Understanding the AP Calculus AB and BC Exams

Did you know that there are two different flavors of AP Calculus? Calculus AB and Calculus BC are two different exams of different scope. I want to discuss the Calculus AB and BC exam together today, because they share common elements.

The AB Exam and 60% of the BC exam are the same test, and students are expected to know the material at the same depth. The BC exam just includes 40% of additional calculus material

The Format of the AB/BC Exam

There are two different sections on the exam, the multiple-choice and the free-response.

Section I: 45 multiple-choice questions to be completed in 105 minutes.

Part A (55 minutes): 28 multiple-choice questions that DO NOT allow the use of a calculator.

Part B (50 minutes): 17 multiple-choice questions for which a graphing calculator is required.

Note: There is no penalty for incorrect answers on the AP Calculus multiple-choice, so you should make sure to answer every multiple choice question, even if you must guess blindly.

Section II: Six free-response questions to be completed in 90 minutes. Each question is weighed equally, but individual parts of each question aren’t necessarily given equal weight.

Part A (30 minutes): Two problems and requires the use of a graphing calculator.

Part B (60 minutes): Four with NO calculator allowed.

NOTE: During the Part B of the free-response section, students are allowed to work on problems from both Part A and Part B of the free-response section, but are not allowed to use a calculator.

The scoring of your AP exam will weigh your score in the free-response and the multiple-choice equally. For students who are taking AP Calculus BC Exam, you will receive an AB Subscore for your Calculus AB Exam. This means that you will get two scores, an AB score and a BC score. The AB portion of the BC exam is about 60%, and it is recommended by the College Board that colleges apply the same policy to the AB Subscore as to the Calculus AB score.

The important thing to note about the AB versus BC exams is: A BC student will be required to know as much Calculus AB material as an AB student, but will also have to know additional material that is unique to the BC course.



The format of the AP Calculus exam is important to know because it will help in devising a time-management strategy for taking the exam. You have roughly 2 minutes per multiple-choice question with no calculator allowed, and almost 3 minutes per calculator-based question. For the free-response you have 15 minutes per question.

It is also important note that there is plenty of time to slow down and read every question carefully and thoroughly, which is important because it’s easy to jumble up questions and misread prompts when we are nervous.

This blog post was distilled from material in the AP Calculus Course Description, if you want to know more, visit here.


About the Author

In addition to blogging about AP Calculus, Oakland resident Chris Wirick has played the oboe in Beijing and Berlin, studied math and cognitive science (the other CS) at Cal Berkeley, and can’t stop gardening, cooking and eating new foods.


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