AP exams may be several months away, but it’s never too early for students to begin thinking ahead!
We sat down with mathematics tutor Fei Yu to get their advice on studying for the new AP calculus exam. We’ll summarize some of our key takeaways in today’s blog.
How Well Do AP Calculus Classes Prepare Students for the AP Exam?
Generally speaking, the material students cover during an AB or BC calculus class serves as a reasonable baseline for the material they can expect to see on an AP exam. There may, however, be some notable variances in the problems they’re tested on in each setting.
AP exams contain a diverse mix of problems that are both formulaic and conceptual in nature. But some calculus teachers have the tendency to include mostly formulaic problems on their classroom tests.
Students who are unaccustomed to thinking about mathematics conceptually can feel unprepared for these types of problems on the exam. They may be able to solve a formula perfectly but get tripped up when they have to define words like “derivative” or “integral.”
So the first piece of advice is for students to know their fundamental mathematics concepts. But there are other tips that can help them score well on the AP Calculus exam.
Study Tips for the AP Calculus Exam
Tip #1: Plan ahead
Students should give themselves a good 8 weeks to study for the exam. AP exams take place in May, so that means starting the review process no later than March. Those students in BC calculus should plan to practice AB and BC materials for an even distribution of topics. AB materials are great for more foundational review, while BC materials cover a broader range of topics.
Tip #2: Stick to official practice materials
Official practice tests and past exam questions from College Board are the best study materials out there. It’s also possible to find free PDFs of past exams with some strategic Googling. Prep books can be helpful, but know that Princeton Review and Kaplan tend to skew slightly easier than the exams themselves. Barron’s tends to skew slightly harder.
Tip #3: Take at least 2-3 practice exams
Even students who don’t anticipate doing much preparation outside of class should plan to take 2-3 practice exams. The content of the AP exam itself will closely mirror the class curriculum. But practice exams will help prepare students for the style of the AP exam, which can be considerably different from their classroom tests. Practice exams can also help students pinpoint where they should focus their efforts during any test prep they do undertake.
Tip #4: Don’t be afraid to make mistakes
Keep in mind that the point of practicing anything—hobbies, sports, instruments, mathematics problems—isn’t to get it 100% right immediately. In fact, getting it wrong is a big part of how people learn. This logic can be confusing to students because it runs counter to most of their experiences with the education system (e.g. graded homework). When studying for a subject like calculus, students should stop worrying about getting the answer “right” or “wrong” the first time. The more mistakes they make while they’re practicing, the more opportunities they have to think their way through the concepts, which helps them avoid making the same mistakes on the exam.