About AP® Calculus AB Exam
Are you planning to take AP® exams? Do topics like derivatives, limits, and differential equations interest you? Are you ahead of your high school peers in math? If you answered ‘yes’, then AP Calculus AB might be the perfect subject for you!
Calculus AB is one of the most popular AP exams students take every year, and rightly so, as it is one of the core AP courses that grant you placement and credits in college. However, it is also one of the most challenging AP exams. In this guide, we’ll look at all the AP Calculus AB exam information, starting from prerequisites to course concepts, to help you decide whether this is the right course for you. We'll also examine the exam's format and level of difficulty to determine why it may be beneficial for you to take the course.
What Is AP Calculus AB Equivalent to? and Who Can Take It?
AP Calculus AB is an introductory college-level math course. It is designed to be the equivalent of a first-semester college calculus course. The AP Calc AB exam covers fundamental topics in calculus such as limits and continuity, differentiation, integration, accumulation of change, and differential equations.
Since the course content is equivalent to an introductory college-level math syllabus, it can get overwhelming for anyone who doesn’t have a knack for complex mathematical problems. In particular, getting familiar with the properties and composition of functions is vital to develop a baseline for learning concepts like differential and integral calculus.
As challenging as it can be, AP Calculus AB might be right up your alley if you have an aptitude for memorizing those complex mathematical formulas and concepts! Most AP instructors would insist that you get a foundation, especially in precalculus, algebra, geometry, and trigonometry as part of your high school course. A strong foundation in these subjects will ease your way into prepping for the AP Calc AB exam.
What Is on the AP Calculus AB Exam?
Knowing what to expect on the AP Calculus AB exam is crucial to ace it. The exam will assess your understanding of Differential and Integral Calculus, including parametric, polar, vector functions, and series. These functions will also include linear, polynomial, rational, exponential, logarithmic, trigonometric, inverse trigonometric, and piecewise-defined functions. In the exam, you’ll showcase your ability to solve problems using these concepts and formulas plus rationally explain your work with the correct notations.
The test will broadly assess your knowledge of three key concepts or ‘Big Ideas’ covered during the course:
- Analysis of Functions
These ‘Big Ideas’ are distributed across eight units to help students understand each concept efficiently. The course content is frequently found in many college courses. Let’s take a look at what these eight units are and their relative weighting in the AP Calculus AB exam:
|Units||Unit Name||Exam Weight|
|Unit 1||Limits and Continuity||10-12%|
|Unit 2||Differentiation Definition and Fundamental Properties||10-12%|
|Unit 3||Differentiation Composite, Implicit, and Inverse Functions||9-13%|
|Unit 4||Contextual Applications of Differentiation||10–15%|
|Unit 5||Analytical Applications of Differentiation||15-18%|
|Unit 6||Integration and Accumulation of Change||17-20%|
|Unit 7||Differential Equations||6-12%|
|Unit 8||Applications of Integration||10-15 %|
If you’re curious to learn more about these units and the Big Ideas, check out our AP Calculus AB Course and Exam Description page!
The eight course units listed above equip you with specific mathematical practices that will prepare you to ace the AP Calc AB exam. Let’s take a look at what these practices are:
- Implementing Mathematical Processes
- Connecting Representations
- Communication and Notation
It is important to note that all the questions on the exam will revolve around these four practices that you’ll master by the end of your AP Calculus AB course. As you move across the units learning each concept, remember to go back and reflect on the Big Ideas that each of these units encompasses. Knowing the fundamentals of a subject is the core of a solid learning process.
