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AP Calculus AB Frequently Asked Questions

AP Calculus Updates

Updates to AP Calculus AB and AP Calculus BC will take effect in the 2016-17 school year. Learn more.


Who designs the AP Calculus AB course and exam?
The AP Calculus AB course and exam is designed by the AP Development Committee, which is made up of higher education faculty and expert AP teachers. This ensures, through data collected from a range of colleges and universities, that the AP course reflects current scholarship and advances in the discipline. Committee members define the scope and goals of the course, articulating what students should know and be able to do upon completing it; work with the Educational Testing Service to develop multiple-choice and free-response exam questions; and write and review the course description.

How do I determine who should be in an AP class?
The College Board recommends allowing any motivated and academically prepared student to take an AP course. We encourage the elimination of barriers that restrict access to AP for students from ethnic, racial, and socioeconomic groups that have been traditionally underrepresented. Schools should make every effort to ensure their AP classes reflect the diversity of their student population.

Do colleges and universities give credit or advanced placement for a grade of 3 on an AP Exam?
Students should check the credit and placement policy at the schools they are considering. Policies vary from one institution to another; they may also vary from department to department within an institution. The AP Credit Policy Info tool provides information on specific college and university credit policies.

How is the AP Calculus Course Description created?
The AP Calculus Development Committee is responsible for creating the AP Calculus Course Description, which is designed to help teachers plan their curriculum, as it contains relevant information about the course and exam. You may download the course description from AP Central  or purchase a copy from the College Board Store.

What is the difference between AP Calculus AB and AP Calculus BC?
The difference between AP Calculus AB and BC is one of 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 at least a semester of calculus at most colleges and universities.

AP Calculus BC includes all topics in AP Calculus AB, as well as additional topics, such as differential and integral calculus (including parametric, polar, and vector functions) and series. It is equivalent to at least one year of calculus at most colleges and universities. AP Calculus BC is an extension of AP Calculus AB, and each course is challenging and demanding and requires a similar depth of understanding of topics.

The Course

Which textbook does the College Board recommend?
The College Board does not recommend textbooks, but teachers can check prospective choices against the course description to make sure that the required topics are covered. A selection of textbooks are reviewed and listed on AP Course Audit.

Our school has block scheduling. Can we teach AP Calculus?
AP Calculus AB and AP Calculus BC were designed to represent year-long college-level courses, so in offering AP Calculus in a block arrangement, it's important that the teacher covers 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. Schools committed to a block schedule may benefit from contacting other schools with similar schedules to learn how they have met the challenges.

How can I learn more about teaching AP Calculus AB?
The College Board offers one-week AP Summer Institutes and one- and two-day workshops, where well-trained AP Consultants discuss best practices, course planning and pacing, strategies for taking the exam, textbooks, resource materials, activities, and other topics related to teaching AP Calculus AB. One-day workshops are scheduled year-round in almost every state. AP Summer Institutes allow for in-depth study of course content. (Participants say that a valuable part of these learning opportunities is interacting and sharing with other teachers.) In addition, the AP Calculus Teachers Guide and the AP Calculus Course Description contain innovative teaching strategies and higher education syllabi.

Another great resource is the AP Calculus Teacher Community. This site allows you to share with colleagues and create a library of resources. You may also join in active discussion groups with other teachers to get new ideas for instruction.

The Exam

Who writes the AP Calculus Exam questions?
The AP Calculus Development Committee, which includes high school and college mathematics teachers, writes the exam questions, working with AP Chief Readers and Educational Testing Service content experts. Committee members have many years of experience with the AP Calculus program and as calculus teachers. The committee meets several times a year to revise, edit, and choose the multiple-choice and free-response questions for the exam.

How is the exam scored?
The score on the multiple-choice section of the exam is based on the number of questions answered correctly. Points are not deducted for incorrect answers or awarded for unanswered questions.

How much of the exam depends on calculator use?
The multiple-choice and free-response sections of the exam are divided into the calculator section and the non-calculator section. The multiple-choice, non-calculator section contains 28 questions, and the calculator section contains 17 questions (not all of which require a calculator). The first two free-response questions require the graphing calculator. Calculator use is not allowed on the remaining four questions.

What brand of calculator does the College Board recommend?
The College Board does not recommend brands, but the AP Calculus Development Committee maintains an updated list of approved calculators.

AP® Course Audit

What is the AP® Course Audit?
The AP Course Audit provides teachers and administrators with clearly articulated guidelines on curricular and resource requirements for AP courses. It also gives colleges and universities confidence that AP courses are designed to meet the same clearly articulated college criteria across high schools. For more information, visit AP Course Audit.

What resources are available to support the course authorization process?
The AP Course Audit website is designed to support teachers in creating a syllabus for authorization. It features information and guidelines, including the following resources:

  • Syllabus Development Guide: provides a detailed explanation of each curricular requirement, including scoring components, evaluation guidelines, definitions of key terms, and samples of evidence that highlight the level of detail reviewers expect to see in a college or university syllabus.
  • Four Annotated Sample Syllabi: demonstrate ways teachers can fulfill the curricular requirements within the context of a syllabus.

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