January 24, 2022

How to Succeed in AP Calculus

What is the AP Calculus test?

AP Calculus, also known as Advanced Placement calculus, is a course and accompanying exam offered by the Advanced Placement program of the nonprofit College Board. AP Calculus is designed to provide college-level calculus curricula and examinations to high school students. Many colleges nationwide accept high scores on the AP Calculus test and other AP exams for course credits or placement.

What topics are covered on the AP Calculus exam?

AP Calculus is comprised of two distinct sections: AP Calculus AB and AP Calculus BC. Each section has a corresponding course and final exam. AP Calculus AB can be considered less comprehensive than AP Calculus BC, as BC all eight units from AB plus two additional units. Each unit includes a variety of subtopics and accounts for a different percentage of the total exam score. 

AP Calculus AB and BC exam topics by unit and % of score

AP Calculus Exam Topics

AB Exam

BC Exam

Included

% of score

Included

% of score

Unit 1: Limits and Continuity

10–12%

4–7%

Unit 2: Differentiation: Definition and Fundamental Properties

10–12%

4–7%

Unit 3: Differentiation: Composite, Implicit, and Inverse Functions

9–13%

4–7%

Unit 4: Contextual Applications of Differentiation

10–15%

6–9%

Unit 5: Analytical Applications of Differentiation

15–18%

8–11%

Unit 6: Integration and Accumulation of Change

17–20%

17–20%

Unit 7: Differential Equations

6–12%

6–9%

Unit 8: Applications of Integration

10–15%

6–9%

Unit 9: Parametric Equations, Polar Coordinates, and Vector-Valued Functions

X

0%

11–12%

Unit 10: Infinite Sequences and Series

X

0%

17–18%

When is the AP Calculus test?

All AP exams take place in May, corresponding to the end of a typical high school year and the completion of AP courses. The 2022 AP Calculus test is scheduled for Monday, May 9 at 8:00 am local time. Exams for AP Calculus AB and AP Calculus BC are held simultaneously.

You can find a complete 2022 AP exam calendar, including AP Calculus and other exams, on the College Board website.

How do students register for AP exams?

Many high schools host AP courses and exams. Start by asking a teacher or school counselor if your student’s high school administers AP exams or if they can take the test at an exam center. Once enrolled in an AP course, your student will need to join their class section online to register for AP exams. The deadline to register for AP exams is in the fall, but each school may have a different deadline.

Most AP exams taken within the United States charge a $96 fee. There are some exceptions, and students with financial needs may be eligible for a reduced fee through College Board or additional local funding. For more information, read about AP exam fees or talk to your AP coordinator.

What is the format of the exam?

AP Calculus AB and AP Calculus BC have the same 3-hour and 15-minute format. The exam is divided into two sections each worth 50% of the total score. Section I consists of multiple-choice questions and Section II consists of free-response questions. Multiple-choice questions are completed using a pencil to bubble in an answer sheet. Free-response questions are written out in an exam booklet.

Each section is further divided into two portions, one in which a graphing calculator is required and another in which a calculator can not be used. The non-calculator portion of each section is weighted more heavily than the calculator portion.

AP Calculus exam format by section, questions, weight, and time:

Section

Number of Questions

Exam Weight

Duration

I: Multiple-Choice

45 total

50% total

105 minutes total

Part A: Graphing calculator not allowed

30

33.3%

60 minutes

Part B: Graphing calculator required

15

16.7%

45 minutes

II: Free-Response

6 total

50% total

90 minutes total

Part A: Graphing calculator required

2

16.7%

30 minutes

Part B: Graphing calculator not allowed

4

33.3%

60 minutes

Entire Exam

51 total

100% total

195 minutes total

How is the AP Calculus exam scored?

All AP exams, including both AP Calc AB and BC, are scored on a scale of 1 to 5. The final score is based on a composite of the multiple-choice and free-response sections of the test. 

Each correct multiple-choice response is worth one point and there is no penalty for an incorrect response. Each free-response question is scored on a scale of 0–9 points. In the AP Calculus exam, the non-calculator portions of each section include more questions and are therefore weighted more heavily.

Each university determines how they choose to handle AP test scores. However, the typical consensus is that a score of 4 or 5 would count for credit and testing out of a semester or two of college Calculus. A score of 3 is typically seen as passing the exam, but would not qualify as credit for a college course.

College Board offers a free tool to explore AP course credit policies by exam and college.

How can students prepare for the AP Calculus exam?

One of the most important things students can do is learn essential test-taking skills. Knowing how to solve complex problems and manage time effectively can go a long way. Here are some tips for the AP Calculus exam:

Show your work, even when you’re using a calculator

Demonstrating all the steps and calculations shows the grader that you understand the concepts and steps to solve a problem. It also helps you keep track of your work as you go, allowing you to troubleshoot and find mistakes if you get stuck along the way.

Try to solve each part of the question

Free-response questions have multiple parts, and it is usually possible to solve each part independently of the others. Each part is worth credit, so if you feel stuck or uncertain about any part, make the effort to solve the other parts.

Be sure to fully answer the question being asked

Make sure your answer is comprehensive and accurate. Be sure to use units in your answers and provide everything asked for in the question, including inputs and outputs.

Do not round partial answers

Be sure to store unrounded answers in your calculator so that you can use them for further calculations.

Understand the meaning of task verbs 

Understand the question and pay close attention to the phrasing. Particular verbs, such as “approximate,” “determine,” “explain,” “justify,” and “interpret” have specific meanings for the test. Take the time to familiarize yourself with the task verbs used on the exam.

Practice 

Look at free-response questions from previous AP Calculus exams. Even better, practice taking timed exams to get a feel for the pace and format of the test. When taking the test, most of the work should be focused on concepts, so be sure you’re comfortable routinely making calculations.

Because AP exams are tied to AP classes, your school is the natural place to start. Actively participating in classes is a great way to get structured practice time supported by your student’s teachers, peers, and classroom resources. Your school’s AP coordinator can help your student access digital resources through AP Classroom, including practice questions and other content.

You can also research online resources. Many students find value in AP Calculus Reddit threads, such as r/apcalculus, which include peer discussion on sample problems and threads sharing free online resources and tips and tricks.

For those who want additional practice beyond what is offered in school and online, academic programs offered by learning centers can give students a structured way to learn and practice test-taking strategies with a dedicated peer group.

How can The Study Huddle help?

The Study Huddle offers AP Calculus courses designed to prepare students for the AP Calculus AB and AP Calculus BC exams. Our two-semester sequence consists of two 12-week courses in the Spring and Summer. The AP-aligned curriculum covers principles such as derivatives, integrals, limits, continuity, differentiation, approximation, applications, and modeling.

Students will gain experience in the use of calculus methods and learn how calculus methods may be applied to practical applications. The course provides an effective mix of lectures on the curriculum, practice multiple-choice and free-response problems, test-taking strategies, evaluation of weaknesses, and one-on-one instruction.

The AP Calculus Prep course consists of six 2-hour sessions to help prepare for the AP Calculus AB/ BC exam. Each session will include a mini lecture to review the topics on the exam, problem solving advice, test taking strategies and an abbreviated take-home practice exam.This course is typically offered around mid-March closer to the final AP exam.

We also offer individual and small group AP Calculus tutoring during the school year.

Our programs provide a learning environment where students feel at home and are empowered to express and debate their solutions. As a result, they’re comfortable challenging and appreciating each other’s ideas while learning the many ways of solving a problem and finding the elegance behind the solutions.

If you are interested in learning more about AP Calculus, contact us to schedule a free consultation and find out which course is right for you.