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The Ultimate Study Plan to Pass the AP Calculus Exam

The AP exam is approaching--do you have a study plan? Outlined is a 1 month study plan to pass the AP Calculus exam, which can be abbreviated with less time.




It was my first year teaching AP® Calculus. My classes finished the curriculum at the beginning of April and I was excited to have a full month to review for the AP® exam. Until I opened my storage cabinet of resources.

If you sat through AP® Calculus this year, you likely accumulated hundreds of pages of notes, activities, and assessments. You may have multiple notebooks covering the immense curriculum!

Where do you start in preparing for the upcoming AP® exam? Should you get a review book? Should you review topic by topic or just take practice tests? Should you even take the AP Calculus exam?

My eyes grew wide as the doors of the storage cabinet opened. I wondered how the previous Calculus teacher even maneuvered the dozens of books, flashcards, and boxes into the cabinet. For several minutes, I stared into the storage closet. Not only were there dozens of workbooks and textbooks, but there were also multiple versions and publishers of each. Where to begin?



Study Plan AP Calculus
Okay, it wasn’t this many books but this is how overwhelmed I felt (Photo by Carles Rabada)

When I finally overcame the paralysis of overwhelm, I grabbed several resources and spread them across a large table. I started skimming through the resources to identify which ones were most useful.


I could imagine how confused a student would be trying to identify the best approach to studying for the AP® Calculus exam!

In this article, I’ll take the guesswork out of studying for the exam. I’ll provide a sample study plan to help you pass the AP® Calculus exam.




Study Plan for the AP® Calculus Exam

There are two different approaches to preparing for the AP® Calculus exam: some students should review topic by topic and others should just practice Calculus problems, especially past exam questions.

Which is best for you? That depends on how you performed on chapter tests throughout the year.

If you earned an A or B on every test and feel you have a solid understanding of the Calculus curriculum, I would suggest jumping in to practice problems. You don’t really need to buy a review book. Master Math Mentor has great resources to help you pass the AP® Calculus exam; I suggest starting with his Demystifying the AP exam problems.

If you don’t feel confident in every topic, I would suggest going back and reviewing topic by topic. Review books are set up in this manner, starting with limits and progressing through derivatives and integrals (and series if you’re in BC). If you’re interested in buying a review book, see my suggestions for the best AP® Calculus review book.


Or, to save money, you can use your textbook (if you prefer a physical book) or the Calculus Problem Book (if you’re okay with online resources—I personally think these problems are better aligned with the rigor of the AP exam than most textbooks). If you want videos to help you review, I suggest Flipped Math. They have videos, practice problems, and solutions so you can go topic by topic and take the unit tests.


Regardless of the study method you choose, outlined below is a sample study plan for the month before the exam. This ensures you cover the entire AP Calculus curriculum.


If you don’t have a full month before the AP exam, or if you are taking several AP exams so you don’t have 5 hours a week to dedicate to exam review, skip the practice test in Week 1. It’s nice to have that baseline score to see if it is what you expected or if you need to spend more time reviewing over the next month. But if you’re crunched on time, jump into the review of key topics.


Also, this study plan is for students who may not have any review time in class. If you are reviewing in your AP Calculus class, your teacher may have a different order of reviewing topics, so you could just do the practice test and free response practice outside of class.


AP Calculus AB Study Plan (1 month)

Week 1: Take a practice test and score yourself. See where you stand on your understanding of Calculus and how much time you can expect for each of the multiple choice and free response sections. If you notice you missed several questions on integrals, for example, go back and review that topic first. If your scores on the calculator portions weren’t as high as the non-calculator portions, ask your teacher or hire an AP Calculus tutor to teach you how to effectively and efficiently use your calculator.


Review Limits (including definition of derivative and L’Hospital’s Rule) and Derivative Rules (power, product, quotient, chain, trigonometry, inverse trigonometry, logarithms, exponential functions, implicit differentiation, and equation of tangent line).


Week 2: Review Applications of Derivatives (minimums/maximums, points of inflection, linearization, Intermediate Value Theorem, Extreme Value Theorem, and Mean Value Theorems). Notes: optimization and related rates are minimally assessed on the AP® exam so don’t get bogged down with those difficult, time-consuming problems!


Complete all 6 Free Response questions (FRQs) from last year. Be sure to check your solutions to the free response questions so you know how they’re graded.


Bonus tip: know what FRQs to expect on your exam and tips on how the FRQs are graded. In my post on How to Pass the AP Calculus exam, I noted the consistent topics on the AB exam and other tips to excel on the FRQs.



Week 3: Integration (Riemann sums, basic antiderivatives, Fundamental Theorem of Calculus, u-substitution).


Complete all 6 Free Response questions from two years ago.


Week 4: Applications of Integrals (accumulation rates, average value, area, volume, differential equations, particle motion).



AP Calculus BC Study Plan (1 month)

Week 1: Take a practice test and score yourself. See where you stand on your understanding of Calculus and how much time you can expect for each of the multiple choice and free response sections. If you notice you missed several questions on differential equations, for example, go back and review that topic first.


Review Limits (including definition of derivative and L’Hospital’s Rule) and Derivative Rules (power, product, quotient, chain, trigonometry, inverse trigonometry, logarithms, exponential functions, implicit differentiation, equation of tangent line).


Week 2: Review Applications of Derivatives (minimums/maximums, points of inflection, linearization, Intermediate Value Theorem, Extreme Value Theorem, and Mean Value Theorems). Notes: optimization and related rates are minimally assessed on the AP® exam so don’t get bogged down with those difficult, time-consuming problems! Also review Differential Equations (slope fields, Euler’s method, solving by separating variables and integrating).

Complete all 6 Free Response questions (FRQs) from last year. Be sure to check your solutions to the free response questions so you know how they’re graded.


Bonus tip: read How to Pass the AP Calculus exam for tips to excel on the FRQs.


Week 3: Integration (Riemann sums, basic antiderivatives, Fundamental Theorem of Calculus, u-substitution, trig, integration by parts and partial fractions). Review these steps to determine which integration technique to use. Also review Applications of Integrals (accumulated rates, area, volume, differential equations, particle motion).

Complete all 6 Free Response questions from two years ago.


Week 4: Review Series, Parametric, Polar, and Vector-Valued Functions. These are the BC only topics and remember there is a series FRQ on the exam every year!

Take another practice test, from either a review book or the released exam I linked above.





You can also find more detailed, daily study plans. This link includes watching a lot of review videos, so if you need that topic by topic help, this plan really takes the guesswork out of studying. However, if you don’t have time to watch all the videos or if you feel confident overall in your Calculus understanding, I would recommend just solving problems instead.




Study Plan for Less Than 1 Month


If you only have a week or two to prepare for the AP Calculus exam, focus on reviewing the topics you know instead of relearning topics that challenged you throughout the year. Complete a practice exam (linked above for AB and BC) and solve the problems you know first. Then try some FRQs to get familiar with the grading.


Don’t spend hours staring at all your Calculus resources spread out across your table like I did. Create a study plan and stick to it. Just like with any sport or hobby, the only way to get better at something is to practice. Practicing Calculus is the best way to pass the AP® exam. And I believe you can do it.

If you're looking for individual help, join me in Calculus Crew. Calculus Crew is an online Calculus community where students meet with a veteran AP Calculus teacher twice a week for group sessions. The sessions focus on challenging test questions and incorporate previous AP exam questions to help you prepare for the AP exam. Best of luck!



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