AP Calculus AB Exam Format for 2023
The AP Calculus AB question booklet consists of two sections: multiple-choice (MCQs) and free-response (FRQs). The exam lasts for three hours and 15 minutes, during which you’ll have to answer 45 MCQs in Section I and six FRQs in Section II. Each section is divided into sections A and B, classifying the questions based on calculator usage. Let's have a look at the exam format for Calculus AB:
Section I: Multiple-Choice Questions (MCQs)
Time: 1 hour 45 mins - 45 questions | 54 points - Weightage: 50% of the composite score
The first part of your Calc AB exam will consist of MCQs where you need to pick the correct answer from the five choices given to you for each question. There are two parts in this section:
|No. of Questions||Time||Calculator Usage|
|Part A||30 MCQs||60 minutes||Graphing calculator NOT required|
|Part B||15 MCQs||45 minutes||Graphing calculator required|
A machine scans your MCQ answer sheet and provides a raw score based on the number of answers you got correct. Remember that you won’t be penalized for a wrong answer. Your score is based on the number of correct answers. So, if you are not sure of a particular solution, feel free to take a guess!
Section II: Free-Response Questions (FRQs)
Time: 1 hour 30 mins - 6 questions | 54 points - Weightage: 50% of the composite score
The second part of your AP test will assess you based on your analytical problem-solving skills. As the name suggests, the free-response section allows you to answer a problem in your style. There are two parts in this section:
|No. of Questions||Time||Calculator Usage|
|Part A||2 FRQs||30 minutes||Graphing calculator required|
|Part B||4 FRQs||60 minutes||Graphing calculator NOT required|
If you are curious to learn more about the exam format and check out a few sample questions, our guide on AP Calculus AB exam format is here to help! Now let’s look at how your answer booklets are scored for this exam.
How is the AP Calculus AB Exam scored?
The AP Calc AB exam is scored on a range of 1 through 5, with 5 being the maximum score you can earn. Scoring a 3 or higher in the exam can earn you an advanced placement and credit depending on the AP Credit Policy of the colleges to which you’re applying.
The table below shows how your AP Calculus AB exam score equates to a college grade for introductory calculus or math:
|AP Exam Score||Equivalent College Grade|
|5||A+ or A|
|4||A- or B+ or B|
|3||B- or C+ or C|
Calculus AB is one of the core subjects in AP. Students who wish to pursue social sciences or humanities often consider taking the Calculus AB exam to get that pesky core math class out of the way! Wondering if Calculus AB could be your cup of tea? Let’s find out why taking this subject might be beneficial for you!
Why Should You Take AP Calculus AB?
If you’re wondering whether a tricky course like AP Calculus AB is worth it and why you should take it, let’s explore the benefits one by one!
Your high school teachers and AP instructors will tell you that AP Calculus AB is best suited for students who are strong in math and wish to secure a foundation in calculus for their college. While that’s true to an extent, you could opt for it even if you haven’t decided on your college major. That's the fun of taking an AP exam! It offers you flexibility and a chance to discover your potential for a subject. Moreover, taking this course may be a great option if you want to satisfy a college math requirement but do not necessarily wish to pursue a math-based career.
Perhaps for all these reasons, AP Calculus AB has been one of the top favorites among test-takers for the last three years. In 2022, a total of 268,352 students took the exam, with more than half securing a 3 and above. With the right preparation, that could be you, too! Since AP Calculus AB is equivalent to an introductory Calculus college course, the material is challenging. This course and exam tests your understanding of critical mathematical concepts, preparing for it requires extensive planning, a strong foundation in those concepts, and practice applying them to solve problems. It's all about weighing the pros and cons to determine if a subject is a perfect fit for you.
Let’s look at what AP Calculus AB offers you:
- Prepare for College
AP Calculus AB provides you with challenging, fast-paced units. It covers more advanced subject material than your regular high school lessons and encourages you to engage in high level analysis. Getting exposure to college-level introductory courses while still in high school will ease your transition from high school to the first year of college. While having the opportunity to tap into your creativity and intellect, the exam will also prepare you for next-stage career goals and challenges.
- Boost Your College Applications
A course like the AP Calculus AB reflects your overall college readiness. Admission officers tend to view college applications reflecting challenging AP courses more favorably compared to those transcripts with standard high school courses. 85% of institutions report that a student’s AP experience favorably impacts admission decisions. Taking this course indicates that you worked hard, , cultivated advanced skills, plus demonstrated the intellectual propensity to take advanced college courses in math, which boosts your chances of selection exponentially.
