AP® Macroeconomics vs. AP® Microeconomics
Understanding The Differences

Are you starting your AP® economics journey? Discover the nuances of AP Macroeconomics and AP Microeconomics with our user-friendly guide! Learn unique economics perspectives, clarify the concepts, and explore the AP Macro and Micro test format. Whether you're a budding economist or simply curious, this blog will help you decide which AP economics course to take and how it can boost your college prospects.

Key Differences between Macroeconomics and Microeconomics

Macroeconomics and Microeconomics are the two branches of economics, and each offers different vantage points for studying economic systems. Before we explore the key differences between AP Macro and AP Micro, you should understand what these two subjects are (minus the ‘AP’ tag) and how each contributes to the larger study of economics.

  1. Scope & Focus

    As a basic concept, macroeconomics centers on the economic systems of large entities like countries, regions, and governments. Conversely, microeconomics studies the economic systems on a smaller scale, including individuals, companies, and small financial institutions.

    The integration of macroeconomics and microeconomics offers a comprehensive understanding of how the holistic economic system functions as a cohesive unit. Neither area holds more significance than the other; rather, they offer students and researchers two complementary perspectives within a broader economic framework.

    Diagram showing Macroeconomics and microeconomics topics

  2. Methodology

    • Macroeconomics

      The most common metrics and topics in macroeconomics are economic growth, unemployment, inflation, fiscal policy, and monetary policy. Calculate these metrics using aggregate demand and supply analysis, fiscal policy, monetary policy, and macroeconomic models.

    • Microeconomics

      Because microeconomics deals with specific economic units and how they interact in markets, the most common metrics used here are supply and demand, consumer behavior, production costs, and market structures. To evaluate and analyze these metrics, macroeconomists use marginal analysis, consumer theory, production theory, and market structures (perfect competition, monopoly, oligopoly).

Having grasped these two subject areas, let's explore what AP Macro and Micro offer you and how they can benefit your chosen career path.

AP Macroeconomics vs AP Microeconomics

For students interested in pursuing a career in economics, finance, or business administration, the College Board® offers both AP Macroeconomics and AP Microeconomics as separate courses and exams. Both subjects start by introducing fundamental concepts essential for the study of economics. However, as you progress through the course, you'll discover they diverge in course content and focus. Here's how AP Macroeconomics differs from AP Micro:

infographic showing Macroeconomics vs microeconomics

  1. Course Content

    While both courses share foundational economic principles, their emphasis on the aggregate economy (Macro) or individual components (Micro) distinguishes them in content and analytical focus. We've listed the course units and topics for AP Macroeconomics and AP Microeconomics, so you'll know what to expect from each course.

    AP Macroeconomics Course Units

    1. Unit 1: Basic Economic Concepts

      Resource scarcity, the need for trading, supply and demand, and market equilibrium.

    2. Unit 2: Economic Indicators and the Business Cycle

      Flow of money in the market, GDP, unemployment, inflation, and business cycles.

    3. Unit 3: National Income and Price Determination

      How production choices, economic fluctuations, and government policies affect a country's economic aspects like income and inflation.

    4. Unit 4: Financial Sector

      Currency, banks, and their role in implementing a country's monetary policies.

    5. Unit 5: Long-Run Consequences of Stabilization Policies

      Long-term consequences of policy measures and understanding a country’s economic growth.

    AP Microeconomics Course Units

    1. Unit 1: Basic Economic Concepts

      Resource scarcity and allocation, the need for trading, profit, loss, and how consumer choice dictates the cost of a product or service.

    2. Unit 2: Supply and Demand

      Production, supply and demand of resources, market equilibrium, effects of government policy on market, and product costs.

    3. Unit 3: Production, Cost, and the Perfect Competition Model

      Production costs, types of profit, marginal analysis, and perfect competition.

    4. Unit 4: Imperfect Competition

      Monopoly and oligopoly, and how price discrimination increases product costs.

    5. Unit 5: Factor Markets

      Introduction to factor markets, factor demand, factor supply, and monopolistic markets.

    6. Unit 6: Market Failure and the Role of Government

      Public policies and government intervention in markets, their function, public and private goods, and inequality.

