If you’re thinking about taking AP Calculus, you may have already come upon a difficult question or two: What’s the difference between Calculus AB and BC, and which should I take? Luckily, you won’t need calculus to find out the answer.
AP Calculus BC comes after Calculus AB in the calculus course sequence. However, you can take Calculus BC without having taken Calculus AB. How? Calculus BC will cover most of the important fundamentals from Calculus AB but at a more rapid pace. The concepts in Calculus BC aren’t more difficult than in Calculus AB, but Calculus BC does cover more material in the same period of time.
The most important difference between Calculus AB and BC is the number of topics and the amount of material covered.
The Difference Between Calculus AB and BC
The major difference between Calculus AB and BC is scope rather than difficulty. While both AP Calculus courses are designed to be college-level classes, Calculus AB is designed to cover the equivalent of one semester of college calculus over the span of a year. Calculus AB covers derivatives, definite integrals and the fundamental theorem of calculus.
Calculus BC, on the other hand, covers a full year of college-level calculus over the same period of time. It includes the topics covered in Calculus AB as well as parametric functions, polar functions, vector functions and analysis of series.
Which Should I Take? Calculus AB vs. BC
Precalculus is the main prerequisite for both Calculus AB and Calculus BC. If you did well in precalculus, especially if you found the class perhaps a bit too easy, you should consider going ahead to Calculus BC.
Other factors to take into consideration regarding whether to choose Calculus AB vs. BC are your upcoming course load and your overall goals. If you’re going into your junior year of high school, you may be looking at a schedule that is already full of rigorous courses like chemistry, physics or higher-level biology. Try not to overload your schedule, especially if you’re already planning on taking one or more courses that may require extra study sessions outside of school. If your schedule already looks difficult, choose Calculus AB. You can continue on to Calculus BC in your senior year after you have acquired a more solid foundation with Calculus AB.
If you have your sights set on a highly competitive career field such as engineering or medicine, taking Calculus BC may give you a leg up on your competition. Achieving a 5 on the AP Calculus BC exam can help you earn credit for an equivalent college-level course. At some universities, this can translate to up to 8 hours of credit compared to 4 credit hours for Calculus AB.
However, be careful. Don’t skip Calculus AB unless you feel confident in your precalculus skills. Trying to forge ahead too quickly may result in lower grades, decreasing your competitiveness even if the low grades are in rigorous courses like Calculus BC.
What Is on the AP Exam? Calculus AB vs. BC
Everything from the Calculus AB exam is also covered on the Calculus BC exam. Students taking the Calculus BC exam will earn a score for both Calculus AB and Calculus BC.
Some of the topics covered on the Calculus AB exam include graphing functions, understanding limits, interpreting asymptotes, analyzing derivatives and more. In addition to topics from Calculus AB, the AP Calculus BC exam covers the following:
- Polar graphs with derivatives
- Functions expressed in polar coordinates
- Improper integrals
- Partial functions
- Euler’s method
- Parametric curves
- Polar curves
- Geometric series
- Harmonic series
- Taylor series
- Power series
- Integration by parts
- Lagrange error bound
- Logistical growth models, and more
If you are still unsure which class you should take, ask your precalculus teacher for his advice.
Rebecca Renner is a teacher and college professor from Florida. She loves teaching about literature, and she writes about books for Book Riot, Real Simple, Electric Literature and more.