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AP Calculus AB Frequently Asked Questions

Questions about the course

What is the focus of this course?

AP Calculus AB covers differential and integral calculus, including concepts and skills of limits, derivatives, definite integrals, and the Fundamental Theorem of Calculus. Students learn to approach calculus concepts and problems when they are represented graphically, numerically, analytically, and verbally, and to make connections among these representations. For more details go to the two-page Course Overview (.pdf/977.3MB).

What has changed in the AP Calculus AB course?

Only minor changes have been made. The updated course is defined in a new curriculum framework that ties course content and mathematical practices to clearly stated learning objectives, giving teachers greater transparency into course and exam expectations. For more information, go to Key Changes to AP Calculus. You can also watch this narrated presentation.

How does the updated AP Calculus AB course define the required content?

A concept outline presents the subject matter of the updated courses in a table format, and is organized around the following four components:

  • Big ideas, which correspond to foundational concepts of calculus: limits, derivatives, integrals, and the Fundamental Theorem of Calculus.
  • Within each big idea are enduring understandings. These are the long-term takeaways that a student needs to have after exploring the content and skills. These understandings are expressed as generalizations that specify what a student should understand about the key concepts in each course.
  • Linked to each enduring understanding are the corresponding learning objectives, which state how a student will develop the enduring understandings. The learning objectives are the focus of the AP Exams.
  • Finally, essential knowledge statements describe the facts and basic concepts that a student needs to know to show mastery of each learning objective

What is the difference between AP Calculus AB and AP Calculus BC?

AP Calculus BC is an extension of AP Calculus AB: the difference between them is scope, not level of difficulty. AP Calculus AB includes techniques and applications of the derivative, the definite integral, and the Fundamental Theorem of Calculus. It is equivalent to a semester of calculus at most colleges and universities. AP Calculus BC includes all topics in AP Calculus AB, plus others such as parametric, polar, and vector functions, and series. It is equivalent to one year of calculus at most colleges and universities.

What is the equivalent college-level course?

AP Calculus AB is roughly equivalent to a first semester college calculus course devoted to topics in differential and integral calculus.

Are there any student prerequisites?

Before studying calculus, all students should complete four years of secondary mathematics designed for college-bound students: courses in which they study algebra, geometry, trigonometry, analytic geometry, and elementary functions.

What’s the best way to identify students who should take this course?

Any motivated student should be given the chance to benefit from an AP course. If your school offers the PSAT/NMSQT®, use AP Potential. This free online tool allows you to identify students who are likely to succeed in AP based on their PSAT or SAT® scores. Such scores have proved to be stronger predictors of AP success than have high school grades or GPA.

Which textbooks does the College Board recommend?

The College Board does not recommend specific textbooks. However, a list of textbooks appropriate for the course appears on the AP Course Audit.

How can I prepare myself to teach this course?

These resources will help:

Our school has block scheduling. Can we teach AP Calculus?

Yes. However, AP Calculus AB and AP Calculus BC were designed to represent year-long college-level courses, so in a block arrangement it's important that you cover a full year of instruction. Some schools extend each course over two blocks to give students the hours they need to complete a full year of classes.

How can I get this course started at my school?

It's easy. How to start an AP course gives you a full run-down on the steps and guidelines.

Have more questions?

The AP Calculus Teacher Community might be the best source for answers. You’ll also find articles, tools, and resources to help you teach every aspect of the course on the course home page.

Questions about the AP Course Audit

What is the AP Course Audit?

The AP Course Audit is an authorization process that provides teachers and administrators with guidelines and requirements for offering AP courses. It also ensures that AP courses across high schools meet the same college-level criteria.

Watch a quick video introduction to the AP Course Audit.

Is the course audit required?

Yes. Every school wishing to offer an AP course must participate in the AP Course Audit.

What’s involved? Who needs to participate, and what do they need to do?

The AP Course Audit requires the online submission of two documents: the AP Course Audit form and the teacher’s syllabus. The AP teacher and the school principal (or designated administrator) submit the Course Audit form, acknowledging the curricular and resource requirements. The syllabus, detailing how the AP course requirements will be met, is submitted by the AP teacher for review by college faculty.

If I already have an authorized AP Calculus AB syllabus, will I need to submit a new one for the 2016-17 school year in light of the course and exam updates?

No. If you have a previously authorized AP Calculus AB course, you won't be required to revise and resubmit your syllabus for the 2016-17 school year. More information on what you'll need to do is available on the AP Course Audit website.

What resources are available to support the course authorization process?

The AP Course Audit page for this course will give you the tools you’ll need to create and submit your syllabus for authorization, including information and guidelines, sample syllabi, and a tutorial.

Have more questions?

Go to AP Course Audit for more FAQs, resources, and information about the whole course audit process.

Questions about the exam

How has the exam changed?

Both the AP Calculus AB and BC Exams continue to share the same multiple-choice and free-response section format. On the multiple-choice section, the number of questions and the total allotted time remain the same (45 questions in 1 hour and 45 minutes), but the distribution of questions and relative timing have been adjusted. The structure of the free-response section on each of the exams has not changed.

How can I prepare my students for the exam?

These resources will help:

  • A full practice exam reflecting the 2016-17 updates is available by logging in to your AP Course Audit account. You can also access several older practice exams there.
  • Review the sample responses from the practice exam – actual students' answers with scoring commentaries showing how students can earn points on the free-response questions.
  • Free-response questions with student samples and scoring guidelines can be accessed from your exam information page.
  • Released exams are available as a free download from the course home page and older versions can be purchased from the College Board store.

When is the AP Calculus AB Exam administered?

The exam is given each year in early May. Go to the Exam Calendar for the most current exam dates.

How much of the exam requires a calculator?

A calculator is required for Section I, Part B of the exam (15 multiple-choice questions) and for Section II, Part B of the exam (2 free-response questions). View our calculator policy for more information.

What brand of calculator does the College Board recommend?

The College Board does not recommend brands, but we do maintain a list of approved graphing calculators – make sure you and your students know the calculator policy for the exam.

What score do students need to get on the AP Exam to receive credit or advanced placement?

That depends on the college. Some require higher scores than others. Tell your students to use the AP Credit Policy Info tool to verify the credit/placement policies at the schools they are considering.

Have more questions?

You’ll find specifics about the exam format and more on the AP Calculus AB Exam Information page. The AP Calculus Teacher Community might also be a good source of information.

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