To learn more about what the AP Macro offers, check out our easy-to-follow AP Macroeconomics Course and Exam Description. We also recommend you go through the College Board's AP Micro Course guide to gain in-depth knowledge of the course.

Need help with AP Macroeconomics?
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Visual explanation of budget deficit and budget surplus.
  1. Examples

    Do you wonder how AP Micro and AP Micro come to help in the real world? Below are a couple of scenarios where macro and microeconomics are commonly applied:

    • Microeconomics Scenario 1: Individual Consumer Choice and Budgeting

      Kate, a college student, has a limited budget and needs to decide how much of her income to allocate to different goods and services. She has to make choices between spending on textbooks, leisure activities, and groceries. Therefore, Kate considers factors like the marginal utility of each item, price levels, and her personal preferences to make the most of her limited resources.

      Microeconomic Analysis: Using microeconomic concepts like utility maximization, budget constraints, and the substitution effect, we can analyze Kate's behavior as a consumer and understand how she allocates resources based on preferences and budget limitations.

    • Microeconomics Scenario 2: Policy Decision

      A government agency is tasked with reducing carbon emissions to combat climate change. The agency must design policies encouraging organizations and firms to adopt cleaner technologies and reduce their carbon footprint.

      Microeconomic Analysis: Using Microeconomics, we can assess the efficacy of environmental policies and study how firms respond to incentives and regulations by considering factors like production costs, technological innovation, and market structures. Microeconomic tools help policymakers design policies that balance environmental goals with business efficiency.

    • Macroeconomics Scenario 1: Government Fiscal Policy

      A country faces an economic recession with high unemployment rates. The government decides to implement a stimulus package to boost economic activity and employment. They may increase government spending on infrastructure projects and cut taxes to stimulate consumer spending.

      Macroeconomic Analysis: This scenario requires macroeconomics to analyze how government spending and taxation changes can impact the economy on a broader scale. By using concepts like fiscal policy, aggregate demand, and the multiplier effect, policymakers can develop and manage the overall health of the country's economy.

    • Macroeconomics Scenario 2: International Trade and Exchange Rates

      A country is experiencing a trade deficit, where it imports more goods than it exports. The government aims to address this imbalance and boost domestic industries.

      Macroeconomic Analysis: In this scenario, macroeconomics helps analyze the impact of international trade on a country's overall economic health. Concepts such as balance of payments, exchange rates, and trade policies are essential in understanding how a nation's macroeconomic goals can be influenced by its interactions with the global economy. In this case, implementing trade tariffs or subsidies may encourage domestic production and reduce imports.

  2. Test Format

    There are no differences in the test format between these two exams. The table below summarizes the test formats for AP Macro and AP Micro:

    AP Microeconomics AP Macroeconomics
    Time Section I (MCQ) 1 hr 10 mins 1 hr 10 mins
    Section II (FRQ) 1 hr 1 hr
    Total 2 hrs 10 mins 2 hrs 10 mins
    No. of Questions Section I (MCQ) 60 60
    Section II (FRQ) 3 3
    Total 63 63

    Note: A four-function calculator is permitted for use in both sections of the AP Macroeconomics and the AP Microeconomics exams.

  3. Difficulty Levels

    Students often ask, "Is AP Macro easier than AP Micro, or is it the opposite?" To answer this question, let's address three major aspects that can help you gauge the difficulty levels of AP Macro and Micro:

    1. Course Content and Exam Format

      As discussed above, both AP Macro and AP Micro courses start with the basic principles of economics and then branch out to their specific subject areas. This means that while the courses vary in subject matter, they are both introductory, so their difficulty levels are similar.

      In terms of exam format, the test duration and the number of questions are identical, meaning you do not need extra skills or learning approaches to master one or the other. So, assessing their difficulty levels based on the course content and the exam format is not ideal.

