AP Prep

Published February 16, 2024

Everything You Need to get a 5 on AP Calculus AB


Natasha Potter

MSU Alumni, Creative Advertising Major, Marketing Associate at Knowt 😃

In this article, we will explore several effective tricks and AP Calculus exam tips that can help you achieve a top score of 5. By carefully dissecting these strategies and utilizing appropriate resources, you will be well-equipped to excel in the AP Calculus exam and confidently secure a high grade.

Free AP Calculus Resources

No need to stress if you find yourself cramming for the last-minute AP Calculus AB exam; it's a situation we can all relate to! If you're seeking ways to learn how to pass AP Calculus AB under time constraints, we've got you covered. Below, you'll find a collection of student-made AP Calculus AB exam tips and resources specifically tailored for last-minute cramming.

What Do I Need to Memorize for the AP Calculus AB Exam?

The AP Calculus AB exam is divided into three main areas, called Big Ideas, which are like the major topics you'll encounter and by acknowledging these three concepts you’ll know how to prepare for the AP Calculus AB exam. Each Big Idea has more specific stuff called Enduring Understandings (EU), which include Learning Objectives and Essential Knowledge.

Now, the College Board made some updates, and they integrated the Big Ideas into the eight units covered in the course. But don't worry, the exam structure itself hasn't changed.

Here are the Big Ideas and their Learning Objectives, which should give you a good idea of what the exam covers. If you want more details and all the nitty-gritty, you can check out the official AP Calculus AB Course Description. But this list should set you up pretty well!

Big Idea 1: Change 

Big Idea 1 focuses on change and its various aspects. It involves understanding when and how change occurs, as well as determining the rate of change in different situations. Moreover, it includes interpreting the structural similarities among various equations to gain insights into their behavior. This Big Idea also emphasizes the ability to calculate and analyze changes over specific intervals of time in functions. Additionally, students learn to identify intervals of continuity or points of discontinuity in functions and explore how continuity relates to important calculus theorems. Furthermore, this concept involves finding the rate of change by considering the area of a region between a curve and the x-axis. Lastly, students are encouraged to model motion that goes beyond linear paths, allowing for a broader understanding of real-world applications.

Big Idea 2: Limits

Big Idea 2 revolves around limits and their applications. It starts with understanding limits and how they provide insights into the features of functions and their graphs. Students also learn mathematical properties and rules that enable the simplification and evaluation of limits, which are crucial in the context of differentiation. Moreover, this Big Idea involves proving the existence of limits, ensuring a solid grasp of the concept. Additionally, students recognize the important connection between differentiability and continuity in functions.

Within this concept, students interpret the meaning of derivatives within problem-solving scenarios, enhancing their ability to apply calculus in practical situations. They further develop problem-solving skills related to finding the slope of tangent lines, handling related rates, optimization, and rectilinear motion.

Moreover, this Big Idea addresses problems involving rates of change in real-world contexts, allowing students to apply their understanding to practical applications. Lastly, students explore how the sum of infinitely discrete terms can yield a finite value when represented in the form of a continuous function, providing insights into the convergence of infinite series.

Big Idea 3: Analysis of Function 

In Big Idea 3, we focus on refining our understanding of functions to ensure accurate conclusions without loopholes. Students explore how changes in two units of measurement are related and understand their rate of change. They interpret numerical values to gain insights into other rates of change.

The Mean Value Theorem justifies conclusions, and additional information optimizes simple equations. Integration finds areas, differentiation determines slopes, and calculating derivatives and antiderivatives explores function behavior.

Definite integrals address real-world problems, like average value, motion, and area/volume calculations. Graph analysis with parametric equations or polar functions employs chain rules. Differential equations help obtain general and specific solutions. Students interpret, create, and solve them in context-based problems.

What is on the AP Calculus AB Exam?