- Earn College Credits!
While different colleges have their requirements, the general rule is that AP Calculus AB is equivalent to first-semester college calculus. With a score of 3 or higher, many colleges recognize you as eligible to take higher-level courses. Because of this, most colleges across the United States would offer course credits to you. This is the most significant advantage of taking AP Calculus AB.
- Strengthen Your Transcript
In many high schools,AP course are weighted more heavily when calculating your GPA. That means taking an AP class and getting an average grade is often considered a better choice than getting an A in your regular high school course.
- Save Time and Money!
Taking the AP Calculus AB exam can ease you into the second year of college. You can save up time and tuition fees by skipping the introductory math course and jump into advanced courses like Calculus II. As a result, you can potentially cut through a semester of college and reduce a portion of your entire college fees.
Additionally, research shows that students who receive a score of 2 or higher on AP exams typically experience greater academic success in college and have higher graduation rates than their non-AP peers.
- Introduce Yourself to Calculus
Taking the AP Calculus AB course will cultivate your understanding of calculus at the college level. It could also open up other areas of study like Physics, Statistics, and many different specializations. Apart from boosting your self-confidence and grip over the subject, you will learn essential time management and study skills needed for college and career success. With early access to college-level courses, you have the opportunity to tap into your creativity and intellect, which will prepare you for next-stage career goals and challenges.
Although these benefits make AP Calculus AB an obvious choice for high schoolers, you still need to ask yourself if AP Calc AB is the subject you need. Let’s go through a few pointers to help you decide!
Should You Take AP Calculus AB?
To help you decide if AP Calculus AB is a good fit for your strengths, you could start with a few questions. Ask yourself:
- If you have studied Precalculus in high school.
Studying Precalculus at the high school level is recommended before opting for AP Calculus AB. Precalculus, algebra, and trigonometry combined can give you a taste of what the AP Calculus AB course would be like.
- If you love studying Precalculus and Math.
Given that AP Calc AB is similar to a college-level course, it can be very challenging and, for some, overwhelming. You need to ask yourself if you’re ready to give it 100%.
- Is Math a part of your future goals?
Even though many students consider AP Calculus AB to get that pesky core math class out of the way, this subject is rigorous. Given that this is one of the core courses for math majors, it is recommended to take it if you want to continue in the field of math or allied subjects.
- Is Math one of your academic strengths in high school?
While being passionate about a subject is essential, it’s also necessary to have an aptitude for it and excel. If Math and Precalculus are something you excel at, then AP Calculus AB could be for you.
Additionally, ask your teachers and seniors for past year course curriculum to help you decide whether Calc AB would be aligned to your abilities.
Is AP Calculus AB Hard?
If there’s one question about this subject that pops up now and then, it is, How hard is AP Calculus AB? AP Calculus AB can be tricky to pass, with only 56.4% of test-takers scoring a 3 or higher in the last three years. That’s because it requires intensive knowledge and practice of Integral and Differential Calculus, which students often find challenging. Because of the difficulty level, students who supplement their AP classes with self-study and supplemental online courses, increase their chances of succeeding exponentially.
Let’s look at a few other things to help you get a sense of how easy or difficult AP Calc AB might be:
- As we’ve mentioned before, if you performed well in math and precalculus in high school, you will be more likely to succeed in AP Calculus AB.
- Calculus AB is a subject that requires both memorization and analytical skills. To succeed in this subject, students must possess the aptitude for memorizing lengthy formulas, theorems, and concepts, which can be applied analytically to solve problems. This course will be a good call if you are comfortable memorizing concepts in addition to analytical thinking.
- It’s always a good idea to go through the course modules and content in advance to gauge the difficulty of Calculus AB. Talking to your seniors and teachers might help you gauge what to expect.
