How To Prepare for AP Calculus

How To Prepare for AP Calculus

AP tests indicate a college level understanding of the subject matter and can be used to secure admissions and for advanced placement or college credits.

In order to prepare for AP Calculus:

  • Get comfortable with Algebra, Geometry and Trigonometry
  • Learn Calculus 8 to 10 months ahead of test date
  • Remember all the Calculus formulas
  • Take as many practice tests as possible
  • Pace yourself for the multiple-choice and free response questions
  • Be comfortable with showing all your calculations for each problem


How Do I Prepare For The AP Calculus Test?

AB or BC?

You first need to decide whether you want to take the AP Calculus AB or the AP Calculus BC test. The AB test will cover calculus course credits for one semester, and the BC will cover material for 2 semesters. The AP test covers differentiation and integration, whereas the BC test covers everything in the AB test, plus its application, more integration techniques and introduces sequences and series.

Next, if you prefer studying with textbooks, then use the recommended text books followed by Rita Korunsky’s 2 books. Or if you’re more comfortable with online courses and videos, go with Khan Academy and the Advanced Placement YT videos.

Finally, you can take practice tests in the College Board’s AP Classroom and write as many practice tests as possible.

ONLINE TRACK: Khan Academy/ AP YT Channel

Once you’ve decided which test to take, the Khan Academy will give you a basic foundation along with practice tests.

Next, there is a YouTube channel from the official Advanced Placement team and this will allow you to go over all the material and to test your understanding. You can quickly start solving all the presented problems since you will already have the knowhow after completing the KhanAcademy AP practice tests.

TEXTBOOK TRACK: TextBooks/ Rita Korunsky’s Books

There are recommended sample textbooks given by the College Board or you can substitute with the textbooks recommended by your high school.

Next, I’ve heard great things about the Rita Korunsky BC books and this will help fill all gaps in your understanding and also provide a good review of the entire material.

If you’re only taking the AB test, you can still use Rita Korunsky’s books while skipping the additional topics that are relevant for the BC test.

Many students have had success with Rita’s LectureNotes and Workbook and this will certainly enable you to score well in the AP Calculus test. The good thing about Rita’s books is that it describes complex material in an easy and fun way that makes it very easy to understand!

The 1st book covers all the theory and explanations and the workbook contains six sample exams with questions which closely match the type of questions you can expect on the real AP exam.

College Board AP Classroom

If you want more practice tests, the CollegeBoard allows you to sign up for the AP Classroom on the official website. This contains a lot of practice questions to test your readiness for the real exam. So finally, you can try your hand at these practice tests and keep on practicing until the test date.

Final Review

Be sure to review all the material from Khan Academy and from the AP YT channel, or from the Textbooks and Rita Korunsky’s Books a few weeks or for a month before the exams.

Preparation Timeline

As suggested in the Sample Syllabus documents on College Board, for the AP Calculus AB test, start preparing in the month of September of the previous year as follows:

  1. September: Unit 1
  2. October: Unit 2
  3. November: Unit 3
  4. December: Unit 4
  5. January: Unit 5
  6. February: Unit 6
  7. March: Unit 7
  8. April: Unit 8
  9. May: Take the test

Similarly, for the AP Calculus BC test,you would ideally start your preparation in July of the previous year starting with Unit 1 in July to Unit 10 in April and subsequently take the BC test in May.

What Are Prerequisites Before Signing Up for AP Calculus?

Before you register for the AP Calculus exam, be sure you’ve completed all your secondary school math fundamentals such as Algebra, Geometry, Trigonometry and Functions. The functions can be linear, polynomial, rational, logarithmic, exponential or trigonometric. This will be required for you to continue with learning Calculus.

How Hard Is AP Calculus?

With in-depth preparation as outlined in the earlier sections, taking the AP Calculus can be fun and exciting. There is definitely a lot of material covered in the AP Calculus tests but by being 500% prepared, you can maximize your chances of getting a 4 or 5 on the test.

It is best to get a 5 or a 4 on the AP test to be sure you get the credits, but in general anything from a 3 to 5 is eligible for college credits or advanced standing at most colleges.

