Is AP Calculus AB Hard? A Complete Guide

How difficult is the AP Calculus AB exam? Discover what to expect in an AP Calculus AB course and learn how the math test is scored.
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  • AP Calculus AB is a college-level course you can enroll in while in high school.
  • Students must complete prerequisite math classes, like precalculus.
  • The average pass rate of AP Calculus AB exams is lower than that of all other AP exams.
  • You can earn college math credit for passing the AP Calculus AB exam.

Each year, thousands of students enroll in AP courses and sit through hours-long AP exams. AP courses provide students an opportunity to earn college credit while still in high school. Unlike dual enrollment, AP courses are typically taught by teachers who already work at your high school.

Learn more about what the AP Calculus AB course and exam cover and whether AP Calc is considered one of the hardest AP classes. is an advertising-supported site. Featured or trusted partner programs and all school search, finder, or match results are for schools that compensate us. This compensation does not influence our school rankings, resource guides, or other editorially-independent information published on this site.

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What Does AP Calculus AB Cover?

AP Calculus AB is an advanced math class that requires students to think deeply about math problems and concepts.

The course combines the tangible math equations and concepts of algebra and trigonometry with the theorems and methods of geometry. Students learn to use definitions and various math concepts to solve problems and justify their reasoning.

You'll also solve complex problems with multiple steps that integrate multiple formulas and theorems. AP Calculus AB typically requires you to use a graphing calculator to solve problems.

Specific content covered in AP Calculus AB includes the following:

  • Understanding limits and continuity
  • Definition and fundamental properties of differentiation
  • Functions and differentiation
  • Contextual and analytical applications of differentiation
  • Integration and differential equations

What Determines the Difficulty of AP Calculus AB? 3 Key Factors

AP courses are rigorous, but just how challenging are they? There are several factors to consider before you enroll in an AP course, including AP Calculus AB.

Though course and exam difficulty are subjective, pass rate, course materials, and your personal academic strengths can help you determine how difficult AP Calculus AB might be for you.

The Pass Rate

Although difficulty varies based on each individual students' strengths and level of preparation, an AP exam's pass rate can give a general overview of how difficult that particular course may be. In 2021, about 71% of test-takers passed AP exams with a score of 3 or higher.

AP Calculus AB students had a pass rate around 61%. Because the pass rate of the AP Calculus AB exam is lower than the average pass rate across all AP classes, you could infer AP Calculus AB is more difficult than some others.

AP Psychology Exam Pass Rates
AP Class/Exam Pass Rate (3 or Higher) Perfect Score (5)
AP Calculus AB 61.4% 19.5%
All AP Classes 71.13% 19.57%

Source: College Board

However, the percentage of those who scored a perfect score of 5 for AP Calculus AB is almost identical to those who earned a perfect score on all other AP exams. This supports that how challenging a course is will be dependent on many factors, including who teaches the class.

The Course Material

Because AP courses are taught by high school teachers, the pace and curriculum of the AP Calculus AB class is often partly determined by the individual educator. That said, the AP Calculus AB material is meant to replicate a college-level calculus course.

Typically, AP courses move at an accelerated rate to keep the pace with a college curriculum. Students should also expect to spend more time outside class working on concepts.

Your Subject Skills

The difficulty of AP Calculus AB also depends on your unique skills and strengths. AP Calc AB builds on various math concepts and requires you to bring those concepts together to solve problems.

On top of having a strong understanding of math, students should possess high reasoning and justification skills. You'll also need to know how to use a graphing calculator.

When Should You Take AP Calculus AB?

Before planning your schedule, check with your high school to see whether it has any policies on when you can take AP courses. Some schools may require you to be in your junior or senior year before taking an AP class.

AP Calculus AB builds upon several mathematical concepts. Typically, prerequisite classes include algebra, geometry, trigonometry, and precalculus. Because of these foundational math courses, taking AP Calculus AB before your senior year may be challenging.

Consider your projected 11th and 12th grade schedules to determine when would be the best time for you to take AP Calculus AB. Factor in any other AP courses you may want to enroll in and your entire course load.

AP Calculus AB Exam: What You Need to Know

The AP Calculus AB exam has a specific structure and grading procedure. Keep reading to find out more about what to expect from the test and scoring trends.

