AP Exam Survival Guide: AP Calculus AB


Calculus: a word that many high school students, including me, dread. If you are someone who is currently taking Calculus AB and panicking about the exam in May, don’t worry; I was in your shoes, but doubled down on my studying and managed to come out of the testing room with a huge weight lifted off my shoulder before I even knew I passed.

Some people may say that everything in calculus has a foundation of either limits, derivatives, or integrals, but it can always seem a lot more complicated than that. So, to those who just simply cannot wrap their heads around the concepts of calculus, here are some ways that you can prepare for the Calculus AB exam.

Before we get into the tips, though, you should know the format of the exam so that you can know what exactly to expect:

Section I is the multiple choice section. You will have 45 questions and 1 hour and 45 minutes to complete the section. It is separated into two parts; Part A consists of 30 out of the 45 questions that you have 60 minutes to complete, and a calculator is not permitted. Part B contains the other 15 questions that you have 45 minutes to complete, but you are allowed to use your graphing calculator.

Section II is the Free Response section. You will be given 6 questions and have 1 hour and 30 minutes to complete the section. Part A contains 2 questions that you have 30 minutes to complete without a calculator. Part B consists of the other 4 questions that you have 60 minutes to complete with your calculator.


Barron’s AP Calculus

This is the book that saved me during my test prep. When my class started reviewing for the exam, my teacher gave us problems from the book every day as bellwork before the lesson actually started, and my knowledge of calculus built up just through five problems at the beginning of class.

The book has four practice exams inside, and all of the questions, including the FRQs, have answers at the end of each test. This is a life saver when you are trying to make sure that you understand a specific skill. It also gives you tips on how to use your graphing calculator efficiently so that you can maximize its use during the calculator portions of the exam. A bonus is that there are also four AP Calculus BC exams in the book so that you don’t have to buy another book if you decide to take BC the next year! I really do recommend this book, for I know I couldn’t have passed the exam without it.

5 Steps to a 5 AP Calculus AB

I don’t have any personal experience with this book, but a couple of my classmates used this book as a supplement to what we were being taught in class. According to them, the problems and solutions that the book had inside helped them understand confusing concepts that they didn’t during that day’s lesson.

There are two full practice exams inside, along with a diagnostic exam that you can take so that you can see where you currently are. There is also a section in which there are tips and advice on how to set up your study plan for the actual exam, which is quite helpful if you don’t know where to start, and a section for every topic that you could have possibly covered in your calculus class. Overall, this is a very helpful book that goes the extra mile to push you to be the best you can be on exam day.

Online Resources

Khan Academy

The AP Calculus AB practice on Khan Academy is really helpful if you need to review on certain concepts. Each concept has practice questions and videos to go along with each one if you get stuck on how to do something. The website basically has every topic covered in AB, so you’ll be sure to find what you are looking for.

College Board

The College Board has FRQs, their scoring guidelines, and sample responses from previous exam years on their website. If you need to practice making sure that you get all the points that you possibly can on an FRQ within a reasonable time, this is definitely a free resource that you should take an advantage of, especially since it comes straight from the company that administers AP exams.


Start Studying Ahead of Time!

This should be an obvious one, but I know that for some students that studying for an exam seems so daunting that they talk themselves into not doing it until it is absolutely necessary. That is not an option if you want to pass the exam with at least a bit of ease.

It may still seem early, but before you know it, May will be just around the corner and you’ll be regretting only studying at the last minute. If you just cannot focus on math like me, use Pomodoro timers like Tide in order to keep you focused and wind down with a break when a certain amount of time has passed so that all of the concepts that you review do not blur together.

Study With Your Classmates

Having study groups may distract some, but they can also be very motivational. For example, the day before the exam, my teacher organized an FRQ workshop at our local frozen yogurt place where my classmates and I used FRQs from the Barron’s books and the College Board website for a fun and relaxing refresher of what we needed to remember for the next morning.

The best study sessions you can have are ones in which there isn’t any pressure and you can help out your fellow classmates be the best they can be on test day while learning things from them along the way.

Don’t Panic!

As math is definitely not my strongest subject, the moment I opened my exam book to a non-calculator multiple choice question in which I had to take the derivative of a function that required a specific rule that had just slipped from my brain, I immediately began to freak out internally; however; I finished the exam with a feeling of contentment.

It is only normal for you not to know everything on an AP exam, and this goes for any exam you take. If you studied your hardest for the test, then remember that you tried your best and accept that you can’t answer every single question correctly. Take a deep breath and move on, and you’ll be sure to be greeted by many questions that you know exactly how to do.

I hope that this information has calmed your nerves about the AP Calculus AB exam. As long as you try your best, you are bound to make a score that satisfies you! If you need information on other AP exams, make sure to check back on the website frequently and follow YGITW on Twitter!