The Advanced Placement (AP) Calculus AB exam is a standardized test administered to high school students worldwide each May. The exam covers topics that generally are taught in the first semester of college calculus. Most students take the exam after a year-long high school calculus class, but this is not a requirement. Students who receive a passing score on the test may be eligible to earn college credits or test out of introductory college math classes.

Test Topics

The test focuses on a few major areas of calculus, which include integrals, derivatives, functions, graphs, and limits. Students can use this test outline to plan their own review process, focusing on the areas where they feel the weakest.

TIme Practice Tests

One of the best ways to prepare for the exam is to take timed practice tests to become familiar with the types of questions and the overall structure of the test. The College Board posts full exams from previous years, along with answer keys and problem explanations, on its website. It is available as a free download for students to use as a study aid.

Sleep, Nutrition and Directions

Taking a rigorous test like the AP Calculus AB exam can be stressful. Students should get an adequate amount of sleep the night before and eat a nutritious breakfast on the morning of the test. If the exam is held at a site other than the student's high school, she may want to practice the trip before test day to familiarize herself with the route.


All students taking the exam are expected to have a graphing calculator to use during the two sections that allow calculators. Only certain calculators are permitted. Sharing calculators during the test is not allowed.

Prohibited Items

Certain items are prohibited on exam day. Students may not bring textbooks, notes, formula sheets, computers, cell phones, cameras, or portable music players. Scratch paper will be provided, so students are not allowed to bring their own. Students should bring a watch to keep track of time, but watches that beep or make other noises are not permitted.

Test Structure

The test has four sections. The first section consists of multiple choice questions and has two parts, one where students can use calculators and one that must be completed without them. The second section is free-response, meaning students must show their work and arrive at a solution themselves. This section has one part where calculators are allowed and another where they are not permitted.

Multiple Choice Section

The multiple choice section of the exam is 105 minutes long and consists of 45 questions. There is no penalty for guessing, but no points are awarded for answers left blank. Students should attempt to answer every question, even if they have to make an educated guess.

Free Response Section

The free-response section of the exam is 90 minutes long and consists of six questions. Students may write in pencil or black or blue pen only. Questions are scored not only on the basis of finding the correct answer, but also on the method of reaching that answer. Students should clearly and neatly show all work, even if using a calculator.

Grading Scale

The exam is scored on a scale. One is the lowest possible score and five is the highest. Three is generally the minimum score required to receive college credit, but many schools require four or even five to grant credit .

Exam Credit

Colleges that grant credit for the exam have different policies regarding how that credit is applied. For example, the University of Rhode Island grants seven credits for a score of three or higher, while Vanderbilt University only grants four credits for a score of five. Students who want to know their future school's policy before they take the test can find it on the College Board's website.

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