Is AP Calculus BC Hard? A Complete 2022 Guide

High schoolers can take AP Calculus BC to earn college credit. Learn if this class is right for you.

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by Ellery Weil

Updated April 7, 2022

Edited by Tyler Epps
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Is AP Calculus BC Hard? A Complete 2022 Guide


For students with an aptitude for math, AP Calculus BC can be a great course to pursue during high school. But how challenging are the class and the test?

In many ways, that depends on the individual student and their circumstances. While AP Calculus BC is not considered the hardest AP class, there are many factors that contribute to what kind of experience any given student will have in the class and taking the AP exam.

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What Does AP Calculus BC Cover?

AP Calculus BC is one of two AP Calculus courses offered by the College Board, along with AP Calculus AB. AP Calculus BC is the more advanced of the two courses and is designed to build off the skills students learned in AP Calculus AB.

Because this is a very advanced course, students are expected to have a substantial math background. Learners may find it helpful to have taken AP Calculus AB before taking AP Calculus BC.

AP Calculus BC is meant to cover what a first-year college student would learn in a full-year, two-semester calculus course. The class is broken into 10 units:

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

As with all AP courses, there are a variety of different factors that determine how difficult a student might find AP Calculus BC. The main considerations are the pass rate for the course, the content of the course material, and the subject skills you'll bring with you to the course.

The Pass Rate

The pass rate of an AP exam refers to the percentage of students who earn a score of 3 or higher on the test. It's also important to note what percentage of students receive a perfect score of 5.

In 2021, 75.2% of students passed the AP Calculus BC exam with a 3 or higher, with 38.3% of students getting a perfect score of 5. This is a significantly higher pass rate than the average of all AP courses across the board.

AP Calculus BC Exam Pass Rates
AP Class/Exam Pass Rate (3 or Higher) Perfect Score (5)
AP Calculus BC 75.2%% 38.3%
All AP Classes 64.2% 16.8%

Source: College Board, 2021

With these figures in mind, there is more to determining how hard an AP class is than the pass rate. A lot of the difficulty comes down to individual factors, including the strength of the teacher in charge of the course at your school.

The Course Material

The amount and type of material covered in a course also contribute to how difficult students may find the class. A course that covers a wide variety of material may be more challenging than one that only deals with a few topics.

With 10 individual units, and a course structure meant to cover all the material in a full year of college calculus, AP Calculus BC covers a broad range of material. Students who like to take their time on new topics may find this challenging.

Your Subject Skills

One factor that can help you determine a course’s difficulty is your subject skills. Students with a strong background in and aptitude for math are likely to find AP Calculus BC easier than students with strengths in the humanities.

When deciding whether to take AP Calculus BC, think about your skillset and what your favorite courses are. Students with strong math skills may find AP Calculus BC easy.

When Should You Take AP Calculus BC?

Students typically take AP Calculus BC during their junior or senior year of high school. This is because the College Board recommends that students who take AP Calculus BC have already studied the equivalent of four years of math classes at the high school level.

Depending on what kinds of math courses you took in your first and second years of high school, as well as in middle school, you may choose to take AP Calculus BC during your junior or senior year. You may also want to consider the general stress of your junior and senior years and if you would like to take AP Calculus AB before taking AP Calculus BC.

AP Calculus BC Exam: What You Need to Know

Before you take your AP Calculus BC Exam, you will need to know the exam format, how your exam will be graded when you've completed it, and how well students tend to score on the exam. Below is a table breaking down how students scored on the AP Calculus BC Exam in 2021.

AP Calculus BC
Exam Score Number of Students Percentage of Students
5 47,744 38.3%
4 20,587 16.5%
3 25,399 20.4%
2 22,655 18.2%
1 8,214 6.6%

Source: College Board, 2021

How Is the AP Calculus BC Exam Structured?

The AP Calculus BC exam is divided into two sections, each worth 50% of your total score. Section I, which is divided into a 60-minute Part A and a 45-minute Part B, is multiple choice. You will be allowed a graphing calculator only on Part B of section 1.

Section II, which is free-response, is also divided into two parts. Part A of Section 2 is 30 minutes long, and you will be allowed a graphing calculator. Part B is 60 minutes long, and calculators are not permitted.

How Is the AP Calculus BC Exam Scored?

The AP Calculus BC exam, like all AP exams, is scored on a scale of 1-5, with 5 being the highest possible score. The multiple-choice section and the free-response section are each worth 50% of your total score.

The portions of the test where calculators are not permitted (Part A of the first section and Part B of the second section) are worth more for your total score than the portions where calculators are permitted. This means the exam may be more difficult for students who struggle with handwritten calculations.

How the AP Calculus BC Exam is Scored
Section 1 50%
Part A: 30 Multiple-Choice Questions 33.3%
Part B: 15 Multiple-Choice Questions 16.7%
Section 2 50%
Part A: 2 Free-Response Question 16.7%
Part B: 4 Free-Response Questions 33.3%

Source: College Board, 2021

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

A score of 3 on your AP Calculus BC exam is considered a passing score and is generally the lowest score colleges will award credit for. However, many colleges have policies of only awarding credit for scores of 4 or above or awarding greater amounts of credit for higher scores.

You can check online to determine your prospective colleges’ AP exam credit policies.

Should I Take AP Calculus BC?

Only you can decide whether or not to take AP Calculus BC. Before you make your decision, consider the other AP courses you plan to take and how adding AP Calculus BC could affect your schedule. You should also consider your math skills and background and if you meet the requirements to take the course.

You should also consider the AP Calculus BC program at your school. Ask students who have already taken the course about their experience — including what the teacher was like — to get a more precise idea of what you may experience in the class.

Frequently Asked Questions About AP Calculus BC

Is AP Calculus BC worth it?

Whether or not AP Calculus BC is worth it is a personal decision. If you have room in your schedule, an interest in and an aptitude for math, and have met the prerequisites to take the course, you will likely find AP Calculus BC worth it.

This is especially likely if you plan to pursue a STEM major in college. However, if you struggle with math and are already juggling multiple AP courses, you may not consider the stress of AP Calculus BC worth it for you.

Is AP Calculus AB or BC harder?

AP Calculus BC is generally considered more advanced than AP Calculus AB. Although the two classes have similar pass rates on their AP exams, the material in AP Calculus BC builds off of material covered in AP Calculus AB, which is a more introductory calculus course.

Whether you consider AP Calculus AB or AP Calculus BC harder will likely depend on your math background and whether you find it harder to learn new material or delve more thoroughly into subjects you already have some background in.

Do colleges prefer AP Calculus AB or BC?

When reviewing students' AP records, colleges will count AP Calculus AB as one semester of college-level calculus. AP Calculus BC usually counts as two semesters of college math.

For students who anticipate taking multiple math courses in college and want to get ahead in advance, AP Calculus BC may look better on your transcript than AP Calculus AB.

Moreover, AP Calculus BC will grant you more college credits than AP Calculus AB. This will allow you to take more advanced courses during your first year of college if you score well on your AP exam.

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