Most students interested in studying calculus find it challenging to decide between taking AP Calculus AB or BC. Even though AP Calculus AB and BC classes offer an excellent foundation for students interested in pursuing a career in mathematics, some key differences between the two should be considered before signing up for either course.
So, should you sign up for AP Calculus AB or BC? Choosing between AP Calculus AB and AP Calculus BC will depend on a few factors, including your math skills, willingness to work hard and commitment to learning, the amount of time you have available to study, and the type of curriculum your school offers.
Read on to discover the key differences between AP Calculus AB and BC courses to help you make an informed decision.
If you are interested in building a strong foundation in Calculus, I encourage you to read this article about the best ways to learn Calculus online with free resources to help you Ace AP Calculus.
What Is AP Calculus AB?
AP Calculus AB covers fundamental topics in calculus, including limits and continuity, differentiation, integration, accumulation of change, and differential equations.
AP Calculus AB is commonly equivalent to a first-semester college calculus course (Source: College Board)
The topics taught in AP Calculus AB courses include:
- Unit 1: Limits and continuity
- Unit 2: Differentiation: Definition and fundamental properties
- Unit 3: Differentiation: Composite, implicit, and inverse functions
- Unit 4: Contextual applications of differentiation
- Unit 5: Analytical applications of differentiation
- Unit 6: Integration and accumulation of change
- Unit 7: Differential equations
- Unit 8: Applications of integration
What Is AP Calculus BC?
In addition to all the topics included AP Calculus AB, AP Calculus BC has two other units (Units 9 and 10) and some different topics in Units 6 to 8.
AP Calculus BC is equivalent to first- and second-semester college calculus courses (Source: College Board)
In addition to all the topics contained in AP Calculus AB, the topics taught in AP Calculus BC courses include:
- Unit 6: Additional techniques of integration
- Unit 7: Euler’s method and logistic models with differential equations
- Unit 8: Arc length and distance traveled along a smooth curve
- Unit 9: Parametric equations, polar coordinates, and vector-valued functions
- Unit 10: Infinite sequences and series
Difference Between AP Calculus AB And BC
The main difference between AP Calculus AB and BC is that AP Calculus AB focuses on topics introduced in the college-equivalent first semester of college calculus. In contrast, AP Calculus BC focuses on topics covered in college calculus’s first and second semesters. However, all topics in the eight units of AP Calculus AB are also in AP Calculus BC (Source: College Board)
Remember, you cannot take both AP Calculus AB And BC exams in the same year because they generally have a single AP exam in May.
- AP Calculus AB covers university-level Calculus I, which typically corresponds to the first semester of college calculus.
- AP Calculus BC covers university-level Calculus I and II, which generally correspond to the first two semesters of college calculus (Source: College Board)
Below are the key differences between AP Calculus AB And BC:
1- Differences in Course Content
Another difference between AP Calculus AB and BC lies in the content of each course. Calculus AB generally focuses on basic calculus concepts such as derivatives, integrals, and limits. On the other hand, Calculus BC dives deeper into more advanced topics such as series and parametric equations.
Even though AP Calculus AB and BC classes cover the same core material, they differ in terms of depth and complexity.
If you take AP calculus BC, you will also learn about derivatives, integrals, and limits, but if you want to challenge yourself, I encourage you to take AP Calculus BC.
2- Difference in Course Length
An important difference between AP Calculus AB and BC courses in their respective lengths. While both classes cover roughly the same amount of material, Calculus BC takes slightly longer to complete due to its more advanced nature.
In addition, since Calculus BC covers multiple topics with greater depth than AP Calculus AB, it requires more time for students to fully grasp all of its concepts.
3- Difference in Difficulty Level
As far as difficulty level goes, opinions vary from person to person. Generally speaking, though, I find that most students agree that Calculus BC is slightly harder than AP Calculus AB due to its additional content and lengthier duration.
However, I don’t believe that one course is necessarily better than the other; you just need to remember that one will require more time and effort to complete than the other.
Is AP Calculus AB or BC Harder?
AP Calculus BC is typically harder than AP Calculus AB because AP Calculus BC includes additional topics requiring an accelerated pace. In addition, the additional units, particularly Unit 10 included in AP Calculus BC, tend to be more complex than the Calculus AB units.
If you consistently earn B’s in your math classes, I suggest you take AP Calculus AB. In addition, AP Calculus AB moves slower than AP Calculus BC, giving you more time to practice and apply new concepts.
You can still consider taking AP Calculus BC even if your previous math grades are low; I encourage you to work harder and set up a proper study plan.
The table below contains students’ performance in 2022 AP Calculus AB and BC.
|AP Exam||Students scoring 5||Students scoring 4||Students scoring 3||Students scoring 2||Students scoring 1|
|AP Calculus AB||20.4%||16.1%||19.1%||22.6%||21.7%|
|AP Calculus BC||41.2%||15.6%||20.1%||16.4%||6.8%|
Is It Better To Take Calculus AB or BC?
I suggest you take AP Calculus AB instead of AP Calculus BC, if:
- Your college major does not require Calculus II.
- You know that you can get credit for college Calculus I with AP Calculus AB.
- If you are concerned about GPA, since AP Calculus AB is less demanding and requires less time, you will likely improve your GPA.
You should take AP Calculus BC instead of AP Calculus AB, if:
- Your major in college requires Calculus II.
- Taking AP Calculus BC instead of AP Calculus AB will help you earn credits for Calculus I and II.
- If you are willing to work harder and commit to learning constantly.
- You are looking to challenge yourself as AP Calculus BC is tougher and more challenging than AP Calculus AB.
What to read next:
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- 9 Hardest Calculus Problems Ever You’ll Ever Encounter!
Generally, AP Calculus BC is harder than AP Calculus AB depending on your individual strengths and weaknesses in math and how much time you have to study outside class.
If you are confident in your problem-solving skills but need more time to understand complex theories, I suggest you consider taking AP Calculus AB. On the other hand, if you have strong knowledge of theoretical concepts but need extra practice solving problems, then I believe AP Calculus BC might be better suited for your needs.
Whether you choose AP Calculus AB or BC, both courses provide an excellent foundation for further math studies and help you build personal skills required for success.