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Advanced Placement

Is AP Calculus AB Hard? A Complete Guide [2024]

Written by Apoorvaa Agarwal

Updated on: 08 Jul 2024


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  • AP Calculus AB is the 12th hardest AP class due to it’s rigorous course.
  • Covers topics such as limits, derivatives, and integrals.
  • Average pass rate of AP Calculus AB exam is approximately 54%
  • AP Calculus AB Exam includes multiple-choice and free-response questions.
  • AP Calculus AB has a difficulty rating of 5.5 out of 10 by class alumnae.

Is AP Calculus AB hard?

Yes, based on a reddit survey of class alumni AP Calculus AB course is considered to have a moderate level of difficulty, with an overall rating of 5.5 out of 10. This makes AP Calculus AB the 12th most difficult AP course out of the 28 large AP classes surveyed.

Opinions on difficulty can vary when comparing AP Calculus AB to other AP subjects. Some students find subjects such as AP Physics or AP Chemistry to be more challenging than AP Calculus AB due to the complexity of the material or the level of mathematical rigor required.

Overall, AP Calculus AB can be a difficult course. Still, it also offers high school students a great chance to hone their critical thinking and problem-solving abilities, which will be useful to them in college and beyond.

What are the topics covered in the AP Calculus AB exam?

The following are the important units covered with their weightage in the AP Calculus AB exam:

Units CoveredExam Weightage (MCQ)
Unit 1: Limits and Continuity10-12%
Unit 2: Differentiation: Definition and Fundamental Properties10-12%
Unit 3: Differentiation: Composite, Implicit, and Inverse Functions09-13%
Unit 4: Contextual Application of Differentiation10-15%
Unit 5: Analytical Application of Differentiation15-18%
Unit 6: Integration and Accumulation of Change17-20%
Unit 7: Differential Equations06-12%
Unit 8: Application of Integrals10-15%
Topics covered in AP Calculus AB

Exam Tip: Each topic in AP Calculus AB, from limits and continuity to differential and integral calculus, presents its own set of complexities. Our expert-vetted tutors specialize in these areas, offering personalized support. Achieve a thorough understanding of every subject with our expert AP Calculus AB Tutoring.

What determines the difficulty of AP Calculus AB? 5 key factors

Different students and teachers may have varying opinions on the difficulty of AP Calculus AB. Some factors that can influence the level of difficulty of the course include:

1. Student’s math background

A student’s prior mathematical knowledge and experience can significantly impact their ability to understand and succeed in AP Calculus AB. Students who have taken advanced math courses such as geometry, algebra 2, and pre-calculus will have a better foundation of mathematical concepts.

They may find the course less challenging than students who have yet to take these courses.

2. Teacher’s teaching style

The teacher’s teaching style can also play a significant role in the perceived difficulty of the course. Book a free trial lesson with our expert online AP Calculus AB tutors and prepare for your exams.

Teachers skilled at breaking down complex concepts into manageable pieces, providing clear examples, and offering additional support may make the course feel more manageable to students.

3. Student’s study habits

The level of effort and dedication a student puts into studying for the course can also affect the perceived difficulty of AP Calculus AB.

Students who are diligent in their studies, set aside enough time to complete assignments, and seek out additional resources, such as tutoring or online materials, may find the course more manageable than students who do not prioritize their studies.

4. Personal interest

Students with a personal interest in the subject matter may find the course easier and more enjoyable than those who do not have a strong interest in mathematics.

5. Test-taking skills

The AP Calculus AB exam format, which includes multiple-choice and free-response questions, may be challenging for some students who struggle with test-taking skills. Overall, while AP Calculus AB is a challenging course, motivated, disciplined, and dedicated students can succeed and gain a deeper understanding of calculus and its applications.

What is the AP Calculus AB exam structure?

The AP Calculus AB exam is divided into two sections: multiple-choice questions and free-response questions.

