Are AP Calculus AB and BC easy or hard? We reveal the AP Calculus difficulty ratings, based on a unique combination of 2023 pass rate data, and 3,160 class reviews from real AP alumnae collected by r/APStudents.

Are APs Calculus AB and BC Easy Or Hard?

AP Calculus AB and BC are considered moderate difficulty, with class alumnae rating them 5.6/10 for overall difficulty* (the joint 12th-most-difficult out of the 28 large AP classes surveyed).

*N.B. Calculus AB and BC were asked as one subject in the alumnae review, and as such have some joint ratings in the charts in this article

The two pass rates are highly contrasted. AP Calculus AB was lower than other AP classes, with 58% graduating with a 3 or higher, whereas AP Calculus BC was higher than average at 78%.

AP Calculus AB is very widely-taken (270,000 entries last year), whereas AP Calculus AB is a very small class (13,600 entries last year). 96% of students would recommend the classes.

Is AP Calculus Easy or Hard - overview graphic showing data and alumnae ratings

Although APs Calculus AB and BC are considered fairly difficult, students found them easy and enjoyable, especially with a strong grasp of the underlying concepts and regular consistent exam practice.

You can see how AP Calculus AB and BC compare to other classes for difficulty in the below chart:

chart comparing AP Calculus AB / BC 2023 alumnae review data to all other main AP classes

We’ve highlighted APs Calculus AB / BC and related math classes (Statistics) only – to see the full version of this chart, check out our article ranking ALL the AP classes from easy to hard.

You can read more about AP Statistics here.

How Difficult Are AP Calculus AB and BC – As Rated By Class Alumnae

APs Calculus AB / BC are considered moderate difficulty, with class alumnae rating them 5.6/10 for overall difficulty, making them the joint 12th-most-difficult out of the 28 large AP classes surveyed.

chart showing AP Calc AB BC difficulty as rated by alumnae

What Are the AP Calculus AB and BC Pass Rates 2023?

The AP Calculus AB 2023 pass rate was 7% lower than other AP classes, at 58%. 20% of students passed with a 3 and 16% achieved a 4, both about average. 22% attained a 5.

In contrast, the AP Calculus BC 2023 pass rate was 78%, 13% higher than average. A remarkably high percentage of candidates attained a 5 (42%), the second highest percentage amongst the AP classes surveyed.

chart showing AP Calculus AB / BC 2023 pass rate data

AP Calculus AB and BC Pass Rates / Score Distribution Over Time: 2023, 2022, 2021 …

AP Calculus AB

The AP Calculus AB score distribution fluctuated slightly between 2019 and 2023. The pass rate dropped in 2021 by 9% but rose again in 2022 and 2023.

AP Calculus BC

The AP Calculus BC score distribution varied slightly across the past 5 years of exams. A consistently high percentage of students attained a 5 across all five years. The highest pass rates were achieved in 2017 and 2020. 2021 saw a drop in the pass rate by 5%.

Are APs Calculus AB / BC Time Consuming To Study: As Rated By AP Calculus Alumnae

APs Calculus AB and BC are both rated as moderately time-intensive relative to other AP classes.

A survey of AP alumnae asked for a rating out of 10 for time needed to study each class, with 1 = least time needed, 10 = most time.

The average ratings for AP both Calculus AB and BC was 5.5/10 (vs the average across all AP classes of 5.4/10).

Are AP Calculus AB and BC Easy or Hard To Self-Study

APs Calculus AB and  BC are both rated as quite hard to self-study relative to other AP classes.

A survey of AP alumnae asked for a rating out of 10 for how easy each class is to self study, with 1 = easiest to self study, 10 = hardest to self study.

The average rating for both AP Calculus AB and BC was 6.2/10 (vs the average across all AP classes of 5.7/10).

How Hard Are APs Calculus AB and BC: 234 Real AP Calculus Alumnae Share Their Experiences

If you’re looking forward to taking one or both of AP Calculus AB / BC, it’s important to take both the positive and negative feedback in context. There are multiple factors that could contribute to a great or poor experience of the class, such as your teacher and your personal preferences as a learner.

An impressive 96% of AP Calculus AB and BC alumnae would recommend the classes.

The majority of the reviews focus on course enjoyment, the importance of understanding the concepts and the exam requirements, and the need for regular consistent practice (especially for FRQs).

