AP Calculus BC

Calculus AB and Calculus BC are both designed to be college-level calculus courses. As such, the main prerequisite for both AB and BC Calculus is pre-Calculus.

When it comes to the AP Calculus classes, you have three options: you can take AB and BC Calculus as a sequence, take AB Calculus only, or skip AB Calculus and go straight to BC Calculus.

The reason you can take one or the other is because AB and BC aren’t totally different classes. BC Calculus includes everything in AB Calculus, plus a few extra topics. You’ll actually get an AB Calculus sub-score when you take the BC exam.

So Calculus BC is not necessarily more difficult than Calculus AB. BC Calculus has to move faster because it covers more material, which is what makes it more intense than AB.

Some schools teach AP Calculus BC in two class periods to fit in all the material or have more intensive summer assignments. AP Calculus BC courses often cover everything in Calculus AB in the first semester, while AB stretches that material out over a full year.

If you decide to take Calculus AB and Calculus BC as a sequence – for example take AB Calculus junior year and then BC Calculus senior year – you don’t have to worry about picking between the two classes.

But if you only have room for one AP Calculus class (as most people do), which one should you take? We’ll tell you the topics and discuss the benefits of each option below.

AP Calculus AB Topics

  • Functions, Graphs, and Limits
  • Derivatives
  • Applications of Derivatives
  • Integrals
  • Applications of Integrals

Source: AP Central

AP Calculus BC Topics

  • Functions, Graphs, and Limits
  • Derivatives
  • Applications of Derivatives
  • Integrals
  • Applications of Integrals
  • Polynomial Approximations and Series
  • Series of Constants
  • Taylor Series

Source: AP Central

Should You Jump to AP Calculus BC?

If you’re up to the challenge, jumping from pre-calculus to Calculus BC can be a great option.

This could be especially good if you want to study engineering or natural science in college. Taking Calculus BC shows motivation and drive when it comes to math, and you’ll need strong math skills as an engineering or science major.

If you’re big on math, you could take an even more advanced calculus course at a local university or community college as a senior (that is if you take AP Calculus BC junior year). You can also make room for AP Statistics, Economics, or Computer Science in your senior year. Jumping to AP Calculus BC gives you a chance to really challenge yourself as a high school student.

It’s also important to note, at some schools, you can drop down to the AB Calculus course if you find that BC is too challenging. This might be a good option if you’re pretty sure you want to take BC Calculus but aren’t positive you will be able to keep up. (Of course, check with your guidance counselor before you sign up to make sure this is possible.)

Finally, taking and passing the BC Calculus exam gives you more math credit in college in the vast majority of cases. This is helpful for future engineering and natural science majors since you can jump into required math courses sooner.

To give just one example, at the University of Michigan College of Engineering, getting a 5 on AB Calculus gets you 4 credit hours, but getting a 5 on BC Calculus gets you 8 credit hours. (To look up the credit policy at any university, check out the AP’s college database.)

Should You Take AB Calculus Instead?

Even though you often get more college credit for BC Calculus, taking AB Calculus can be a great option as well.

You will still get a calculus background that’ll set you up for college math. Although you won’t get to the extra topics that BC Calculus covers, you’ll still learn core calculus concepts like limits, derivatives, and integrals. This will give you the fundamentals you need for tougher college math courses.

You’re less likely to be overwhelmed and burn out in AB Calculus, as well. Since BC Calculus has to cover more material in one year, at many schools it has more frequent and harder assignments. AB Calculus is definitely challenging, but it doesn’t move as fast, so it’s less likely you’ll fall behind.

Taking AB Calculus might free up your schedule for an additional class. Since some schools teach BC over two class periods, you might not be able to fit in a different AP class or extracurricular. But AB Calculus will just be one class period, which could leave you room for another class.

And finally, in some cases, you’ll get the same math placement as you would for BC Calculus if you get a very good AP Exam score. (Read more about AP Exam scoring here.) For example, at my alma mater Stanford, if you had a 5 on AB Calculus, you would get placed in the same math course as students who had gotten a 4 or 5 on BC Calculus. Again, check the credit policy at the schools you’re interested in to see how much of a difference there is between AB and BC credit.

Should You Take AB Calculus Then BC Calculus?

Some people consider taking AB Calculus first then BC Calculus the following year. They’re often tempted to do this if they don’t feel quite prepared enough to start with BC Calculus, but they want extra college credits for passing the AP exam or they want to impress colleges by taking the more difficult AP calculus class.

In most cases, we don’t recommend taking both AB and BC Calculus. AB Calculus and BC Calculus are similar enough that taking them one after the other will be a lot like taking the same class twice, and it’ll probably be pretty boring for you. Taking both also usually won’t help your college applications because it will look like you needed two years to learn calculus instead of one. Also, if you’re looking to get a lot of college credits from your AP classes, you can usually get more from taking AB Calculus and another non-calculus AP than you would from taking both AB and BC Calculus.

If you were considering taking both AB and BC Calculus but aren’t sure which one to take now, keep reading for the questions you should ask yourself.

Source: https://blog.prepscholar.com/should-i-take-ap-calculus-ab-or-ap-calculus-bc