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Shaun Ault

How Difficult is the AP Calculus AB Exam?

So you’re considering taking the AP Calculus AB Exam? Good for you! You may already know that it’s a very challenging test, but how hard is it really? If you’ve studied and prepared enough, then the answer is: pretty hard, but not impossible. In this short article, we’ll talk about what makes the AP Calculus AB exam difficult.

AP Calculus AB Exam Difficult? Challenge accepted!

What Makes the AP Calculus AB Exam Difficult?

First of all, the AP Calculus AB Exam is a standardized test. That alone makes it unlike most every test you have seen up to this point in school!

Standardized means that every student in the United States who takes the test must take exactly the same test under precisely the same conditions. This is why you must register for the test far in advance and take it at a pre-approved testing center on a specific date.

students taking a test

These must be the standardized students.

Format of the AP Calculus AB Exam

The test itself takes about 3 hours, but there is typically a break in between sections. There will be 45 multiple choice problems and six free response questions.

The multiple choice format is similar to that of an SAT or ACT (except that the questions are all about calculus).

Free response problems are broken down into multiple parts. In addition, you must show every step of your work for full credit.

For more information about the format of the test, check out: What is the Format of the AP Calculus AB Test?

What’s on the Test?

The thing that really makes the AP Calculus AB exam difficult is the content.

As the name implies, this test is all about calculus! There are three Big Ideas from calculus on the AB test.

  1. Functions and Limits
  2. Differential Calculus (derivatives and their applications)
  3. Integral Calculus (integrals and their applications)

A more detailed list of topics can be found here: What Topics are on the AP Calculus AB Exam?.

Graph illustrating the Mean Value Theorem on secant and tangent lines

A graph illustrating a tangent line and secant line, important concepts in differential calculus.

How Can I Prepare for the Exam?

Of course, if you are planning to take this test, then you probably know a thing or two about calculus. Presumably you’ve been sitting in an AP Calculus course this year, soaking up all thse limits, derivatives, and integrals like a sponge!

Spongebob asleep -magoosh

Can you learn calculus in your sleep?

Furthermore, there are many helpful resources out there to help you prepare for the test.

Make sure you pick up a good study guide with plenty of practice exams. The more practice, the better!


It’s important to know what you’re getting yourself into. So read up on What to Expect on the AP Calculus AB Test.

You might also find this AP Calculus AB Cram Sheet helpful.

Good luck on the exam!

About Shaun Ault

Shaun earned his Ph. D. in mathematics from The Ohio State University in 2008 (Go Bucks!!). He received his BA in Mathematics with a minor in computer science from Oberlin College in 2002. In addition, Shaun earned a B. Mus. from the Oberlin Conservatory in the same year, with a major in music composition. Shaun still loves music -- almost as much as math! -- and he (thinks he) can play piano, guitar, and bass. Shaun has taught and tutored students in mathematics for about a decade, and hopes his experience can help you to succeed!

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