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.
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:
|Limits and Continuity
|Differentiation: Definition and Fundamental Properties
|Differentiation: Composite, Implicit, and Inverse Functions
|Contextual Applications of Differentiation
|Analytical Applications of Differentiation
|Integration and Accumulation of Change
|Applications of Integration
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.
|Section 1: Multiple Choice (50% of overall score)
|Part A: No Calculator
|Section 1 cont’d
|Part B: Calculator
|Section 1 cont’d
|Section 2: Free Response (50% of overall score)
|Part A: Calculator
|Section 2 cont’d
|Part B: No Calculator
|Section 2 cont’d
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
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.