Should You Take AP Calculus AB or AP Calculus BC?

As you embark upon your high school career, you might be wondering which courses will be most helpful in achieving your long-term goals. Among the most challenging and competitive high school courses are AP, or Advanced Placement, classes. Featuring college-level subject matter, AP courses help prepare students to take the AP exams, which are tests that enable students to demonstrate mastery of a particular course and potentially earn college credit.


While AP classes are offered in a wide range of subjects, from English Literature and Composition to Chinese Language and Culture, students who excel in math might consider taking AP Calculus AB or AP Calculus BC. The more challenging of the courses, AP Calc BC covers everything students learn in AP Calc AB, along with additional material. These courses aren’t generally required by high schools, but taking them can raise students’ weighted GPAs and improve their standing in the eyes of colleges and universities. Read on to learn more about these courses and to determine whether taking AB or BC is the best choice for your future.

AP Calculus Prerequisites

It’s worth noting that both Calculus AB and Calculus BC are designed to be comparable to college-level calculus classes. To that end, high school students need to take pre-Calculus before enrolling in either course. Based on your academic interests and goals, you may opt to take AB only, take BC only, or take AB and then BC. Note that students who opt to study Calc BC and take the BC exam will receive a sub-score showing how they performed in AB Calculus.

AP Calculus AB Topics

Just because AP Calculus AB is the easier of the two courses, doesn’t mean students should expect to breeze through this class. If you opt to enroll in this class, expect to study a wide array of sophisticated topics, including functions, graphs, and limits; derivatives and their applications, and integrals and their applications. The goal is to deepen a student’s understanding of different concepts to enable them to connect topics and apply the necessary strategies to solve diverse problems.

AP Calculus BC Topics

As a student in AP Calculus BC, you can expect to study all the topics featured in the AB version of the course. However, Calculus BC also includes content related to polynomial approximations and serieses of constants. After completing Calc BC, students should be able to apply calculus concepts and make connections among various mathematical representations.

Why Should You Take AP Calculus BC?

While it’s possible to take both Calculus AB and Calculus BC, many students lack the time to devote to two AP Calc classes. If you’re wondering which course to choose, it’s wise to consider what your goals are for college and beyond. For example, students who hope to major in math, engineering, or science may want to devote the extra time and effort to the BC class. Doing this shows admissions committees that you’re passionate about the field of study and will work hard to achieve your goals at the collegiate level. It also provides students with a more solid foundation for succeeding in college math classes.


Worried that Calc BC might be too big of a challenge given your coursework and extracurricular commitments? It’s worth noting that many high schools allow students to drop down a level if they’re struggling. Depending on your school’s specific policies, you might be able to transition from Calc BC to Calc AB if the workload proves too difficult.

Build a Profile That Will Impress Admissions Officers

Our Early Advising Program helps students in 9th and 10th grade discover their passions and build strong academic and extracurricular profiles to succeed in high school.

Why Should You Take AP Calculus AB?

Students who plan to major in humanities may consider signing up for Calculus AB. Even though Calc AB isn’t necessarily easier than BC, it tends to move at a slower pace due to the fact that there’s less material to cover. As a result, students who aren’t especially strong in math — or simply have busy schedules — may have an easier time succeeding in the course. The last thing you want to do is sign up for a course with a goal of increasing your GPA only to see it drop because your grade was too low.

Taking the AP Exam

If you plan on studying English or social sciences at the college level, taking the AP Calculus AB exam is a great way to get that pesky core math class out of the way. At many colleges, humanities majors are only required to take one course in mathematics. In most cases, students who earn a 4 or a 5 on the Cal AB test can satisfy their school’s math requirement and start college ahead of the game.


On the other hand, students who plan to pursue a math or science degree may be better off taking the AP Calculus BC exam. While different colleges have their own requirements, the general rule of thumb is that the AB exam counts as one semester of college calculus, and the BC exam qualifies as two semesters. Students who anticipate having to take two or more core math classes may be better off in the BC class.


It’s worth noting that AP Calculus AB students can opt to take the BC exam and vice versa. The College Board does allow test takers to self study in preparation for these exams. However, enrolling in a certified AP course is generally regarded as the best way to achieve a strong score.


At CollegeVine, we understand that modern high schools are overwhelmed by the number of students seeking help in achieving their academic goals. We created our Early Advising Program with a goal of giving all students the personalized attention and support they need to achieve their dreams. From offering insider strategies to providing personalized analyses, we help you make the best decisions about your high school career before working with you to get into your target colleges. To learn more about our services, call today or contact our team of mentors online.

Want more tips on improving your academic profile?

We'll send valuable information to help you strengthen your profile and get ready for college admissions.

April Maguire
Blogger at CollegeVine
Short bio
A graduate of the Master of Professional Writing program at USC, April Maguire taught freshman composition while earning her degree. Over the years, she has worked as a writer, editor, tutor, and content manager. Currently, she operates a freelance writing business and lives in Los Angeles with her husband and their three rowdy cats.