Section ANo. of QuestionsTypes of questionsTime AllocatedExam weightage
Multiple-choice questions(MCQs)Part A:30 questionsQuestions include algebraic, exponential, logarithmic,trigonometric, and general types of functions.60 mins33.30%
Multiple-choice questions(MCQs)Part B:15 questionsQuestions include analytical, graphical, tabular, and verbal types of representations.45 mins16.70%
TOTAL45 questions105 mins50%
Section A

**Calculator is only allowed for Part B, not Part A.

Section BNo.of questionsTypes of questionsTime allocatedExam weightage
Free response questions(FDRs)Part A:2 questionsQuestions include various types of functions and function representations and a roughly equal mix of procedural and conceptual tasks.30 mins16.70%
Free response questions(FDRs)Part B:4 questionsQuestions include at least 2 questions that incorporates a real-world context or scenario into the question.60 mins33.30%
TOTAL6 questions90 mins50%
Section B

***Calculator is only allowed for Part A, not Part B.
College Board

How are the AP Calculus AB exams scored?

The scoring system for AP Exams is based on a scale from 1 to 5, with 5 being the highest score.

The scores are determined by a combination of the student’s performance on the multiple-choice questions and the free-response questions.

The multiple-choice section accounts for 50% of the total score, while the free-response section accounts for the remaining 50%.

  • A score of 5 indicates that the student is extremely well-prepared for college-level calculus and has a thorough and firm understanding of the subject matter.
  • A score of 4 indicates that the student is well-qualified and prepared for college-level calculus and has a good understanding of the subject matter.
  • A score of 3 indicates that the student is adequately prepared for college-level calculus and has a basic understanding of the subject matter.
  • A score of 2 indicates that the student is not adequately prepared for college-level calculus and has a limited understanding of the subject matter.
  • A score of 1 indicates that the student has little or no understanding of the subject matter and is not prepared for college-level calculus.

AP Calculus AB Score Distribution:

The AP score distribution is a statistical representation of how students performed on each AP exam. It shows the percentage of students who earned each score (1, 2, 3, 4, or 5) in a given year.

AP Calculus AB score distribution for 2022 is as below:

Exam ScoreNo. of studentsPercentage of students
AP Calculus AB Score Distribution 2022

AP Calculus AB Credit Policy:

Different colleges and universities have different policies regarding AP exam scores and credit. Some may award college credit for an AP Calculus AB score of 4 or 5, while others may require a higher score or may not award credit at all.

For details refer to our AP Calculus AB Credit Policy Guide

AP Calculus AB Exam Pass Rate and Mean Score Trends (2013-2022)

The AP Calculus AB exam is known for being challenging, and its pass rate is typically lower than other AP exams, though it can vary from year to year.

For year-on-year data, refer to the AP Calculus AB Pass Score Trends Graph below:

Pass Score of AP Calculus AB
Pass score trends of the AP Calculus AB exam

Note that the College Board does not officially classify 3 as a passing score.

Notably the average pass rate across all AP exams has been consistently higher than AP Calculus AB across these 10 years.

As an example for 2022, the AP average pass rate stands at 60.2% while that of AP Calculus is 55.7%.

Another way to evaluate the difficulty of an AP exam is to look at the mean scores of the subject relative to overall mean scores for all AP exams.

In 2022, the mean score of AP Calculus AB is 2.91 which is higher than the average mean score of all subjects 2.92.

The mean score for AP Calculus AB is consistently higher than the mean score for all subjects. This indicates that AP Calculus is among the most difficult AP Courses.

Refer year on year AP Physics 1 Mean Score Trend Graph below:

Mean Score Trends of the AP Calculus AB exam

However, despite its difficulty, the exam is very popular, with over 251,639 and 268,352 students taking it in 2021 and 2022 respectively.

Therefore, despite the lower pass rate, students passionate about pursuing careers in mathematics, science, engineering, and other quantitative fields should still consider taking AP Calculus AB.

How to study for the AP Calculus AB exam?

Preparing for the AP Calculus AB test requires dedication, discipline, and a structured approach. Here are some tips on how to study effectively for the exam:

