What's on the AP Calculus AB Exam?

Advanced Placement exams have been around for half a century. While the format and content have changed over the years, the basic goal of the AP program remains the same: to give high school students a chance to earn college credit or advanced placement. To do this, a student needs to do two things:

  • Find a college that accepts AP scores
  • Do well enough on the exam

The first part is easy, because the majority of colleges accept AP scores in some form or another. The second part requires a little more effort. If you have worked diligently all year in your course-work, you’ve laid the groundwork. The next step is familiarizing yourself with the test.

  • There are actually two AP Calculus tests offered to students, a Calculus AB exam and a Calculus BC exam. The BC exam covers some more advanced topics; it’s not necessarily a harder test, but its scope is broader. Most students opt to take the AB exam because they find it somewhat easier, but the BC exam is worth more credit at many universities.

Your decision to take the AP Calculus AB exam involves many factors, but in essence it boils down to a question of choosing between three hours of time spent on the AP Calculus AB exam and a significant amount of time spent in a college classroom. Depending on the college, a score of 3, 4, or 5 on the AP Calculus exam can allow you to leap over the introductory courses and jump right into more advanced classes. These advanced classes are usually smaller, more specifically focused, more intellectually stimulating, and simply more interesting than a basic course. If you are concerned solely about fulfilling your mathematics requirement so you can get on with your study of pre-Columbian art, Elizabethan music, or some other area apart from calculus, the AP exam can help you there, too. If you do well on the AP Calculus AB exam, you may never have to take a math class again, depending on the requirements of the college you choose.

Overview of the AP Calculus AB Test Structure

The breakdown of the content on the AP Calculus AB exam is as follows:
Unit 1Limits and Continuity 10–12%
Unit 2Differentiation: Definition and Fundamental Properties 10–12%
Unit 3Differentiation: Composite, Implicit, and Inverse Functions 9–13%
Unit 4Contextual Applications of Differentiation 10–15%
Unit 5Analytical Applications of Differentiation 15–18%
Unit 6Integration and Accumulation of Change 17–20%
Unit 7Differential Equations 6–12%
Unit 8Applications of Integration 10–15%

The AP Calculus AB exam consists of two sections, each with two parts, as outlined in the table below. Each section of the exam is worth 50% of your overall score.
SectionPartQuestion CountAllotted Time
Section 1: Multiple Choice (50% of overall score)Part A: No Calculator3060 minutes
Section 1 cont’dPart B: Calculator1545 minutes
Section 1 cont’dTOTAL45105 minutes
Section 2: Free Response (50% of overall score)Part A: Calculator230 minutes
Section 2 cont’dPart B: No Calculator460 minutes
Section 2 cont’dTOTAL690 minutes

If you do the math, your pacing during the test should look roughly like this:

  • Multiple choice with no calculator: 2 minutes per question
  • Multiple choice with calculator: 3 minutes per question
  • All free response: 15 minutes per question

Kaplan Expert Tip
You almost certainly will use most—probably all—of the 90 minutes allotted for Section II of the AP Calculus AB exam. Although these free-response problems are long and are made up of multiple parts, they don’t usually cover an obscure topic. Instead, they take a fairly basic calculus concept and ask you a bunch of questions about it. It’s a lot of calculus work, but it’s fundamental calculus work

How the AP Calculus AB Exam is Scored

AP Calculus AB exam scores are based on the number of questions answered correctly. No points are deducted for wrong answers. No points are awarded for unanswered questions. Therefore, you should answer every question, even if you have to guess.
For the Free Response section, all problems are given equal weight, but the individual parts of a particular problem are not necessarily given equal weight. You should not spend too much time on any one problem.

When your three-plus hours of testing are up, your exam is sent away for grading. The multiple-choice part is handled by a machine, while qualified readers—current and former calculus teachers and professors—grade your responses to Section II. After a bit of a wait, your composite score will arrive. Your results will be placed into one of the following categories, reported on a five-point scale (relative to receiving college credit or advanced placement):

5 = Extremely well qualified
4 = Well qualified
3 = Qualified
2 = Possibly qualified
1 = No recommendation

Many colleges and universities will give you college credit for a score of 3 or higher, but some require a 4 or a 5. If you have an idea about which colleges you want to go to, check out their websites or call the admissions office to find their particular rules regarding AP scores.

For more AP Calculus exam prep, check out our AP Calculus Prep Plus!