Should I Take the AP Calculus AB or BC Exam?

So you’re planning to take an AP Calculus exam. But which one is right for you, the Calculus AB or BC version? In this article, you’ll see the similarities and differences so that you can decide which one is the test for you.

Should I take the AP Calculus AB or BC exam?

AP Calculus AB or BC? That is the question.

What’s the Difference?

Broadly speaking, the BC test covers more material than the AB does. This means that the BC test may be worth more college credit or equivalency if you score high enough on the exam.

On the other hand, it would be easier to score a 4 or 5 on the AB test than the BC test. So this is a tough decision!

Content of the Exams

Everything that the AB test covers also shows up on the BC test (Big Ideas 1-3). In addition, there are further topics to study in order to succeed on the BC (Big Idea 4).

  • Big Idea 1. Limits and Behavior of Functions (AB and BC)
  • Big Idea 2. Derivatives and their Applications (AB and BC)
  • Big Idea 3. Integrals and their Applications (AB and BC)
  • Big Idea 4. Sequences and Series (BC only)

The BC exam also covers parametric, polar, and vector functions as well as more advanced integration techniques.

For a more detailed list of topics for each exam, check out the following links:


young girl studying

Study, study, study! Both the AP Calculus AB and BC exams are very challenging!

AP Credits

For the majority of schools that offer college credits for high scores on the AP Calculus exams, the rule of thumb is that the AB exam counts as one semester of calculus, while the BC exam counts as two.

However this is not a hard and fast rule. In fact, every college and university sets its own policy. Some schools only give equivalency, meaning that a student may qualify to skip a pre-requisite for their major based on their AP scores.

For more details, take a look at the following helpful post: What is a Good AP Calculus Exam Score?

Similarities Between the Tests

Ok so now that you know a little more about what sets these two exams apart, let’s talk about their similarities.

First of all, the format is pretty much the same. They are both standardized tests with two main sections, multiple choice and free response. Furthermore, each section consists of two parts, calculator permitted and no calculator.

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

Secondly, no matter which test you plan to take, you’ll have to spend quite a bit of time and effort in prepping.

I recommend getting a good test-prep book and starting early, perhaps using this 3-Month AP Calculus Exam Study Guide.

Summary — AP Calculus AB or BC?

Depending on your goals and your level of preparation, you will have to choose which AP Calculus test is right for you.

For more discussion about the tests, check out the following article: What’s the Difference between the AP Calculus AB and BC tests?

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  • 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!

By the way, Magoosh can help you study for both the SAT and ACT exams. Click here to learn more!

2 Responses to Should I Take the AP Calculus AB or BC Exam?

  1. Dana June 17, 2018 at 8:29 pm #

    Can you take both AP Calculus AB exam and BC???

    • David Recine
      David Recine June 26, 2018 at 1:04 pm #

      You can take both, although you aren’t allowed to take AB and BC together int he same year (See the College Board’s rules on that.) So you’d need to spend two years taking the tests, which is a disadvantage. The other disadvantage is that BC is merely an extension of AB. So if you take both tests, you’ve taken everything in AB twice, without getting any extra course credit for it. you only get additional course credit for the parts of Calc BC that are not also in the AB test.

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