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5 Factors to Determine if You Should Take the AP Calculus Exam

Updated: Sep 12, 2023

Should you take the AP Calculus exam if your grade isn’t as high as you hoped? The Calculus tests were extremely challenging so do you have a chance to pass the AP Calculus exam? Consider these 5 factors.

As an AP Calculus tutor (and former AP Calculus teacher), I have a decent prediction if a student will pass the AP Calculus exam. However, there are always students who surprise me.

5 Factors in Determining if you should take the AP Calculus Exam:

1. What were your in-class test scores? If you earned A’s and B’s on class tests, you likely have a solid understanding of Calculus and will do well on the AP exam.

However, different teachers have different testing styles. Some teachers use past AP exam questions, which are much more difficult than homework/textbook questions. Earning a C on a test with all past AP Calculus exam questions is a better indicator of success on the AP exam than earning an A on a test just assessing the skills (see the example picture below).

Should Take AP Calculus Exam
Notice the difference in difficulty in a skill-based versus AP level question. If your tests were mostly AP level questions, you'll be more prepared for the AP exam, even if you earned lower test scores.

The AP exam asks some skill questions, but a lot of questions are applications that students may have never seen before. That’s why earning a 50% on the multiple-choice section of the AP Calculus AB exam often earns a 4—there’s no partial credit and the questions are difficult! This post goes into more depth about the breakdown of AP scores.

If you still have some in-class tests to take or want more practice with AP level questions, check out the 7 best resources to study for AP Calculus tests. The extra practice problems, especially these rigorous problems, may help raise your test scores and understanding of content in preparation of the AP exam.

2. Did you earn a 3 or higher on a practice AP exam? Then you should definitely take the exam since you passed the practice exam! Or if you haven't taken a practice exam, take this released AP Calculus exam.

If you want to find more practice exams, check out the best AP Calculus exam review books. Most review books have several practice tests to assess your growth and understanding.

Also, look up what score is needed on the AP exam to earn credit at your future college. If they only accept a 5, the highest score, maybe you opt out of taking the AP Calculus exam (if your test grades and practice AP exam grades aren’t high), especially if you have several other AP exams that you plan to take. AP exams require a lot of time reviewing and studying so you don’t want to spread yourself too thin.

3. What are your future college plans?

Will you take the credit for passing the AP exam and skip Calculus I (and possibly Calculus II), or still retake those classes? If you’ll take the credit, then take the exam.

Some students prefer to retake Calculus I in college even if they passed the AP exam because they want to ensure a solid foundation for their engineering or math-based degree. As a past AP Calculus teacher and also a Calculus I professor, I think the AP Calculus exam is more difficult than Calculus I exams, so doing well on the AP exam is a clear indicator of a solid Calculus foundation. But the option is still yours! If this is the case, you don’t need to take the AP exam.

Not pursuing a math-based degree? Is earning credit for Calculus going to count towards graduation requirements if Calculus isn’t required? If not, don’t take the exam.

4. How much time will you dedicate to studying for the AP Calculus exam? This is the factor that leads some students to pass the AP exam, the ones that I may have predicted otherwise. Putting in extra time, you can pass the AP exam even if your past test scores weren’t great. There is hope in dedicating time and hard work to studying!

Check out a 4-week study plan along with tips to pass the AP Calculus exam. I recommend studying an hour a day, starting the beginning of April.

5. How you use your study time can make a big impact on passing the AP exam. If you start reviewing early, review concepts that were challenging for you, and see if they make more sense the second time through. (Pro tip: skip optimization as the questions take too long to solve and are rarely assessed on the AP exam). If you’re short on time, focus on the topics you know. Then when you’re taking the exam, answer all of the questions you know first.

Need to review key content and fill in gaps in understanding? Get an AP Calculus tutor or find a Calculus study group for additional support.

Or if you aren’t sure what to review, join me in Calculus Crew. In the group sessions, we review the key concepts in AP Calculus, practice past AP exam questions, and even go over my free response predictions for the exam each year. This will help streamline your studies to focus on what’s most important with the limited time before the AP Calculus exam.

Don’t let fear keep you from taking the AP Calculus exam. You only have an opportunity to pass the exam if you take it!

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