Shaun Ault

How Long is the AP Calculus Exam?

In this short article, we discus the AP Calculus exam length. We’ll also see a few tips for budgeting your time on the test.

AP Calculus exam length

AP Calculus Exam Length

The whole test takes 3 hours and 15 minutes, but it is broken up into two large sections (usually with a short break in between). Each section, in turn, consists of two parts.

Section / PartType of questionsNumber of questionsTime LimitCalculator permitted?
IAMultiple Choice3060 minutesNo
IBMultiple Choice1545 minutesYes
IIAFree Response230 minutesYes
IIBFree Response460 minutesNo

Budgeting Your Time

Time is money, as they say. It’s essential to budget your time on the AP Calculus exam. By keeping track of how long each problem takes, you can decide when to skip a question.

First of all, let’s figure out how long a typical question ought to take. This depends on the section and type of problem.

On the test, You can time yourself with a wristwatch that has a second hand. In fact, most digital watches have a built-it stopwatch feature.

Wrist watch with stopwatch - License: CC-BY-SA 3.0

Many wrist watches have a stopwatch feature. They can be fairly cheap or incredibly expensive, so shop around. Photo by Nssbm117.

Multiple Choice Questions

  • Section IA. 60 minutes ÷ 30 problems = 2 minutes per problem.
  • Section IB. 45 minutes ÷ 15 problems = 3 minutes per problem.

As you can see from the chart above, you have 2 minutes per problem in the no calculator section and 3 minutes per problem on the calculator section. So if you find yourself spending 4 minutes or more on any given question, it’s time to move on.

Free Response Questions

  • Section IIA. 30 minutes ÷ 2 problems = 15 minutes per problem.
  • Section IIB. 60 minutes ÷ 4 problems = 15 minutes per problem.

The free response questions will take a lot longer to work out. There are two reasons for this. Firstly, each question has 3-4 parts that must be addressed. Secondly, you must show your work.

The graders are looking for specific steps in each part of a free response question. Of course, it takes time for you to brainstorm a correct approach and then write down the work involved.

Notice that the number of problems is vastly smaller in this section as well. You only have to work on 6 problems total!

In contrast to the multiple choice questions, I recommend working out a free response question from beginning to end, even if it takes you more than 15 minutes. A complete solution to one question looks much better (and may be worth more points) than partial work in multiple problems.

Conclusion

Now that you know what to expect on test day, how will you prepare? I recommend getting a stopwatch and practicing problems from a real AP Calculus exam. Carefully keep track of your timing, taking note how much time was spent on each problem. At first, don’t move on to the next problem until you have exhausted all of your ideas. Then you can look back and see which problems took you the longest and take steps to catch up on that material.

About Shaun Ault

Shaun earned his Ph. D. in mathematics from The Ohio State University in 2008 (Go Bucks!!). He received his BA in Mathematics with a minor in computer science from Oberlin College in 2002. In addition, Shaun earned a B. Mus. from the Oberlin Conservatory in the same year, with a major in music composition. Shaun still loves music -- almost as much as math! -- and he (thinks he) can play piano, guitar, and bass. Shaun has taught and tutored students in mathematics for about a decade, and hopes his experience can help you to succeed!


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