1.      Many students really enjoy AP Calculus and found the classes easy

“It’s not a very difficult class. I had a great time learning the material and hardly had to study in the days leading up to the exam and I got a 5. Pay attention in school and you’ll be golden.” – Score: 5

If you love math, this is a pretty easy course. If you hate math, it will be the worst course in your schedule and you will have to work hard to succeed.” – Score: 5

“In my experience, the teacher you have for the course will largely dictate your score. Secondly, if you have a proclivity for math and want to learn something other than algebra in high school, this course will be one of the most interesting AP courses offered. As always, practice FRQs and (un)released MC sections.” – Score: 5

“If you really enjoy math, then BC won’t be as bad as you think (for both the class and self-studiers). Don’t blow off homework/practice problems and actually try to understand why each formula or theorem works.” – Score: 5

“This is a good class to get an easy 5 if you have a good teacher and work ethic. It was a lot of homework (like at least an hour a night, for real), but if you correct all your worksheets then you’ll be good for the unit tests.” – Score: 5

“If you’re good at algebra, this course will be super easy. The only hard part is learning conceptual meaning of it. The AP exam is super easy, as long as you study.” – Score: 5

“Easier than it looks. A strong foundation of derivatives and integrals will get you through the course.” – Score: 5

2.      AP Calculus AB and BC require a good understanding of the concepts!

“Studying is all about getting the concepts down and applying them. The FRQs are going to kill you if you can’t think about how to apply everything you learned.” – Score: 5

“Make sure you understand the concepts behind the problems. The actual AP exam does not have many “memorization” questions, instead requiring you to manipulate equations. Fairly straightforward if you understand the prerequisite math and pay attention in class – would not recommend self study, though.” – Score: 5

“This class was fairly difficult at first but once you have the core concepts down it’s a breeze. This class is definitely more about understanding how these concepts work, rather than knowing how to plug numbers into formulas like previous math classes. Keep up with your homework and do practice problems and you should be good (as long as you have a decent teacher).” – Score: 5

“Learn it conceptually, don’t memorize.” – Score: 5

“Make sure you understand all concepts that you are taught in class. concepts build on top of one another, and a misunderstanding of once thing can lead to your entire grade suffering in the future” – Score: 5

“Study the content. Practice makes perfect–literally. The concepts aren’t hard to grasp as long as you take the time to practice and look over your notes.” – Score: 5

3.      Knowledge of algebra and working without a calculator are also a plus!

“Make sure your algebra knowledge is good before taking it. Many people are able to do the calculus but fail with the algebraic areas that are needed before and after the calculus step.”’ – Score: 5

“Know how to do every problem without your calculator. The calculator can be helpful, but it’s useless if you don’t know what you’re doing without it.” – Score: 5

4.      Students found understanding the exam format, requirements and curve really helpful

“Just do a lot of questions before hand, most of the questions on the test are really straight forward and there are no trick questions. If you know like 70% of the material on the course you can get a 5 because of the huge curve.” – Score: 5

“Find out what you have to do to get an A every semester. … For the test, AP Calc is the BEST because there’s like 50 years of practice tests you can use. The material change very little from year to year so if you COMPLETE 10 tests and go over every question you go wrong and figure out how to do it correctly, I GUARENTEE you will get a 4+.” – Score: 5

“This exam is easier to study for than you would think, the questions tend to be very similar every year, the frqs can be easily practiced through the past AP exams. … The class in general isn’t much more difficult than previous math classes.” – Score: 5

“Make sure you review your AB subsection if you’re taking BC! ~70% of the BC exam is AB content!” – Score: 5

“The FRQs are your BFF, because with enough practice exams you will know exactly what questions they’re gonna ask you. If you can consistently score at least 6/7 points on each FRQ you can bomb the MC and still get a 5” – Score: 5

“Easy to get a 5. Helps to have taken AB before BC but still fine if you haven’t. BC gets easier for non AB students in the second half of the course, if you take it in school.’ – Score: 5

Taking the BC exam over the AB exam is almost always worth it. Not much additional content to study and you get an AB subscore anyway.” – Score: 5

6.      Students found self-studying manageable – especially BC

“I took AB and self studied BC. I found it fairly easy to do so, and I think I had a decent chance of acing the exam had I not made so many sillies.” – Score: 5

“Taught myself BC, took AB class at school. I’m biased but the BC material wasn’t too hard, just use Paul’s online math notes and math with Mr wood. If you understand why things work then you’re set.” – Score: 5

What Does It Take To Succeed: The AP Calculus AB Exam

What is AP Calculus AB? Course Outline & Requirements

According to College Board:

“AP Calculus AB is designed to be the equivalent of a first semester college calculus course devoted to topics in differential and integral calculus.”