Remember that AP tests are offered only once a year so you need to be sure you’re more then prepared to take the test and score well in the 1st attempt. In case you want to improve your AP test scores by taking it the next year, that is certainly possible. But you will need to contact College Board AP and ask them to withhold the previous scores so that only the highest scores are shown in the score report.

What Is The AP Calculus Curriculum?

To get the exam description for AP Calculus, go to the following urls:

Then download the pdf containing the exam descriptions and go to the section on Course At A Glance. Though you need not take the course, the course and exam content is very much the same and so this will give you the topic content of the exam itself.

For a more in-depth course curriculum, take a look at the Sample Syllabus published by the College Board for both the exams:

As published in these syllabus documents in College Board, here are the recommended textbooks for the 2 exams:

  • AP Calculus AB: Primary Textbook (Sullivan, Michael, and Kathleen Miranda. Calculus (for the AP Course), 2nd ed.)
  • AP Calculus BC: Primary Textbook (Larson, Hostetler, Edwards. Calculus of a Single Variable. Houghton Mifflin Company, 2006, 8th ed. ISBN 0618503048)
  • AP Calculus BC: Secondary Textbook (Stewart, James. Calculus. Brooks/Cole Publishing Company, 1999 ISBN: 0534359493)

Also, here is an overview of the exam topics covered in the AP Calculus AB and BC tests:

AP Calculus AB

AP Calculus BC

Unit 1: Limits and Continuity



Unit 2: Differentiation: Definition and Derivative Rules



Unit 3: Differentiation: Composite, Implicit and Inverse Functions



Unit 4: Contextual Applications of Differentiation



Unit 5: Analytical Applications of Differentiation



Unit 6: Integration and Accumulation of Change



Unit 7: Differential Equations



Unit 8: Applications of Integration



Unit 9: Parametric Equations, Polar

Coordinates, and Vector-Valued Functions


Unit 10: Infinite Sequences and Series


What Is The Maximum Score In AP Tests?

AP tests are scored from 0 to 5 and 5 is the top score which means you’ve performed excellently. This is equivalent to a A grade. A 4 is considered Very Good and is equated to a B or B+. A 3 is considered Good and is equated to a C or C+.

Anything less than a 3 is considered to be a fail and is not likely to earn any college credits.

How Do You Get A 5 On AP Calculus?


The more you practice, the better you’re likely to do on the AP Calculus tests. It is best if you are completely prepared and take the AP Calculus test once. But say if you got a 4 on the test and you want to improve the score.

You can re-register to take the test next year. But many high school students have a tight course load in the final junior and senior years of high school. So most students aim to take the AP tests only one.

If you’re definitely planning on retaking the AP test, it can still take it once in your junior year and once in your senior year. Taking the tests in the sophomore or freshman years would be very difficult because you will have to be comfortable with a lot of senior secondary math before you can start preparing for the AP Calculus tests.

What Is The Format Of The AP Calculus Test?

Both the AP Calculus AB and BC have a similar test format and each test is for a duration of 3 hours and 15 minutes. These contain 45 multiple-choice questions (Section I) and 6 free response questions (Section II).

In the Section I, a Graphing Calculator is not permitted in the Part A for the 1st 30 questions, but is required for the next 15 questions of Part B.

In the Section II, a Graphing Calculator is required for the 1st 2 questions and it is not permitted for the nest 4 questions.

The Section I: Part A and Section II: Part B carry score weightage of 33.3% each (approximately 33% each).

The Section I: Part B and Section II: Part A carry score weightage of 16.7% each (approximately 17% each).

Do I Have To Take AP Courses Before Writing The Exam?

No, high school students typically take the AP courses in their high school before taking the AP exams. But students who do not have these AP courses in high school can still directly take the AP exams.

But for students who took both the AP courses and the AP exams, college admissions offices typically ask for the score of both the AP exams and of the respective AP courses.

What Are The Free Response Questions in AP Calculus?

These are questions that are not multiple-choice questions and for which you need to compose your own answer.

For free response questions, if by chance you do not know the entire answer but parts of the answer, still be sure to write the parts of the answer which you know, for partial scores for that question.

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