AP Math Classes: How to Compare and Choose | College Admissions Playbook


The College Board offers three Advanced Placement classes in math: AP Calculus AB, AP Calculus BC and AP Statistics. Successful completion of an AP math class is invaluable to many college-bound students, but choosing between the three options can be difficult. Here is what you should know about each.

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AP Calculus AB

Before enrolling in AP Calculus AB, students should have successfully completed coursework in algebra, geometry, analytic geometry, trigonometry and elementary functions. Calculus AB is designed to be the equivalent of a first-semester college calculus course. It covers fundamental topics in calculus such as limits and continuity, differentiation, integration and accumulation of change, and differential equations.

Some students elect to take Calculus AB and Calculus BC as a sequence, whereas others take just one or the other. There is no right way to go about choosing since several factors may be at play, including which courses your school offers. Also consider your scheduling demands, affinity for math and career plans.

Calculus AB is best suited to students who are strong in math and want a foundation in calculus. Taking this course may be a great option for students who want to satisfy a college math requirement but do not necessarily wish to pursue a career in a math-related field.

A high score on the Calculus AB exam will generally earn a student three to five college credits, depending on a college’s policies.

AP Calculus BC

AP Calculus BC has the same prerequisites as AP Calculus AB and mirrors two semesters of college-level calculus. Therefore, Calculus BC may be better suited to more ambitious students, math lovers and those who wish to pursue a degree in a math-related field.

Calculus BC covers the same material as the AB course plus two additional units: one on parametric equations, polar coordinates, and vector-valued functions, and another on infinite sequences and series.

Because a Calculus AB subscore is also calculated when students sit for the Calculus BC exam, it is still possible to get credit for the AB level even if you score poorly on questions concerning BC concepts. The College Board recommends this benefit but leaves it up to individual colleges to decide.

When you think of the time and money that any earned credits can save you in college, taking AP Calculus BC can be well worth it. But you must be willing to invest the extra study time and know that you can keep up with the fast pace.

AP Statistics

The prerequisite for AP Statistics is successful completion of a second-year algebra course and, according to the College Board, “sufficient mathematical maturity and quantitative reasoning ability.” With its heavy reliance on graphs, AP Statistics takes familiar concepts and adds an extra layer of complexity.

Because it is modeled after introductory college-level, noncalculus-based statistics classes, AP Statistics covers topics such as one- and two-variable data, probability, random variables, sampling distributions and more.

While still a math class at its core, AP Statistics requires somewhat more reading and management of vocabulary than the calculus courses. In addition, AP Statistics is said to be applicable to a broader range of academic disciplines, since data collection and analysis is conducted in nearly every field.

A high score on the AP Statistics exam can generally earn students three or four college credits. While some of the more competitive colleges like the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Stanford University offer neither credit nor placement for completion of AP Statistics, taking the course and/or the exam is still beneficial. You make your college application more appealing, broaden your knowledge base and potentially explore a personal interest.

Find out more about the AP math offerings before deciding on one, two or all three.



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