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 The Advanced Placement (AP) Calculus course and AP Calculus Exam

The Advanced Placement (AP) Calculus course is a college-level course designated for high school students who would like to broaden their mathematical skills and pursue a career in science, engineering, technology or math. Completing the AP Calculus course and passing the AP Calculus Exam gives students the opportunity to obtain credits for college or university as well as to receive advance placement in some specific university programs.

AP Calculus exam

AP Calculus exam is coordinated by The College Board which develops and compiles the exam questions and establishes the mark scheme. Preparing effectively for the exam requires an understanding of the exam format and grading scale, using a graphing calculator, as well as a lot of practice and determination.

There are two levels of AP Calculus exam: Calculus AB and Calculus BC. The AB-level exam covers the following topics: functions and limits, derivatives, applications of derivatives, integrals, and application of integrals. The BC-level exam covers all the topics from AB-level as well as more complex topics such as: improper integrals, vectors, power series and polynomial approximations and Taylor series.

The structure of the AP Calculus exam

The structure of the AP Calculus exam consists of two sections, and each section is divided in two parts (Part A and Part B). Students are allowed to use a graphing calculator for Part A of each section, but in Part B of each section the graphing calculator is not permitted.

The time allocated for the AP Calculus exam is around 3 hours and 15 minutes, and  it is divided between the two sections according to the following chart:

Section I: 45 multiple choice questions, time: 1 hour and 45 minutes

  • Part A: 28 questions, time: 55 minutes
  • Part B: 17 question, time: 50 minutes

Section II: 6 free response questions, time: 1 hour and 30 minutes

  • Part A: 2 problems, time: 30 minutes
  • Part B: 4 problems, time: 1 hour

Both sections are graded equally, so each section is worth 50% of the final grade. The entire exam is graded on a scale from 1 to 5, and in order to obtain credits or placement students need to obtain a grade of 3 or higher. However, some colleges and universities may not give credits to students with a grade of 3, particularly on the AB exam.

AP Calculus exam tips and strategies

Here are some tips and strategies for preparing the AP Calculus exam:

  • Develop a study plan and follow it. Divide the material in small parts and assign days and times for reviewing each part. Make sure you cover the entire course material.
  • Review the notes first and then consolidate the material by doing your daily homework as well as extra practice problems. The more problems you solve the more knowledgeable and confident you will become.
  • Create a cheat sheet as you go over the classroom notes. Write down all the definitions, formulas and important theorems and keep the cheat sheet in front of your when you practice. In that way, you will become more familiarized with the key concepts of the course.
  • Improve your graphing calculator skills by doing a lot of practice. Learn how to efficiently use your calculator and how to store intermediate results that you may need to use later on to determine the final answer to the problem.
  • Solve the past AP Calculus exams and pay attention to the recent exam trends.

Identify the questions and problems that are similar in terms of structure and    learn the strategies of solving them.

  • Work on your time management and focus on improving your completion time by practicing the past exams under the time constrains. Practicing under the time limitation is the best way to improve your speed of answering the multiple choice questions and showing the complete work for free-response questions.
  • Utilize all the resources of information and professional support available to you. Take advantage of the past AP Calculus exam solutions posted on-line, and consider the idea of hiring a professional tutor. By using all the resources, you will become more proficient and confident.
  • Visit the Vancouver School Board website for more information on the procedures for Advanced Placement Exam Registration, examination schedule as well as how to prepare for the day of your AP exam.

For more exam tips and preparation strategies contact Teachers’ Tutoring Service (TTS). TTS provides experienced and well-trained BC certified teachers to assist you in academically and psychologically preparing for the AP Calculus exam.

Silviu Zoltan

TTS tutor and a member of the Board of Directors

Silviu has over 18 years’ experience teaching/tutoring all levels of secondary and post-secondary Math and Physics courses, including Calculus, IB, AP and SAT courses.  He is also co-author of 8 math publications, and he coached Math Olympiad teams for national and international math contests.