- Preparing for any AP course requires dedication and a systematic study schedule. Strong time management skills will help you succeed in AP Calculus AB while balancing the rest of your course load. Remember, planning and preparation reduces test-related anxiety !
The advantages of taking a core course like AP Calculus AB are multifold, but as we’ve seen, this subject comes with its challenges. That said, if you’re determined, you can excel in the course and crush AP exam. If you're looking for a more rigorous course to take, you could opt for the AP Calculus BC exam. This course is a close cousin to AP Calc AB and covers two additional units in its curriculum.
Should I Take AP Calculus AB or BC?
Arguably, this is the most frequently asked question among AP students, who often wonder whether to opt for Calculus AB or BC. While there are subtle differences between the two courses, the reasons for choosing one over the other vary drastically.
Calculus BC includes everything in Calculus AB, plus a couple of extra units, namely units 9 and 10. As AP Calculus BC has more units to cover in a limited time, the pace is faster than the AB. Additionally, if you are taking the AP Calculus BC exam, you’ll also get a Calculus AB subscore for your AP.
Although you will get more college credit for taking Calculus BC, it might not be the best option for you. If you are not planning for a major focused on Math or allied subjects like Engineering and Astronomy, then it is recommended to take Calculus AB. You’ll still learn calculus basics and earn credits and placement during your first college semester. If you think you possess the aptitude to take up a heavy-duty course like Calculus BC, you can bypass both Calculus I and II during the freshman year. You can read more about the difference between AP Calculus AB and BC to help you choose your subject based on your career plan and interests.
Is AP Calculus AB or BC harder?
Since AP Calculus BC comes with two more units and additional topics in Units 6 - 8, it is more detailed and rigorous than AP Calculus AB. Therefore, BC is a harder course than AB. As mentioned earlier in this guide, you could check out our detailed blog on the differences between AB and BC to decide which would be the more appropriate option for you. If you’re still unsure whether to opt for Calculus AB or BC, asking yourself a few questions might give you clarity.
|Questions to Ask Yourself||
AB or BC
|Are you taking precalculus?||AB and BC|
|Do you need a more flexible study schedule?||AB|
|Do you excel in math?||BC|
|Are you worried about taking on a fast-paced course?||AB|
|Is your high school course-load already heavy?||AB|
|Do you think you can cover more material & complete longer assignments?||BC|
|Are you planning to major in a field that doesn’t require a lot of math?||AB|
|Are your future career goals math-heavy?||BC|
Although there is no explicit information on whether AP Calculus AB is a prerequisite for calculus BC, the College Board® states that:
“Because both courses and exams cover many of the same topics, the prerequisites needed for both courses and exams are comparable. Recommended mathematics courses to take before either AP Calculus AB or AP Calculus BC include those in which you study algebra, geometry, trigonometry, analytic geometry, and elementary functions.”
As both the exams have always been administered during the same time slot, students can't take both the tests in the same academic year. Since students also earn an AP Calc AB subscore based on their Calc BC scores, it is unlikely that AP Calculus AB is a prerequisite for taking Calculus BC.
Precalculus Vs AP Calculus AB?
The precalculus you learn in high school is a diverse conglomeration of mathematical concepts to prepare you with tools to succeed in a calculus course. Some ideas directly translate, like limits and series, while others are just algebraic techniques that will help you be more proficient in solving calculus problems. Precalculus also tends to focus heavily on trigonometry and the unit circle.
On the other hand, calculus is the study of how things change. It's broken down into two pieces. Differential calculus takes the idea of something changing and boils it down to what's happening at one exact instant. Integral calculus does the opposite. It aggregates what happens as something changes over an extended period.
Overall, precalculus is a broader subject that lays down the foundation for calculus. Some of the techniques and concepts you learn in precalculus are carried forward to the concepts you learn in calculus.
Can I take AP Calculus AB without precalculus?