    2. Score Distribution

      A look at the score distribution pattern of these exams can shed light on their difficulty levels. Usually, the rule of thumb is that an AP exam with a high success rate (3 or above) is considered relatively easier than the others. But exceptions do exist; therefore, we will now analyze what the score distributions for AP Macro and AP Micro indicate:

      AP Macroeconomics
      AP Score % of Students 2023 % of Students 2022 % of Students 2021
      5 17.1 16.4 % 18.0 %
      4 22.9 20.0 % 19.6 %
      3 24.7 15.4 % 13.7 %
      2 21.6 15.1 % 15.7 %
      1 13.7 33.1 % 32.9 %
      3 & Above 64.7 51.8 % 51.3 %
      AP Microeconomics
      AP Score % of Students 2023 % of Students 2022 % of Students 2021
      5 21.3 17.7 18.5
      4 26.0 22.5 24.0
      3 20.6 18.8 16.6
      2 19.9 16.9 17.0
      1 12.1 24.2 23.9
      3 & Above 68.0 59.0 59.1

      At first glance, it seems like more students aced the AP Micro exam than the AP Macro. However, AP Macro is more popular, with 148,836 students taking it in 2023, surpassing the 94,772 students who opted for the AP Micro exam in the same year. This implies that despite the seemingly lower success rates, approximately 65,000 students passed the AP Micro exam in 2023, whereas over 96,000 passed the AP Macro exam during the same period—exceeding the total number of students who took the AP Micro exam!

      But here's another thing to note. A more popular AP exam may also indicate that the subject is more generic, versatile, and less niche. Hence, there is a high chance that students who aren't primarily focused on pursuing a major in that subject (or those who are unprepared) might take the exam merely to secure an average score. Therefore, the marginally lower student success rate for AP Macro could result from more underprepared students opting for it.

      Considering these factors, and given the slight difference in success rate percentages of AP Macro (68 %) and AP Micro (65%), it is safe to assume that both subjects have a similar difficulty level.

      Ultimately, choosing one or the other boils down to your learning aptitude, areas of interest, and career goals. You can always audit both courses and take a practice test for each to evaluate your preference. In addition, it is always a good idea to consult your AP teacher and high school seniors to make an informed decision.

  4. Relevance and interdependence

    AP Macroeconomics and AP Microeconomics share foundational concepts within the broader field of economics. Therefore, they offer credit and/or placement for college majors, including accounting, business administration, economics, finance, and more.

    In addition, each of these AP courses provides unique advantages for niche majors. A good AP Macro score can benefit majors such as community organization, international business, labor relations, and public policy analysis while excelling in AP Microeconomics, which aligns with careers in general business, entrepreneurship, and hotel management.

Should You Take AP Macroeconomics or Microeconomics First?

AP Macro and AP Micro kick off by diving into fundamental economic principles that lay the groundwork for studying economics. As with introductory courses, you can choose either based on your career interests and learning style.

Whichever course you take, create a dedicated study plan and take regular practice tests to improve your subject knowledge and test-taking skills. UWorld provides a thorough AP Macroeconomics course review with timed practice tests.

Can you take both AP Macroeconomics and AP Microeconomics?

Absolutely! You can take both AP Macroeconomics and AP Microeconomics. Many students choose to study both courses as they cover different aspects of economics and provide a more comprehensive understanding of economic principles and their applications.

Key Takeaways

  1. AP Macroeconomics and AP Microeconomics cover two aspects of economics. So, consider your career interests before choosing between them.
  2. Both exams have similar difficulty levels in terms of course content, skills, and exam format, so you can take either as your first AP economics course.
  3. If you're planning a major in economics, finance, or business, consider taking AP Micro and Macro to boost your chances of getting placement and college credit.
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Graphs indicating the correlation of pricing for complementary goods.


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  2. AP Macroeconomics Exam – AP Students | College Board. (n.d.).
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  5. AP Macroeconomics Course and Exam Description, Effective Fall 2022. (2022). apcentral.collegeboard.org. Retrieved January 17, 2024, from
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  9. Student Score Distributions* AP Exams - May 2022. (2022). apcentral.collegeboard.org. Retrieved January 18, 2024, from
  10. Student Score Distributions* AP Exams - May 2021. (2021). reports.collegeboard.org. Retrieved January 18, 2024, from
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