AP Calculus AB
Exam Score Number of Students Percentage of Students
5 52,005 19.5%
4 55,754 20.9%
3 55,923 21.0%
2 64,111 24.1%
1 38,637 14.5%

Source: College Board

How Is the AP Calculus AB Exam Structured?

The AP Calculus AB exam has two sections and each of these sections entails two parts:

  • Section I (Part A): 30 Multiple-Choice Questions (60 Minutes)
  • Section I (Part B): 15 Multiple-Choice Questions (45 Minutes)
  • Section II (Part A): 2 Free-Response Questions (30 Minutes)
  • Section II (Part B): 4 Free-Response Questions (60 Minutes)

Section I Part A has 30 multiple-choice questions and gives test-takers an hour to complete. Students may not use a calculator in Section I Part A.

Section I Part B has 15 multiple-choice questions. For this, students have 45 minutes to answer all questions. You're also permitted to use a graphic calculator.

For Section II Part A, you'll get 30 minutes to answer two free-response questions with a graphing calculator. Section II Part B comprises four free-response questions and lasts an hour. Test-takers are not allowed to use a calculator on Part B.

How Is the AP Calculus AB Exam Scored?

AP exams are scored on a scale of 1-5, with 5 being the highest. A score of 3 or higher is considered passing.

Both Section I and Section II of the AP Calculus AB exam are weighted 50% of the total score. Students are not penalized extra for wrong or blank answers.

Potential test-takers would need to be confident with both multiple-choice and free-response questions. The free-response questions do not require an essay but are complex problems.

How the AP Calculus AB Exam is Scored
Section 1 50%
Part A: Multiple-Choice Questions 33.3%
Part B: Multiple-Choice Questions 16.7%
Section 2 50%
Part A: 2 Free-Response Questions 16.7%
Part B: 4 Free-Response Questions 33.3%

Source: College Board

AP Calculus AB: What Score Do I Need for College Credit?

Most colleges will accept an AP Calculus AB score of 4 or 5 for some college credit. Depending on the school, you may receive more college credit for a high score; however, some schools award the same amount of credit for a score of 4 or 5.

Although a score of 3 is considered a passing score, not every college will award credit for a 3. Check with your prospective colleges to see which scores they accept for credit and how much credit you can earn with each score.

Should I Take AP Calculus AB?

Thirty-six AP courses are offered in a variety of subjects. Figuring out which AP courses you should take and how many AP courses to enroll in can be challenging. Ultimately, you have to examine your own strengths and course load to decide whether you should take AP Calculus AB.

When deciding, consider your strengths. AP Calculus combines theoretical math with a formulaic understanding of equations, functions, and differentiation. If you completed your prerequisite math classes with ease or enjoyment, AP Calculus AB could be a good course for you.

You should also weigh your long-term goals after graduation. Depending on your prospective field of study, you may find earning a college calculus credit in high school beneficial. Because AP Calculus AB is designed to emulate a college-level course in both curriculum and pace, the class can be quite challenging.

Frequently Asked Questions About AP Calculus AB

Is AP Calculus AB worth it?

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Whether or not AP Calculus AB is ultimately worth it depends on your strengths, schedule, and future plans. AP Calculus is a college-level class and, depending on your AP exam score, could provide you college credit while still in high school. This can be helpful if you decide to attend college and major in a STEM-related field.

If you're strong in mathematical concepts and able to dedicate the time needed to the course while in high school, you could benefit from taking AP Calculus AB.

Do colleges care about AP Calculus AB?

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Most public colleges award college credit for passing AP exam scores. Choosing to take an AP course, and doing well in both the class and on the AP exam, could prove you're able to handle the demands of a college curriculum.

How many credits do you get for AP Calculus AB?

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The amount of credits you can earn for AP Calculus AB varies among universities and also depends on your score. A score of 3 is considered passing; however, you're less likely to receive college credit for a 3.

Earning a 4 or 5 dramatically increases your chance of getting college credit. Some colleges may differentiate the amount of credits you receive based on the score you submit. Check with your prospective colleges to see whether they accept AP Calculus AB scores for credit and how much credit you can earn.

Feature Image: Justin Lewis / Stone / Getty Images is an advertising-supported site. Featured or trusted partner programs and all school search, finder, or match results are for schools that compensate us. This compensation does not influence our school rankings, resource guides, or other editorially-independent information published on this site.

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