What is the difference between AP Calculus AB and AP Calculus BC

The College Board offers AP exams in two calculus subjects: AP Calculus AB and AP Calculus BC. What differs between AP Calculus AB and AP Calculus BC? Keep reading to find out!
ap calculus

Generally speaking, both AP Calculus courses and exams are designed to be college-level calculus courses, with Pre-Calculus prerequisite. Both courses will give you opportunities for college credit. Both courses require students to profoundly understand and master calculus concepts, but BC will conduct an in-depth investigation on the calculation and application of calculus. Furthermore, BC Calculus introduces two new concepts: Parametric Equations, Polar Coordinates, and Vector-Valued Functions; as well as Infinite Sequences and Series

AP Class Details
AP Calculus AB

Course content 

  • Limits and Continuity
  • Differentiation: Definition and Fundamental Properties
  • Differentiation: Composite, Implicit, and Inverse Functions
  • Contextual Applications of Differentiation
  • Analytical Applications of Differentiation
  • Integration and Accumulation of Change
  • Differential Equations
  • Applications of Integration 

AP Calculus BC

Course content 

  • Limits and Continuity
  • Differentiation: Definition and Fundamental Properties
  • Differentiation: Composite, Implicit, and Inverse Functions
  • Contextual Applications of Differentiation
  • Analytical Applications of Differentiation
  • Integration and Accumulation of Change
  • Differential Equations
  • Applications of Integration
  • Parametric Equations, Polar Coordinates, and Vector-Valued Functions
  • Infinite Sequences and Series

Differences between the two exams
The difficulty of the AP Exam

In high school, the AP Calc BC exam is more difficult than the AP Calc AB exam because there is more content covered in the exam. Calculus AB covers about two-thirds of the first two semesters of calculus course content at American universities. Generally, Calculus AB test-takers will begin with the second-semester Calculus II class when they enter university. Calculus BC is equivalent to the first and second semesters of calculus at an American university. Calculus BC test-takers will usually begin with the third-semester Calculus III / Multivariable Calculus math class when they enter university. 

The difficulty of the tests also reflects the credit transfer of universities. For example, MIT recognizes AP Calc BC scores, and students accepted to MIT normally receive 5 points on the BC test.  

Course Pace

The content for AP Calc AB takes up a full year of study. In the meantime, AP Calc BC usually covers everything in Calculus AB in the first semester, then additional topics during the second semester. The examination times of Calculus AB and Calculus BC overlap, so within one year, students can only choose either AB or BC. 

Student preferences and needs

For students who’re planning to major in biology, chemistry, physics, mathematics, computer science, or engineering in college, AP Calculus BC is a good choice. Students with a strong mathematical foundation and are looking to major in STEM fields should considering taking AP Calc BC. If you don’t have a strong mathematical foundation or are planning to major in liberal arts, take AP Calculus AB. If you take AP Calc AB, you will still gain a calculus background that will help set you up for college math. 

Comparison of the AP score ratio between AP Calculus AB and AP Calculus BC

Below is a table showing the score distribution of the two exams in 2020. According to the data, the 5-point rate of AP Calc BC is as high as 44.2%, while AB is only 19%.  

Subject 

5 points 

4 points 

3 points 

2 minutes 

1 point 

AP Cal AB

19% 

20.4% 

20.5% 

24.1% 

16% 

AP Cal BC

44.2% 

17.4% 

19.2% 

14.4% 

4.8% 

How to choose between AP Calculus BC and AP Calculus AB?

In the following situations, you should choose AP Calc BC: 

  • You are confident about your math. 
  • You have studied and got good grades in math courses such as Pre-Calculus. 
  • You plan to major in biology, chemistry, physics, mathematics, computer science, or engineering, or other related subjects in the future. 

In the following situations, you should choose AP Calc AB: 

  • You are less confident about your math level. 
  • You want a more flexible schedule and save enough homework time for other AP subjects. 
  • You want to major in liberal arts subjects in the future that don’t require a high level of understanding of mathematics.  

Receiving AP Calculus AB & BC tutoring

Aralia’s Calculus tutors are inspired teachers and professors who are committed to student success. They are recognized in their field or are currently teaching at top high schools and colleges/universities in the US.

AP CALCULUS BC TEST PREP

Description: Improve your AP score with this AP Calculus BC course. Taught by an experienced AP Calculus teacher from Hotchkiss School, the course will review the important knowledge in the exam. In addition, the teacher will cover multiple-choice questions and free-response questions.

Project time: Rolling enrollment throughout the year, one class every weekend, 1.5 hours per class 

WHAT YOU WILL LEARN

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