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Is AP Calculus AB/BC Hard? Is AP Calculus AB/BC Worth Taking?

4 min readβ€’october 28, 2020

catherine

Catherine Liu


Overview ♾️

AP Calculus will probably be more difficult than the other math classes you've taken. At the same time, it's totally doable! Concepts build on each other pretty quickly, so make sure to keep up with the work and ask questions if you're confused. It's a new way of thinking, but as long as you have a solid foundation in algebra, you'll make it through.
On the test, you'll have 1 hour and 45 minutes to answer 45 multiple choice questions, then 1 hour and 30 minutes to answer 6 free-response questions. You will not be able to use a graphing calculator on 4 of the FRQs, but don't worry! If you have to work with numbers on a non-calculator question, the calculations will be relatively simple. Check out past FRQs to get an idea of what questions you might be asked.

Data πŸ“Š

Here are the score distributions from 2019:
AP Calculus AB:
  • 5: 19.1%
  • 4: 18.7%
  • 3: 20.6%
  • 2: 23.3%
  • 1: 18.3%
AP Calculus BC:
  • 5: 43%
  • 4: 18.5%
  • 3: 19.5%
  • 2: 13.9%
  • 1: 5.2%
In comparison to other AP classes, AP Calculus AB has a middle-of-the-road pass rate and an above-average 5 rates. AP Calculus BC has a high pass rate and 5 rates. This data seems to suggest that AP Calculus isn't too difficult, but it's important to consider that students who are taking an AP math class are more likely to be math-inclined. So, how do students feel?
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We surveyed 41 students about the difficulty of AP Calculus. They ranked each class on a scale of 1 to 5, where 1 was "extremely easy" and 5 was "extremely difficult." Here are the results:
  • Of those who considered themselves a "math person," AP Calculus AB was not very difficult (average score: 2.04), and AP Calculus BC was slightly difficult (average score: 2.64).
  • Of those who considered themselves somewhat of a "math person," AP Calculus AB was moderately difficult (average score: 3.42).
  • Of those who did not consider themselves a "math person," AP Calculus AB was also moderately difficult (average score: 3.5).

Resources to Dig Deeper πŸ“š

Resources:

Other Factors to Consider πŸ€”

  1. Motivation. In AP Calculus, concepts are interconnected, so falling behind can seriously hurt you as you move forward.
  2. The workload. This is a math class, so you won't have to do a lot of reading, but you will have to do repetitive problems. Expect plenty of worksheets to finish outside of class.
  3. Your teacher shapes your experience. The good news is that AP Calculus AB and BC are popular subjects, so if you feel like you're not getting enough support in the classroom, there are a lot of online resources to choose from.

What Students Have to Say πŸ’¬

In that survey from earlier, we asked for advice for students going into AP Calculus. There were three common tips that people seemed to agree on.
First, don't just memorize formulas. Try to understand the reasoning behind each concept. There's a large focus on graphing and real-world applications, so make sure to figure out the meaning behind formulas and rules.
Second, brush up on your algebra skills. Oftentimes, students will understand the calculus part of a question, but they'll make mistakes because of small algebraic errors.
Third, practice FRQs! Try to answer questions in the time limit. When you finish, look at the answer key and compare your work. Remember that every time you correct a mistake, you learn something.
Lastly, listen to some words of wisdom from the Fiveable community:
"It's a different kind of math. Don't feel bad if you don't like it, but give it a shot because you really might!"
"Don’t give up! Especially for the first few months. It's hard to get adjusted, but you’ll get the hang of it. And if you don’t understand one topic, it's okay! Some topics will be better than others."
"Remember that it's an entirely new way of thinking, so it's normal to struggle at first. Stick with it and you'll have a lot of fun!"

Resources:

Closing statement

All in all, AP Calculus is definitely worth taking. It's extremely useful for most STEM fields, like physics, chemistry, and biology. Even if you aren't going into STEM, calculus is a new type of math that you just might like if you try.
If you start to find it difficult, don't get discouraged! You'll come out of the class knowing more than you did before, and Fiveable has plenty of free resources to help you along the way.

Resources:

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