Figure out the best AP® Calculus review book for your unique strengths and weaknesses in order to pass the AP® Calculus exam.
After a long, chilly winter bundled up in heavy sweaters, scarves, and gloves, spring is finally here! The warmer weather is accompanied with chirping birds, longer days, and daydreams of beach vacations and summertime cookouts to come.
For teachers and students, spring brings a different thought to mind: standardized tests. Especially with the AP® Calculus exam, students have a major hurdle to jump before they can enjoy summer break.
The exam is difficult, covering concepts throughout the year at a challenging level. In fact, first determine if you should take the AP Calculus exam.
Once you decide the AP exam is beneficial, think back to your study habits. Did you memorize everything right before the class test and forget it a week later? If so, you may need a comprehensive review of the entire year with some tips on how to pass Calculus. Sure, you can go back through your notes from the fall, winter, and spring but can you recognize the most important concepts?
A review book may be what you need to prepare for the upcoming AP® Calculus exam.
Which review book to choose? The best review book for you may not be the same review book your classmate is using. There's not a one-size-fits-all answer. See which question below resonates most with your needs.
Does you need a review of each topic before you solve practice problems?
If so, I’d suggest Barron’s AP Calculus.
· Topic by topic review including practice questions at the end of chapters
· Contains a diagnostic test and 6 practice tests which resemble AP® questions
· Great understanding of AB vs BC topics and topics that aren't assessed on the AP® exam but generally part of the Calculus curriculum
Con: Most of the explanations of answers and justifications are clear, but some justifications wouldn't be accepted on the free response portion of the AP® exam. For example, in justifying a relative maximum, the book says, "f changes from increasing to decreasing" where you need a Calculus justification using a derivative such as "f' changes from positive to negative."
Were you successful (earning an A or B) on all chapter tests?
If so, I would suggest taking several practice tests to study. This will give you a good feel for the variety of questions asked on the AP® Calculus exam.
The best, and admittedly most challenging, review book for practice test is Preparing for the AB Calculus Examination by Best and Lux (BC Calculus version available too).
Pro: Successfully solving the problems in their practice tests will make the AP® Calculus exam seem easy.
· There is no topic-by-topic review, only practice tests.
· Since the questions are difficult, unsuccessful attempts may hurt students’ self-esteem.
· Some of the free response questions aren’t like the AP® exam. You could always skip the book’s free response questions and just practice old AP® Calculus free response questions. Check out the free response questions after exam changes in 2016 as well.
Are multiple choice questions difficult for you?
Rita Korsunsky offers a solution: Multiple Choice Questions to Prepare for the AP Calculus AB Exam (BC Calculus version too). She is an award-winning teacher whose students have a 100% pass rate on the AP® Calculus exam, with 94% earning a 5.
See the pros and cons of this review book.
Do you want an additional resource?
Rogawski’s Calculus for AP is perfect for a student in their initial reviewing stage who wants the rigor of AP® level questions but when given a practice test, has difficulty identifying what the question is asking or what topic is being assessed. This textbook can be used as a supplemental resource to your notes, class textbook, or another review book.
Pro: Offers AP® level questions at the end of each chapter so students can see how each topic is assessed but not be overwhelmed by every topic covered at once in a practice exam.
· This is a textbook so it will go topic by topic but much more extensively than Barron’s book. In fact, I would choose Barron’s book for a review as this textbook will go too in depth for the limited time left to study.
· There are no full-length practice tests
If you're okay with digital resources instead of a physical book, there are some great free resources. I provided links and descriptions in the post: 7 best resources to study for AP Calculus.
The Ultimate Review for the AP® Calculus Exam
If you want to go above and beyond (and have at least a month to review for the AP® exam), you could pair the books for the ultimate preparation.
1. Barron or Best and Lux
2. Korsunsky or Rogawski
First, take Barron’s diagnostic test or the first exam in Best and Lux to get a baseline score.
Then, if needed, review one chapter at a time, using Barron’s book, Rogawski, or Flipped Math. As you finish the chapter, try the practice AP® problems in Rogawski’s book.
Halfway through your studying, take a practice exam in Best and Lux or Korsunsky. Even if the score isn't significantly better, this gives you an idea for the pace of the exam. Find the questions you know how to solve and finish those first.
After reviewing the entire curriculum, continue to take practice exams in Barron, Korsunsky, and/or Best and Lux’s books as time allows.
Be sure to also practice previous AP® Calculus released free response questions. Most textbooks and review books don’t ask enough questions with tables and graphs.
For a complete study plan see How to Pass the AP® Calculus Exam.
Need more help beyond an AP® Calculus review book?
Reviewing for the AP® Calculus exam doesn't have to be daunting!
If you’re having a difficult time going through the review books, an AP® Calculus tutor can make this process more manageable. Whether you’re noticing gaps in understanding or can’t figure out how to get the correct answer to a multiple-choice question, a tutor can explain concepts easier than a book (or searching endless videos trying to get an answer).
Your tutor knows your learning style and background so they can explain ideas in ways you will understand. Also, they can recognize what concepts you need to work on most, so they can save you time in directing you to certain questions.
As a former AP® Calculus teacher and now an AP® Calculus tutor, I can help you feel confident going into the AP® exam. Join Calculus Crew to review the Calculus curriculum and practice exam problems. The group sessions of Calculus Crew focus on challenging test questions and incorporate past AP exam equations, along with answering any questions students have.
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