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 taken by students 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 curriculum for 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, it is vital to get familiar with the properties and composition of functions 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.

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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 have to showcase your ability to solve problems using these concepts and formulas and 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:

  1. Change
  2. Limits
  3. Analysis of Functions

These ‘Big Ideas’ are distributed across eight units to help students understand each concept efficiently. The course content is organized in such a way that is frequently found in many college courses and textbooks. Let’s take a look at what these eight units are and what is their relative weighting in the AP Calculus AB exam:

Units Unit Name Exam Weight
Unit 1Limits 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 are designed to equip you with specific mathematical practices that will help you ace the AP Calc AB exam. Let’s take a look at what these practices are:

  1. Implementing Mathematical Processes
  2. Connecting Representations
  3. Justification
  4. Communication and Notation

It is important to note that all the questions on the exam will revolve around these four practices that you’ll have mastered by the end of your AP Calculus AB course. As you speed 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 2022

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 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 answer choices given to you for each question. There are two parts in this section:

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 a raw score is provided based on the number of answers you got correct. Remember that you won’t be penalized for a wrong answer. The machine will only score you 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 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 gives you the flexibility to answer a problem in your style. There are two parts in this section:

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 you’re applying to.

The table below shows how your AP Calculus AB exam score equates with 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
2
1

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! Sounds like 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 try and clear those doubts 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 2021, a total of 251,639 students took the exam, with more than half securing a 3 and above. It doesn't sound that tricky of a subject anymore, does it?

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Graphical representation of integration and accumulation of change

However, since this exam tests your understanding of critical mathematical concepts, preparing for it requires extensive planning, a strong foundation of those concepts, and applying them to solve problems, which can sometimes be challenging. But that’s somewhat true for any AP course you would want to take. Since these are equivalent to elementary college courses, they all come with their challenges. 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:

  1. Prepare for College

    AP Calculus AB provides you with challenging, fast-paced courses. It covers more subject material than your regular high school lessons and encourages you to conduct research and 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.

  2. Boost Your College Applications

    A course like the AP Calculus AB reflects your overall college readiness. This implies that admission officers immediately give your college application an additional weightage if you have taken the AP course. 85% of institutions report that a student’s AP experience favorably impacts admission decisions. Taking this course also indicates that you have worked hard and have acquired skills and intellect to take advanced college courses in math, which boosts your chances of selection exponentially.

  3. 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, colleges already recognize you as eligible to take higher-level courses. And 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.

  4. Strengthen Your Transcript

    Many high schools give extra weightage to AP scores 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 assessment.

  5. 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 one year of your college and one-quarter of your entire college fees.
    Moreover, research shows that students who receive a score of 3 or higher on AP exams typically experience greater academic success in college and have higher graduation rates than their non-AP peers.

  6. Introduce Yourself to Calculus

    Taking the AP Calculus AB course will cultivate your understanding of calculus at the college level. It will 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 that 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 aptitude, 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 becomes pretty challenging and, at times, overwhelming. You need to ask yourself if you’re ready to give it your 100%.

  • Is Math a part of your future goals?

    Even though many students take 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 college courses, 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 at 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 can be your thing!

Additionally, you could ask your teachers and seniors for past year question papers and course curriculum to help you decide whether Calc AB can work for you.

Is AP Calculus AB Hard?

If there’s one question about this subject that pops up now and then, it is that, 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 difficult to do while studying at home. This is not to say that self-studying for AP Calculus AB is inefficient! It is recommended that if students can supplement their self-studying sessions with external help like AP classes and online courses, their chances of succeeding increase 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 then 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 for 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. If you think you can navigate the issue of time management without affecting your high school curriculum, go ahead with it. Remember, there’s no reason to burn yourself out!

The advantages of taking a core course like AP Calculus AB are multifold, and as we’ve seen, this subject comes with its challenges. Nevertheless, if you’re determined to pursue it and earn a good AP score, you’ll get access to many disciplines that may or may not require Math. However, if you're planning 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 just a tad more detailed 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, it paces 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 your option. If you are not planning for a major focussed on Math or allied subjects like Engineering and Astronomy, then it is recommended to take Calculus AB. You’ll still get to learn the basics of calculus and earn credits and placement during your first college semester. However, 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 clear your doubts right away!

Questions to Ask Yourself Calculus
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 for preparing 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, and the ones that may have been missed will likely be touched on in a review period 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 all Unit 1 in AP Calculus AB is about, so that is the concept that will help you hit the ground running in Calculus AB. Besides that, being proficient in manipulating functions, especially trigonometric, exponential, and 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 as to what make and model of calculators are allowed to be used. Your invigilator or 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 preparing for AP 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 exams.

    As you practice more, you get familiar with what the questions are asking of you, and the 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, where you can clarify your doubts instantly and journey through your 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 and take you to a level where 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!

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Comparing answer choices of graphical representations of integration and accumulation of change

In conclusion, let’s get a few FAQs out of the way:

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.

The AP Calculus AB costs $96 for students in the US, Canada and US territories. Additional charges may be levied if you are an international student. Check out our article on AP Exam Eligibility, Registration & Cost to learn more about AP Exam costs, late-testing fees, and other additional fees or rebates that you can get for AP Exams.

Every college has its own credit policy. In general, an AP score of 3 in Calculus AB gives you 1 college credit. You can bypass the introductory college math or Calculus I course usually taken during the first semester. An AP score of 4 or 5 gives you 2 college credits. You can bypass both Calculus I and II in that case. Please do a thorough research on the schools you are planning to attend for credit policy.

Whether you fail or pass the AP Calculus AB exam, you can still go to college. If you fail, however, you will have a harder time getting into the best universities in the country. You would also lose the opportunity to earn easy college credits and advanced placement. While universities do not use the AP exam as the only reason for acceptance or rejection, it does play a significant role.

Yes, AP Calculus AB corresponds to a college calculus I course.

References

The 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!

Prepping for your Calculus AB Exam? Help is just a click away with our detailed study guide to the AP Calculus AB course content crafted by our expert educators!
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