Since precalculus prepares the groundwork for you to jump to AP Calc AB, it is essential to have a precalculus course in high school to make things easier for you during your AP Calculus AB course. Students can be successful in AP Calculus AB by taking a regular precalculus class, especially if they've taken other AP level classes and understand the level of rigor involved. Most precalculus courses will cover similar topics, The ones that may have been missed will likely be reviewed at the beginning of an AP Calculus course or whenever they're relevant.
What are the most important topics in precalculus you must know to move to AP Calculus AB?
Some precalculus courses introduce the concept of limits, which is covered in Unit 1 of AP Calculus AB, so that is a concept that will help you hit the ground running in Calculus AB. Besides that, being proficient in manipulating functions, especially trigonometric, exponential, plus logarithmic rules and identities, all of which you learn in precalculus, will be extremely important in calculus.
Calculator Policy for AP Calculus AB
You’ll be allowed to use a calculator during the AP Calc AB Exam. However, specific regulations have been put in place by the College Board regarding what make and model of calculators are allowed to be used. Your proctor will check your calculator make and model number to verify whether you’re using a calculator approved by the College Board. So, it is crucial to know the College Board’s list of approved calculators before you set out for your AP Exams. You can find a detailed list of approved calculators on our AP Exam Policies & Accommodations page.
Will we be required to clear our calculators before taking the AP Calculus AB exam?
The College Board doesn’t require you to clear your calculator memory before or after the exam. However, you cannot use calculator memories to carry test materials from the exam room.
Which calculator is suitable for the AP Calculus AB exam?
There are many graphic calculators from Casio, Sharp, Texas Instruments, and other brands that students can use for the AP Calc AB exam. As mentioned above, check out our AP Exam Policies & Accommodations page to know which models are approved by the College Board.
AP Calculus AB Review Tips
Preparing for AP Calculus AB can be challenging but rewarding at the same time. Here are a few tips to help you along the way:
- Prepare a detailed study schedule well ahead of time.
Since this exam tests your understanding of critical mathematical concepts, preparing for it requires extensive planning, thorough knowledge of those concepts, and their application to solve problems. Students who are less successful on this AP exam often fail to plan for a detailed study schedule ahead of time, which prevents them from engaging with the subject systematically.
- Make study notes on the side while preparing for your high school course.
These notes will come in handy and give you the baseline for making your AP prep notes.
- Familiarize yourself with the question format through AP Calculus AB practice
As you practice more, you get familiar with what the questions are asking of you and various ways to approach a question and deduce the answer smartly.
While self-studying for your AP Exams from reference books is beneficial, it is recommended to take AP classes, online or offline, in which you can clarify your questions instantly and journey through the subject efficiently.
At UWorld, we believe that preparing for your AP Calc AB exam requires a systematic study schedule to guide you through the step-by-step knowledge acquisition process to take you to a level at which you can easily apply complex concepts and formulas to solve problems.
Our AP Calculus AB | UWorld College Prep page can help if you would like to try out the AP Calculus AB practice test simulation.
The best part? It's a free trial! Rush to our study guide today for tips and guidance on how to study and ace the Calc AB Exam!
Frequently Asked Questions
The total duration of the exam is three hours and 15 mins.
There are 45 multiple-choice questions and six free-response questions on the AP Calculus AB Exam.
Students usually take the AP Calculus AB Exam in their 11th or 12th grade. AP exams are always in the month of May.
For past years’ released exams, you can visit the AP Calculus AB: Past Exam Questions from the College Board page.
Note that while you are permitted to retake the exam, and there is no restriction on how many times you can retake it, the College Board offers advanced placement exams once a year. For a graduating senior, it may be impractical to retake the exam.
ReferencesThe College Board ® Crux Research Inc.
Read More About AP Calculus AB Exam
Curious about the AP Calculus AB Exam format? Head over to our page for a detailed break-up of the exam format, types of questions on the exam, and more!
Want to learn about the AP Calculus AB Course and Description? Here’s a detailed overview on the topics covered during your Calculus AB course.
Ever wondered how your AP Calculus AB Exam is scored? This page has everything you need to know about the Calculus AB scoring system!