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Test Prep

Understanding AP Math Exam Fundamentals: Tips and Strategies for Success

Earning a high score on an Advanced Placement® AP® exam can catapult you to college admissions success—it looks good on your application, can positively affect your GPA, and can even earn you college credit!

In this article, we'll delve into the fundamentals of the four math AP tests offered by the College Board. From understanding the scoring system to breaking down the components of each exam, you will receive an overview to help you prepare for your exam or decide whether or not to take these exams in the future.

Scoring System

AP exams are scored on a scale from one to five, with five being the highest. The scoring breakdown is as follows:

5: Extremely well-qualified (equivalent to an A or A+)

4: Very well-qualified (ranges from a B to an A-)

3: Qualified (from a C to a B-)

2: Possibly qualified

1: Not recommended

Overview of Math AP Exams

The four math AP exams offered by the College Board are Calculus AB, Calculus BC, Pre-Calculus, and Statistics.

  1. Calculus AB Exam

    This one-semester (equivalent) calculus course covers topics such as limits, continuity, differentiation, integration, and more. The exam consists of two sections: multiple-choice (50% of the score) and free-response (50% of the score). The multiple-choice section is further divided into part A (calculator not allowed) and part B (calculator allowed). Time management is crucial, as test-takers are challenged to get through 45 questions in part A and 15 questions in part B.

  2. Calculus BC Exam

    Building on Calculus AB, this full-year course extends into topics like parametric equations, polar coordinates, vector functions, infinite sequences, and series. The exam structure mirrors that of Calculus AB, but with a greater emphasis on the latter part of the course. As with the Calculus AB exam, both sections, multiple-choice (45 questions) and free-response (6 questions), contribute equally to the overall score.

  3. Pre-Calculus Exam

    The pre-calculus test assesses knowledge in areas such as functions, rational functions, exponential and logarithmic functions, and trigonometric and polar functions. Unlike the calculus exams, the pre-calculus exam places a heavier emphasis on 40 multiple-choice questions (62.5% of the score) in section one. Section two involves 4 free-response questions (37.5% of the score).

  4. Statistics Exam

    Covering statistical concepts such as samples, surveys, hypotheses, means testing, and probability distributions, the statistics exam consists of two sections. Section one focuses on 40 multiple-choice questions (50% of the score), while section two involves 6 free response questions (50% of the score).

Preparing for Success

To excel on your math AP exams, you’ll need to demonstrate subject-matter expertise—and you’ll also need to deploy effective test-taking strategies. Below are three that we and our colleagues at The Princeton Review® often advise students to practice.

The two-pass system for multiple-choice questions involves initially answering questions you are sure about (the answer now questions) and returning later to tackle the more challenging ones. This strategy ensures that you maximize your points. Once you’ve secured all the points from your answer now questions, you can devote more time to figuring out more challenging problems on your second pass.

Another helpful strategy is process of elimination, in which you eliminate obviously incorrect answer choices, increasing the likelihood of selecting the correct answer. Again, the purpose is to maximize your points. (Pro tip: Be sure you read each question carefully so you don’t get fooled by trick answers!)

In the free-response section, craft clear and detailed explanations. Avoid leaving any question blank, and show your work to the greatest extent possible.

Remember to check with your school for any specific procedures related to AP exams, and take heart—you are already on your way to maximizing your AP exam score!

To learn more about effective AP math exam-taking strategies, check out our webinar!

AP® and Advanced Placement® are trademarks registered by the College Board.