Are AP Calculus AB and BC easy or hard? Read on to discover why **we’ve given AP Calculus a difficulty rating of “Moderate Difficulty”**, based on our unparalleled, deep-dive analysis of 2024 (and historic) pass rate data and over 3200 course reviews from alumnae.

## An overview of the data: how hard are AP Calculus AB and BC?

Here’s an overview of all the data we’ve analysed on AP Calculus, from both 2024 pass rates and alumnae reviews*:

**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*

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

- The two pass rates are highly contrasted:
- AP
**Calculus AB**was**about average**vs other AP classes, with**64% graduating with a 3 or higher** - Whereas AP
**Calculus BC**was**much****higher**than average at**80%**

- AP
- The two classes are also taken by different numbers of students:
- AP Calculus AB is
**very widely-taken**(approximately 279,000 entries a year) - Whereas AP Calculus AB is a
**smaller class**(approximately 148,000 entries a year)

- AP Calculus AB is
- And
**96% of students would recommend taking these classes**

### Alumnae recommendations: the tl;dr

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.

### Taking a visual comparison:

Here’s a fun visual on how AP Calculus compares compares to other classes, by difficulty, the amount of study time required, and class size:

We’ve only highlighted APs Calculus AB / BC and the related math class Statistics. But you can see the full multi-coloured version of this chart in our popular, definitive difficulty ranking of ALL the AP classes!

*Psst: we’ve also got a deep-dive into AP Statistics if you want a full comparison of math tracks!*

## Behind the scenes: our Data Analyst and methodology

Exam Study Expert founder William Wadsworth is a Cambridge University trained psychologist and data analyst. Since he first started crunching AP data in 2019, over half a million AP students have used his difficulty ratings analysis to choose their AP classes.

*Additional research, graphics, and article review by Kerri-Anne Edinburgh, PhD*

### Analysing AP class data: the methodology

We want to be transparent about how we research, collect and analyse the AP data we use to provide you with our assessments and recommendations. This methodology gives a brief outline of our source material and analytical processes:

*Please click here to learn more about our rigorous editorial policies here at Exam Study Expert.*

#### Source material for AP data:

We use two primary sources of data:

**Pass rate data**from College Board itself, including the proportion of students who pass overall (3+ score) and the proportion of students who score a 5. This data is taken from the College Board website plus tweets from Head of AP Trevor Packer, which include the score breakdown and numbers of students taking each class.**Student reviews**posted by users from r/APStudents who actually took the AP courses (as of 2024 the dataset includes 3,295 reviews). These reviews include a rating for:*Overall difficulty rating**Difficulty if self-studying**How much time is required*

The data we post is based on College Board’s June data release and may shift slightly as late-arriving exams are scored. This shift has historically been negligible.

#### How we evaluate and use the data on AP classes:

**We consider class alumnae’s difficulty ratings to be the most reliable indicator of difficulty, more so than pass rate**.

Pass rate, or percentage of students scoring a certain grade, is a misleading metric for two main reasons:

- Some classes attract highly able students, so may have a high pass rate, but this is more a reflection of the calibre of students taking the class. This particularly applies to language classes.
- Research has shown that popular, widely taken AP classes tend to have lower passing rates. So, a low passing rate could indicate a larger variety of student skill, not necessarily class difficulty.

#### Our assessments of course difficulty

We have given each every AP class a** graded ranking of **difficulty, primarily based on class alumnae difficulty ratings. Many other important factors are taken into consideration when making our recommendations for how easy or hard you may find the AP course.

The rankings are determined as followed:

**Very Easy**– scores less than 4.0**Quite Easy**– scores between 4.0 and 4.9**Moderate Difficulty**– scores between 5.0 and 5.9**Quite Hard**– scores between 6.0 and 6.9**Very Hard**– scores more than 7.0

You should take every available metric into account when making your choice of AP classes. Remember that some students tend to find certain fields easier or harder than others, based on pre-existing experience.

And remember, as College Board’s Trevor Packer reminds us, an AP score is only one indicator of student learning and achievement.

## A deep dive into the 2024 exam data on AP Calculus AB and BC

If you want to know more about how AP Calculus stacks up against the average AP class, and against previous years’ results: read on for five charts that set out all the data you could want.

### 1. Difficulty: a look at the ratings

Both AP Calculus AB and 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 we surveyed.

### 2. The AP Calculus AB and BC pass rates in 2024

In 2024, the AP **Calculus AB** **pass rate was 64%**, about average vs other AP classes. A high percentage of students achieved a 4 or 5: 28% and 21% respectively.

In contrast, in 2024 the AP **Calculus BC** pass rate was much higher at **80%**, in fact 12% **higher** than average. A remarkably high percentage of candidates attained a 5 (45%), the second highest percentage amongst the AP classes surveyed.