Prerequisites: “before studying calculus, all students should complete the equivalent of four years of secondary mathematics designed for college-bound students”. Students should also “understand the language of functions”, especially sine and cosine.

You will develop skills in:

  • Determining expressions and values using mathematical procedures
  • Translating mathematical information from single to multiple representations
  • Justifying reasoning and solutions
  • Using correct notation, language and math to communicate solutions

The exam consists of one 3 hour 15 minute exam, with 50% (105 minutes) of multiple-choice questions (MCQs) and 50% (90 minutes) for 6 free-response questions.

For more details, see: College Board’s AP Calculus AB course page.

Examiners’ Reviews: Takeaways From AP Calculus AB Test Assessors

College Board released the following official comments about the 2021 exam results:

Multiple choice section

  • “As usual, students scored significantly higher on the multiple-choice section than on the free-response questions.”
  • “AP Calculus AB students demonstrated strongest mastery of Unit 4, Contextual Applications of Differentiation, with 11% of students earning a perfect score across the questions about this unit.”
  • “Students generally scored least well on Unit 7, Differential Equations, in which 4% of students answered all questions correctly and 9% answered none correctly.”
  • “Students generally scored less well on questions about analysis of functions than on questions about change and limits.”

Free response section

  • “The strongest results were typically on Question 4, the graphical analysis. 14% of students earned 7–9 points out of 9 possible.”
  • By far the most challenging question on this year’s exam was Question 3 (area-volume; disc method); 3% of students earned 7–9 points out of 9 possible.”

For best results, you may therefore want to consider investing a little extra study time on Unit 7 “Differential Equations”, analysis of functions and area-volume.

For more details, see: College Board’s AP Calculus AB 2021 exam results page.

What Does It Take To Succeed: The AP Calculus BC Exam

What is AP Calculus BC? Course Outline & Requirements

According to College Board:

“AP Calculus BC is designed to be the equivalent to both first and second semester college calculus courses. AP Calculus BC applies the content and skills learned in AP Calculus AB to parametrically defined curves, polar curves, and vector-valued functions; develops additional integration techniques and applications; and introduces the topics of sequences and series.”

Prerequisites: “before studying calculus, all students should complete the equivalent of four years of secondary mathematics designed for college-bound students”. Students should also “understand the language of functions”, especially sine and cosine. BC students should also “have basic familiarity with sequences and series, as well as some exposure to parametric and polar equations”.

You will develop skills in:

  • Determining expressions and values using mathematical procedures
  • Translating mathematical information from single to multiple representations
  • Justifying reasoning and solutions
  • Using correct notation, language and math to communicate solutions

The exam consists of one 3 hour 15 minute exam, with 50% (105 minutes) of multiple-choice questions (MCQs) and 50% (90 minutes) for 6 free-response questions.

For more details, see: College Board’s AP Calculus BC course page.

Examiners’ Reviews: Takeaways From AP Calculus BC Test Assessors

College Board released the following official comments about the 2021 exam results:

Multiple choice section

  • “As usual, students scored significantly higher on the multiple-choice section than on the free-response questions.”
  • “AP Calculus BC students generally performed well across units but found Unit 10 (Infinite Sequences and Series) the most challenging, followed by Unit 9 and Unit 6.”

Free response section

  • “The strongest results were typically on Question 4, the graphical analysis. 35% of students earned 7–9 points out of 9 possible.”
  • By far the most challenging questions on this year’s exam were:
    • Question 2, about parametric particle motion; 5% of students earned 7–9 points out of 9 possible; 28% of students earned 0 points.
    • Question 6, integral test-limit; 5% of students earned 7–9 points out of 9 possible; 27% of students earned 0 points.”

For best results, you may therefore want to consider investing a little extra study time on Unit 10 “Infinite Sequences and Series”, parametric particle motion and integral test-limits.

For more details, see: College Board’s AP Calculus BC 2021 exam results page.

