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Should I Take AP Calculus AB or AP Calculus BC?

Jan 19, 2023
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Whether you are trying to decide between taking AP calculus AB vs. BC or just wondering about the difference between these two AP classes, you are at the right place. This blog will help you gain all the information you need about AB and BC Calculus to decide which one you should take based on your college plans, prerequisite goals, and career goals. 

What are AP Calculus AB and AP Calculus BC?

AP Calculus AB and AP Calculus BC are college-level AP courses with Precalculus as the primary prerequisite. For AP Calculus classes, you have three options— taking AB and BC Calculus as a sequence, taking only AB Calculus, or skipping AB Calculus altogether and directly taking BC Calculus.

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You can take either of these classes because they aren’t entirely different. Everything in AB Calculus is covered in BC Calculus and various topics. You will get a subscore for AB Calculus when taking the BC exam. 

BC Calculus is not necessarily more complex than AB Calculus, but as there are a lot of syllabi to cover, the course moves faster, making it more intense than AB Calculus. Some schools take two different class periods for AP Calculus BC to protect the length of the syllabus or assign students more intense summer homework. While the AP Calculus BC course often covers the whole Calculus AB syllabus in the first semester, the AB Calculus stretches that syllabus to be covered the entire year. 

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If you decide on taking AB Calculus and BC Calculus serial-wise, suppose you can take AB Calculus as a junior and BC Calculus as a senior. In that case, you don’t have to worry about choosing between them. However, if you can manage room for only one AP Calculus class, which one should you go for? Let us discuss the topics of each course with their benefits below.

Topics in AP Calculus AB 

Below are the main topics covered in the AP Calculus AB course:

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

 Topics of AP Calculus BC 

Below are the main topics covered in the AP Calculus BC course:

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

You can see that most of the topics in both courses are similar. This is because AP Calculus AB is the same as AP Calculus BC; just a few extra chapters are thrown in. 

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 Should you directly take AP Calculus BC?

Taking the AP Calculus BC exam after directly jumping from Precalculus can be an excellent option if you are up to the challenge. This will be especially helpful if you plan to take natural science or engineering courses in college. Taking AP Calculus BC directly indicates that you are motivated and driven in math. And for engineering and science, strong math skills are needed. 

You could also take a more advanced calculus course at a community college or a local university as a senior if you are good at math. You can also see if you can make room for AP Economics, AP Statistics, or AP Computer Science as a senior. You can challenge yourself as a high school student if you directly jump to AP Calculus BC. You can drop down to some AP AB Calculus courses if you find BC Calculus more challenging. If you are considering taking BC Calculus but aren’t sure whether you can keep up with the course load, this might be a good option. Check with your guidance counselor before signing up to know if it’s possible.

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Finally, you can get more math credit in college in the majority of cases by directly taking and passing the AP BC Calculus exam. This will be very helpful if you are thinking of taking science or engineering courses, as you can jump on the required math courses sooner. For example, a five on the AB Calculus at the University of Michigan College of Engineering gets you four credit hours, while a five on the BC Calculus gets you eight credit hours. 

 Should you go for AB Calculus instead?

Although you can often secure higher college credits for BC Calculus, you can also take AB Calculus as a great option. You can still prepare for college math by getting a calculus background. Although you won’t cover the different concepts that BC Calculus includes, you will still learn basic calculus concepts such as derivatives, limits, and integrals. These fundamentals will prepare you for more advanced college math courses.

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Taking AB Calculus will also make you feel less stressed out and overwhelmed. As BC Calculus involves more content that needs to be covered within one year, it has more frequent and complex assignments at most schools. AB Calculus can also be challenging, but its course doesn’t move as fast, so you are less likely to feel overwhelmed. You might also be able to make room for an additional class in your schedule. But if you take AP BC Calculus, you might have to attend an extra class period, so you won’t be able to fit additional AP classes into your schedule. On the other hand, AB Calculus will be one class period, leaving you room for another course or extracurricular activities. 

Finally, you will get the exact math placement with AB Calculus as you would for BC Calculus in some cases if you get an excellent AP exam score. For instance, at Stanford, if you would acquire a five on AB Calculus, you are placed in the same math course as the students who have attained a four or five on BC Calculus. However, you must check the credit policy at your preferred schools to know the differences between AB Calculus and BC Calculus credit. 

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Should you first take AB Calculus, followed by BC Calculus?

In their confusion regarding AB vs. BC calculus, some students consider taking AB Calculus first and then going for the BC Calculus course the following year. This choice is incredibly tempting for students who don’t feel prepared to start directly with BC Calculus but want to get extra college credits to pass the AP test or those who want to impress colleges by showing that they have taken the more difficult AP Calculus course. 

Taking both AB and BC Calculus courses is not recommended in most cases. This is because these courses are similar enough, and taking them back to back will feel like taking the same class twice, which will bore you out. Bringing both will also probably not help you with college applications as it will indicate that you took two years to learn calculus instead of one. Also, suppose you are considering getting a lot of college credits from your AP classes. In that case, you can achieve that more effectively by taking AB Calculus and another AP that does not involve calculus than you would by taking both calculus courses. 

Conclusion

We hope this blog imparted your knowledge of AP calculus AB vs. BC and helped you decide which AP Calculus course you should take first and why. Don’t forget to check our other blogs for more information and guidance regarding AP courses. 

Frequently Asked Questions

Q1. What are the prerequisites for AP Calculus?

A: Algebra 2 and Precalculus are most schools’ prerequisite courses for AP Calculus. Therefore, before considering which AP Calculus class they should take, students should ensure they have completed the prerequisite courses.

Q2. How can you tell if you truly understand Precalculus? 

A: To check if you genuinely understand Precalculus, try explaining your precalculus homework to a younger sibling or a friend. If you can teach a concept, it indicates that you have understood it pretty well. However, if you struggle with preparing an idea, you might lack a deeper understanding of the material. 

Q3. Will I have to change my schedule if I take AP BC Calculus?

A: AP BC Calculus includes an extensive syllabus for which you might need to attend more class periods. To afford this time, you might have to change your schedule and give up some extracurricular activities you are involved in. If you think you are not ready to do so and are still unsure about AB vs. BC calculus, you must take it to your teachers in advance to make an informed decision about whether or not you are ready to take AP BC Calculus.

Keywords Number of times used 
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