Exam Weight 


Unit 1: Limits and Continuity


- Defining, estimating, and determining limits

- Connecting multiple representations of limits

- Defining and confirming continuity

- Removing discontinuities

- Connecting limits

- Working with the Intermediate Value Theorem

Unit 2: Differentiation: Definition and Fundamental Properties


- Instantaneous rates of change at a point

- Defining derivatives and using derivative notation

- Connecting differentiability and continuity

- Derivative rules

- Product Rule and Quotient Rule

- Finding derivatives of tangent, cotangent, secant, and cosecant functions

Unit 3: Differentiation: Composite, Implicit, and Inverse Functions


- Chain Rule

- Implicit differentiation

- Differentiating inverse functions

- Procedures for calculating derivatives

- Calculating higher-order derivatives

Unit 4: Contextual Applications of Differentiation


- Interpreting derivatives in context

- Straight-line motion

- Rates of change in applied contexts

- Solving related rates problems

- Local linearity and linearization

- Using L'Hospital's Rule for limits and indeterminate forms

Unit 5: Analytical Applications of Differentiation


- Mean Value Theorem and Extreme Value Theorem

- Increasing and decreasing intervals

- Using derivative tests for extrema

- Determining concavity of functions

- Graphing functions and derivatives

- Solving optimization problems

- Behaviors of implicit relations

Unit 6: Integration and Accumulation of Change


- Accumulations of change

- Riemann sums, summation notation, and definite integral notation

- Fundamental Theorem of Calculus

- Accumulation functions

- Finding antiderivatives and indefinite intervals

- Integrating functions using substitution, long division, and completing the square

- Antidifferentiation

Unit 7: Differential Equations


- Modeling and verifying solutions with differential equations

- Sketching slope fields

- Reasoning using slope fields

- Finding general and particular solutions with initial conditions and separation of variables

- Exponential models with differential equations

Unit 8: Applications of Integration


- Finding the average value of a function on an interval

- Connecting position, velocity, and acceleration using integrals

- Using accumulation function and definite integrals in applied contexts

- Finding the area between curves

- Volumes with cross sections

- Finding volume with Disc Method and Washer Method

AP Calculus AB Exam Format

The AP Calculus AB exam is divided into two sections, each consisting of two parts based on whether or not a calculator is allowed.

Section 1: Multiple-Choice Section

  • Total of 45 questions

  • Time: 1 hour 45 minutes

  • Weight: 50% of the total score

Part A: 30 questions

  •   Time: 60 minutes

  •   No calculator allowed

Part B: 15 questions

  •   Time: 45 minutes

  •   Calculator required

Note: The multiple-choice section underwent slight changes, with Part A previously having 28 questions and Part B having 17 questions.

Section 2: Free-Response Section

  • Total of 6 questions

  • Time: 1 hour 30 minutes

  • Weight: 50% of the total score

Part A: 2 questions

  •   Time: 30 minutes

  •   Calculator required

Part B: 4 questions

  •   Time: 60 minutes

  •   No calculator allowed

To summarize, the AP Calculus AB exam comprises four parts, with the first two being multiple-choice sections and the last two being free-response sections. For the middle two parts (both multiple-choice and free-response), you are allowed to use a calculator, while for the first and last parts, using a calculator is not permitted. By understanding these sections and utilizing the test tips for AP Calculus AB you can be prepared for the exam! 

What does the AP Calculus AB MCQ section look like?

The AP Calculus AB exam consists of two main sections: the multiple-choice section and the free-response section, each carrying equal weight in determining your total exam score. The multiple-choice section is composed of 45 questions, and for every correct answer, you earn one point. The good news is that there is no penalty for incorrect responses, so it's in your best interest to attempt every question. By answering all the multiple-choice questions accurately, you have the opportunity to secure a maximum of 45 points for this section. As you prepare for the exam, make sure to take advantage of this scoring system and answer all questions to maximize your potential score.

What does the AP Calculus AB FRQ look like?

