a subset of the multiple choice items on the test. They relate mostly to research methods psychologists use to investigate research questions and hypotheses, as well as the kinds of statistical analyses researchers use to analyze research results.

Psychologists Tested on the AP Psychology Exam

Although the official AP Psychology course description includes the names of many famous psychologists, we want to highlight the individuals you are most likely to be asked about on the AP exam. They are listed in the table below, along with their major contributions to the field.


Major Contributions to Psychology

Solomon Asch

Conformity and impression formation experiments

Albert Bandura

Social-learning theory (modeling); reciprocal determinism; self-efficacy

Albert Ellis

Rational emotive behavior therapy (REBT)

Erik Erikson

Psychosocial stage theory of development

Sigmund Freud

Psychosexual stage theory of personality; stressed importance of unconscious and sexual drive; psychoanalysis; theory of dreaming

Harry Harlow

Attachment studies with infant monkeys

Lawrence Kohlberg

Stage theory of moral development

Abraham Maslow

Hierarchy of needs; self-actualization

Stanley Milgram

Obedience studies

Ivan Pavlov

Classical conditioning—studies of dogs and salivation

Jean Piaget

Stage theory of cognitive development

Carl Rogers

Person-(client-)centered therapy; unconditional positive regard

B. F. Skinner

Operant conditioning—reinforcement; invented Skinner box

John B. Watson

Father of behaviorism; Baby Albert experiment—classically conditioned fear

Wilhelm Wundt

Set up first psychological laboratory; theory of structuralism