  1. Review the course material: Before diving into the exam preparation, make sure to review the course material thoroughly. Review the textbook chapters, lecture notes, and lab reports.
  2. Practice problems: Practice problems are key to mastering the concepts and skills needed for the exam. Use the review materials provided by your teacher or textbook, or seek out additional resources online.
  3. Create flashcards: Flashcards can be a great way to memorize key concepts, equations, and terminology. Make a set of flashcards with important information and review them frequently.
  4. Join study groups: Study groups can provide an opportunity to work through challenging material with peers. Meet with other students to review material, discuss concepts, and work on practice problems together.
  5. Take practice exams: Practice exams can help you get familiar with the format and structure of the actual AP Calculus AB test. Use past AP Calculus AB Exams or practice tests from online resources.
  6. Seek out additional resources: There are many online resources available to help students prepare for the AP Calculus AB Exam. Consider using online review materials, video tutorials, and online study groups. Some popular AP Calculus AB exam prep resources include
  7. Take 1-1 private tuitions: The Wiingy AP Calculus AB tutoring program adheres completely to the AP Calculus AB course outline. The platform has expert AP Calculus AB tutors who can help you with concepts, coursework homework help, and test-prep to help you get a top grade on the exam

Power Tip: Refer to the Wiingy AP Calculus AB Exam Guide for detailed information on the AP Calculus AB Exam and strategies to ace the test.

Remember, effective studying requires consistent effort over time. Start preparing early, stay focused, and stay positive.

In summary

In summary, AP Calculus AB is considered to have a moderate level of difficulty, with a rating of 5.5 out of 10 based on a survey of class alumni. It ranks as the 12th most difficult AP course out of the 28 large AP classes surveyed. In 2021 and 2022, the pass rates for the exam were 51% and 55.7% respectively, indicating that over half of the students achieved a passing score of 3 or higher. The mean score for AP Calculus AB is 2.91.

Compared to other AP exams, AP Calculus AB has a lower pass rate, with the average pass rates across all AP exams in those years being 63.7% and 66% respectively. Nevertheless, it remains a highly popular exam, with over 251,639 and 268,352 students taking it in 2021 and 2022 respectively.

The distribution of AP Calculus AB scores remained relatively consistent between 2017 and 2020, but there was a significant decrease in the pass rate in 2021 followed by an increase in 2022.

Frequently asked questions (FAQs)

What is the hardest unit in AP Calculus AB?

According to the College Board’s data, the Composite, Implicit, and Inverse Functions unit is considered the most challenging for students in the multiple-choice section of the AP Calculus AB exam. Approximately 11% of students received a score of zero on questions related to this unit in the AP Calculus AB exam 2022.

Is AP Calculus AB or AP Statistics harder?

According to the College Board, AP Calculus AB and AP Statistics are both classified as moderately difficult AP courses. However, in 2022, the overall passing rate for AP Calculus AB was 55.7%, while the overall passing rate for AP Statistics was 60.5%. This suggests that AP Calculus AB is generally considered harder, based on the pass rates. However, it’s important to note that individual experiences may vary, and personal strengths and weaknesses should also be considered when choosing between the two courses.

Is AP Calculus AB harder than BC?

The pass rate of AP Calculus BC is 41% compared to 20% of AP Calculus AB making it easier in terms of scoring. AP Calculus BC is a more advanced course and requires a stronger foundation in calculus concepts compared to AP Calculus AB and is designed to build upon the skills students learned in AP Calculus AB. Students are expected to have a strong math background due to the course’s advanced nature. It may be beneficial for students to have taken AP Calculus AB before enrolling in AP Calculus BC.

Should I skip Calc AB and take BC?

It depends on your math background and level of preparation. If you have a strong foundation in pre-calculus and feel comfortable with the concepts covered in AB, it may be feasible to skip AB and go directly to BC. However, if you feel uncertain or unprepared, it is recommended to take AB first. Ultimately, the decision should be based on an assessment of your abilities and goals.

What is AP Calculus AB equivalent to?

AP Calculus AB is equivalent to a first-semester college calculus course. If a student successfully passes the AP Calculus AB exam, they may be able to receive college credit or placement in a second-semester calculus course. The course covers limits, derivatives, integrals, and their applications, preparing students for college-level mathematics courses.


  1. https://www.bestcolleges.com/resources/ap-calculus-ab/
  2. https://examstudyexpert.com/is-ap-calculus-hard-easy/
  3. https://soflotutors.com/is-ap-calculus-ab-hard/
  4. https://apcentral.collegeboard.org/media/pdf/ap-calculus-ab-and-bc-course-and-exam-description.pdf
  5. https://files.eric.ed.gov/fulltext/EJ1034751.pdf

Written by by

Apoorvaa Agarwal

Reviewed by by

Priyanshi Agrawal

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