Jenna Takach is a senior in high school from San Antonio, TX. She has been recognized as a National AP Scholar and has worked with Fiveable in the past as a Student TA for AP Calculus AB. Outside of school, she is active in dance and theatre and has been honored as a soloist with Opera San Antonio. Jenna is thrilled to be back with Fiveable and can't wait to help everyone succeed!

I’ll be honest with you – AP Calculus AB is one of the most difficult courses out there. Lucky for you, I’m here to share my tips and tricks on how to succeed on the AP exam – from solving complex, multi-step problems to understanding the wording of problems on the test.

Before you walk into your first class, you should know what the AP Calculus AB exam looks like. It helps to review College Board’s course overview to look at the time breakdown of each section.

  • Go through the questions and answers of different styles of FRQs. Although you may not know how to solve them yet, it helps to see what types of responses graders are looking for so you can start working on your FRQ skills from day 1.
  • The wording of FRQs is often very specific (ex: “increasing” v. “positive” slope), so it’s important to pay close attention to the way problems are written from the beginning.
  • Remember: on the calculator section, your calculator can work out long and complicated derivatives and integrals for you in a matter of seconds, so don’t waste your time solving them by hand!

Of course, it also helps to know some of the actual content of the exam before the first day of class.

  • It helps to already know the graphs of some basic parent functions (ex: y=x, y=logx, etc.) as well as the trig functions (y=sinx, y=cosx, y=tanx, and their inverses and reciprocals). Already having these memorized will help in understanding(and visualizing, if you’re more of a visual learner) their derivatives and integrals later on in the course.
  • Know your basic log rules and exponent rules by heart. It saves time on the exam by not having to work everything out the long way.
  • The rules and theorems of algebra are employed in almost every topic, so it’s important to memorize them early on so you can implement them more easily. Being fluent in algebra is almost a requirement for succeeding in calculus
    • In fact, many calculus teachers and professors say that the major reason why students do poorly is not because of their calculus knowledge, but rather that they mess up algebra and simple arithmetic! I myself said on a test that 4/2 = 1, and have never lived it down.
  • Make sure to understand the “why” behind each step in solving a problem. Simply memorizing is easy but NOT beneficial in the long run.

AP Calculus AB Resources

In general, you should be working out AP-style problems throughout the entire year. As soon as you’ve covered a topic, find some AP FRQ practice problems and answers either on the College Board website (linked above) or in a prep book (below). This will help you get used to the wording of the test and focus your attention on what concepts you need more help in.

Prep Book RecommendationsCracking the AP Calculus AB Exam (The Princeton Review) and Acing AP Calculus AB and BC (Greenhall Publishing) are excellent resources. Both have step-by-step problems and solutions for all the concepts that are covered in the AP curriculum. The Princeton Review releases a new edition every year, but I’ve found that you can buy older editions for a much lower price than the current year’s (after all, the structure of the exam hasn’t been changed in quite some time).

Additional resources:

  • *Remember: more students are seeing L’Hospital’s rule than ever before, so make sure to look at previous FRQ’s to see what College Board is and isn’t testing.*
  • Khan Academy online has a great database of step-by-step problems that you’ll almost definitely see on the test
  • I love Cole’s World of Mathematics on YouTube. He offers reviews and helpful tricks for both Algebra and Calculus concepts, plus videos of him working out the steps of some trickier derivatives and integrals.

Most importantly, ask questions if you’re confused about anything. If you don’t understand the basics of a certain topic, it will be much more difficult for you to grasp the more complicated manifestations of that basic topic. Ask your teacher for help after class, find a friend to study with you at lunch, or come chat with us here at Fiveable!

Now that you know what lies ahead of you in your calculus class, you need no longer fear the AP Calculus AB exam. I know it seems daunting, but don’t stress yourself too much about it now – go enjoy the rest of your summer while it’s still here. When school starts back up again, you can be sure that you have all the skills and resources you need to succeed.