How To (Self) Study APs Calculus AB and BC: Advice From Class Alumnae

Practice, practice, practice for the exam – especially for FRQs

“For calculus practice is the most important thing. If you can do all the old practice exams then you will be guaranteed a 5” – Score: 5

“***Drill FRQs.*** They are essentially copypasted from year to year, so if you do enough of them and become familiar with common question types, you’ll be able to fly through them come exam day.” – Score: 5

“Be sure to go through every FRQ from previous exams before taking the exam; the layouts of the questions are usually very similar, so you’ll know exactly what you’ll need to do or expect. … Finally, be sure to dig up a lot of practice MC questions and get a good feeling for those; MC scores can easily make up for an FRQ that you screwed up on, and can really help you keep your composure throughout the test.” – Score: 5

“Solve a bunch of FRQs. You’ll get the general sense of how to approach different types of questions and concepts.” – Score: 5

“Take as many practice tests and FRQs as possible. Alvead is a good place to get old AP tests.” – Score: 5

“Do a lot of the released FRQ’s and make sure to check the scoring to squeeze out as many points as you can.” – Score: 5

Specific skills are helpful throughout the course for memorization

“Start looking at FRQ problems after you’ve done applications of derivatives, I’d say. That’s when you can start some of them. From there, make sure to get how to use the concepts both algebraically and graphically. It’ll save you a world of trouble. Other advice: learn how to derive inverse trig derivatives. It’s easy to do, and it stops you from having to memorize everything. Integrals may require some memorization, though.”- Score: 5

Make the most of different study resources – from study groups and teachers …

Talking about any problems you’re unsure of with another student helps a lot!! For FRQs, start practicing as early as November – it really helps! Drill past FRQs – they’re the best resource!” – Score: 5

“Ask questions to UNDERSTAND why you do what you do to solve a question” – Score: 5

“When you’re learning derivatives and integrals, make flash cards for them and study frequently. Also begin doing FRQs and practice tests a good 2-3 months before the test itself.” – Score: 5

Do the homework every day, make sure you know the three theorems or whatever (IVT, EVT, MVT) and how to recognize when to use them, go to the AP sessions for at least the topics you might have issues with (my teacher gave extra credit for going so I would go regardless if you aren’t busy), talk with your teacher if you have issues with anything” – Score: 5

… to online resources and study guides

“Take advantage of the past FRQs that the College Board releases! It also doesn’t hurt to have a prep book to go to whenever you would get stuck on a certain concept!” – Score: 5

“I highly recommend everyone who is starting this course to watch 3Brown1Blue’s youtube series “Essence of Calculus” This series is the best resource you can get and whether you enjoy math or not, you will learn a lot.” – Score: 5

“Princeton Premium is more worth than Princeton normal. The flashcards are also a big help. These two are a MUST.
Also, it is highly recommended that you have a good math background, especially if you plan on self studying.” – Score: 5

“I would recommend going onto the College Board website and doing all the free response questions from previous AB and BC Calc exams. If you can do those questions and repeatedly scoring a 7 or higher, you’re set for the exam.” – Score: 5

Success in AP Calculus often comes down to dedication and preparation!

“I just did every single practice FRQ I could find from the 1990s to today. I made a 40 or so page study guide as well.” – Score: 5

“Do all of the proofs you can, practice a lot, and teach yourself polar/parametrics/vectors before the class. You have enough time to teach yourself differential equations and multivariable if you do it right.” – Score: 5

Do ALL of the homework, especially for BC, and you should be adequately prepared for the AP test” – Score: 5

“Do as many reviews as you can. Grab ahold of all the material you can. Something that really helped me was rewriting all my notes the weekend before the exam.” – Score: 3

“Start reviewing in February. Review as many FRQs from recent years as you can with your friends. Stay up to date on the homework and especially review Calc II concepts.” – Score: 3

“When you’re learning derivatives and integrals, make flash cards for them and study frequently. Also begin doing FRQs and practice tests a good 2-3 months before the test itself.” – Score: 5

Best books and test prep resources for AP Calculus AB and BC

If you’re looking for the best books to study to help you ace AP Calculus AB or BC, we’ve crunched the numbers on the available textbooks. Check out the winners, according to reviews from successful AP students, in our overview of the best AP study guides for every subject.

Where next?

Find out how AP Calculus AB and BC compare to other classes: click here for an overview of all AP Classes ranked by difficulty, from easiest to hardest.

Or check out how other math courses are rated with our analysis of Is AP Statistics Hard or Easy?

Wishing you every success in the class!


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