### 3. So, how does this compare to the last five years?

Over the many years we’ve been doing this analysis, we’ve learnt that AP pass rates can fluctuate wildly – although some subjects remain steady. So to get a better picture, let’s examine the score distribution for the past five years of exams – all the way back to 2020.

#### Calculus AB:

The AP Calculus AB score distribution has had some fluctuations over the past five years of exam results. After a noticeable drop of 9% in 2021, the pass rate began to climb. 2024 saw the highest pass rate, with a 6% increase from 2023.

#### Calculus BC:

In contrast, the AP Calculus BC score distribution has varied slightly across the past 5 years of exams. A consistently very high percentage of students attained a 5 across all five years. The highest pass rates (80%) were achieved in both 2020 and 2024.

### 4. How time consuming will AP Calculus be?

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

*N.B. 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).*

### 5. How hard is it to self-study for AP Calculus?

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

*N.B. 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).*

## Reviewing the course: 234 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

### 5. Whilst talking AB before BC is recommended, it’s not necessary for success (and there is credit!)

“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 in the AP Calculus exams?

Well, a good starting place is knowing what’s required of you – and what the experts say went well (or not!) this year. We’ll go through Calculus AB first, followed by BC:

### 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.

### Takeaways for success from the Head of AP

Every year as the exam results come out, College Board’s Head of AP, Trevor Packer, offers an update on what’s gone on in each subject this year, including what people found easy and hard.

In 2024, Trevor made the following comments about the AP Calculus AB exam results:

- “This was a score verification year for AP Calculus AB, in which data scientists confirm AP student performance in college math sequences in comparison to college calculus students. The score distribution reflects these strong findings for AP Calc AB teachers & students.”

- “22 AP Calculus AB students, out of ~251,000 worldwide whose exams have been scored so far, earned all 108/108 points possible on this year’s free-response and MC questions. We’ll notify these students and their schools in September.”

- “MC questions: students scored higher on Unit 8 (Applications of Integration) and Unit 3 (Differentiation: Composite, Implicit & Inverse Functions). ~21% of students earned all points possible on Unit 8 MCQs.”

- “FR questions: Q1 is the best preview of what a students’ AP score will be, as it measured across the full range of college A-F work; AP 5s are typically able to earn 8-9 of these pts; AP 3s are typically able to earn 5+ points here: https://apcentral.collegeboard.org/media/pdf/ap24“

- “AP Calculus AB FR question: Q5 is the most difficult/advanced question this year, aimed at the strongest Calc AB students; AP 5s can generally earn 7+ of these points: https://apcentral.collegeboard.org/media/pdf/ap24-frq-calculus-ab.pdf“

### 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.

### Takeaways for success from the Head of AP

In 2024 Trevor Packer, College Board’s Head of AP, made the following comments about the AP Calculus BC exam results:

- “Congrats to AP Calc AB & BC teachers & students: learning is now back to pre-pandemic levels. Also, score verification this year confirmed that the standards long in place for this exam remain appropriate for predicting success when students place ahead in college math sequences.”

- “41 AP Calculus BC students, out of ~119,000 worldwide whose exams have been scored so far, earned all 108/108 points possible on this year’s free-response and MC questions. We’ll notify these students and their schools in September.”

- “AP Calc BC soared across most of the MC section, although many found Infinite Sequences and Series (Unit 10) quite challenging; 23% of students earned most of those available points.”

- “FR questions: Q5 is a good predictor of whether a student will score a 3+; you generally need to be able to earn 4 or more of the points on it: https://apcentral.collegeboard.org/media/pdf/ap24“

- “FR questions: the most advanced question was Q6 (Maclaurin series), aimed at the strongest BC students; students getting 1s/2s are generally unable to earn any of these points: https://apcentral.collegeboard.org/media/pdf/ap24“

## How to (self) study for AP Calculus, with advice from alumnae

Let’s turn back to those alumnae reviews. Many students who’ve taken the course also have great advice on how to study – and self-study – for the exam, including what to practice and the best resources. We’ve collated a selection for you:

### 1. 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

### 2. 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

### 3. 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

### 4. … 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

### 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 our popular, definitive overview of all AP Classes ranked by difficulty.

Or compare how AP Calculus compares to the other math courses with our deep-dive into AP Statistics.

If you’ve found our analysis helpful, have a question for our Data Analyst and AP expert, William – or just have some thoughts to share: **please leave a comment below and we’ll get back to you as soon as we can**. Good luck!

Exam Study Expert founder William Wadsworth is a Cambridge University trained psychologist and data analyst. Since he first started crunching AP data in 2019, over half a million AP students have used his difficulty ratings analysis to choose their AP classes. William’s research on effective study strategies has been presented at top education conferences and reported in *The Times*, and he also hosts the top-rated Exam Study Expert podcast, with 1 million downloads to date.

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