The free-response section of the AP Calculus AB exam comprises six questions, with each question worth a total of 9 points. However, it's important to note that the points for individual parts within each question may vary. For instance, within a single question, you may have the opportunity to earn up to 1 point for part A, 3 points for part B, 3 points for part C, and 2 points for part D. This flexible scoring system allows you to demonstrate your understanding and skills across various aspects of calculus, offering a total score potential of 54 points for the free-response section. As you approach these questions during the exam, make sure to allocate your time wisely and address all parts of each question to maximize your score in this section. Each point earned adds to your overall performance and brings you closer to achieving your desired results in the AP Calculus AB exam.

When do AP Calculus AB scores come out?

Scores will typically come out in July every year, but you can also refer to the official CollegeBoard Annual calendar to monitor any chances.

Should I Self Study AP Calculus AB?

Having a bit of help on the AP Exams is never ever going to be a bad idea, however, by utilizing AP Calculus AB test tips and tricks and learning how to study for the AP Calculus AB exam, you can learn how to ace the AP Calculus AB exam all on your own. 

Studying for the AP Calculus AB exam can be challenging, but don't worry! Follow these three tips to improve your study game and boost your chances of acing the test.

Tip 1: Memorize Important Formulas

Make sure to know the essential formulas by heart. The AP exam doesn't provide a formula sheet, so you gotta do some memorization. Ask your teacher for formula sheets, or find cheat sheets online by Googling "AP Calculus AB formula sheet."

Pro-tip: Memorize formulas for limits, differentiation, integration, and the fundamental theorems. These are the big ones you'll need.

Tip 2: Know How to Use Your Calculator

Your calculator can be a lifesaver! You get to use it for two of the four exam parts, and those questions can be tough without it. Know your calculator inside out, including graphing functions, finding zeros, calculating derivatives, and definite integrals.

Pro-tip: Practice with your calculator a lot to get comfortable using these functions during the exam.

Tip 3: Show Your Work!

On the free-response questions, showing your work is key! The final answer alone doesn't get you many points. Most of your score comes from the steps you show to reach that answer.

Pro-tip: Always write down the setup and intermediate steps for problems. Even if your calculator gets the right answer, show how you got there to score big with the AP graders. Make this a habit during practice to ace it on exam day!

Now that you have these AP Calculus AB exam tips, go crush it! You've got this!

Is the AP Calculus AB Exam Hard?

AP Calculus AB is known to be more challenging compared to non-AP Calculus courses. The reason for this increased difficulty is that AP courses are designed to provide an introductory college-level education, while regular high school courses remain at the high school level.

When compared to other AP courses, the passing rate for AP Calculus AB is considered relatively average within the entire AP course catalog, and knowing the best way to study for the exam will be extremely important.

For the 2022 testing year, approximately 55.7% of students who took the AP Calculus AB exam achieved a passing score of 3 or higher. The mean score for the same year was 2.91.

In contrast, for the 2021 testing year, around 51.0% of students who attempted the AP Calculus AB exam earned a passing score of 3 or higher. The mean score for that year was 2.77.

These statistics provide valuable insights into the performance of students in AP Calculus AB and highlight the challenges and opportunities for improvement in mastering this demanding subject.

Explaining the 2022 AP Calculus AB Scores

In the 2022 AP Calculus BC exam, the passing rate stands at an impressive 76.9%, and the mean score is 3.68. These figures are notably higher compared to the passing rate and average score of the AP Calculus AB exam. However, it is essential to consider that typically, about twice as many students opt to take the AP Calculus AB exam annually compared to those who take the AP Calculus BC exam.

This difference in testing pool size implies that only students who have shown a strong aptitude for and interest in Calculus tend to take the AP Calculus BC exam. On the other hand, a larger and more diverse group of students takes the AP Calculus AB exam, some of whom may not possess the same level of strength or enthusiasm for advanced mathematics. Consequently, the lower passing rate for AP Calculus AB can mostly be attributed to the broader range of students taking the exam, leading to varying levels of preparedness and interest in the subject.

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