Test Prep

Deciding Between AP Calculus AB and BC

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You want your high school transcript to be as appealing to colleges as possible — and one of the best ways to ensure that is by taking a lot of AP courses. The list of options may be lengthy, so you might be wondering what the best options are for you. Well, I suggest exploring your interests and going from there, but if you’re faced with the choice between AP Calculus AB and AP Calculus BC, the decision might not be that easily made.

These two courses have a bit of overlap — both classes will cover these concepts:


- Functions, Graphs, and Limits

- Derivatives

- Applications of Derivatives

- Integrals

- Applications of Integrals

Those five topics are what you could expect to cover in a single semester of college-level calculus. However, Calculus BC goes a step further, providing you with three additional concepts:

- Polynomial Approximation and Series

- Series of Constants

- Taylor Series

Those three topics are what you could expect to cover in a second semester of college-level calculus. With that in mind, here’s a breakdown of how that can affect your classroom experience.

More Content, More Classroom Time

In general, schools have the AP Calculus BC course move at a much faster pace to account for the extra material. However, moving quickly isn’t always in the best interest of the students; in this case, the schools may add additional course time by spreading it over two class periods.

Be wary of both situations. If the class is accelerated, you may have to spend more time on homework or on studying, which can eat into the time you would spend on other courses (or might occupy a chunk of your summer!). If the class is split across two periods, you might not have time to take some of the other courses that you want on your transcript. In these instances, the AB might be the better choice for you. On the other hand, if you’re interested in covering more advanced math concepts while you’re still in high school, the extra time devoted to BC may be more to your liking.

More Content, More College Credit — Sometimes

There’s one more factor to consider when choosing between the two courses, and that’s how your prospective college will treat your score. It’s important to find out whether you’ll end up with any more college credit for taking BC as opposed to AB, and if so, what scores you’d need to get on either test. As with any AP course, the credit you receive will come down to your scores on the AP exam associated with your class.

Some schools treat the tests interchangeably, awarding the same credit for a 5 on the AB exam as they would for a 5 on the BC exam. Other schools may consider BC applicants more favorably for math, engineering, natural sciences or pre-med studies. A good score in AB is likely to go further than a bad score in BC, which is why it’s important to know what you need, and that you feel comfortable going for it, before you choose to take a harder, more time-intensive course.

This is why it’s useful to start your college research early! Talk to your high school advisor about the specifics of the schools you’re considering. Then, once you know which way you’re leaning, get a head start on prepping for your exam with either our book Cracking the AP Calculus AB Exam or Cracking the AP Calculus BC Exam.