AP Calculus AB Course and Exam Information

Learn What Score You'll Need and What Course Credit You'll Receive

Students Taking Exam
Students Taking Exam. Fuse / Getty Images

AP Calculus AB is a much more popular course than AP Calculus BC, and in 2017 over 300,000 took the exam. Few AP courses and exams are as effective in demonstrating college readiness than calculus, especially for students going into STEM or business fields. Keep in mind that the AP Calculus BC course is more challenging than AB, and the course is likely to earn students better college course placement.

About the AP Calculus AB Course and Exam

The AP Calculus AB course covers central calculus concepts such as functions, graphs, limits, derivatives, and integrals. Before taking AP Calculus AB, students should have completed coursework in algebra, geometry, and trigonometry, and they should have been introduced to elementary functions.

The learning outcomes for AP Calculus AB can be organized around three big topics:

  • Limits. The concept of limits is at the heart of calculus, and students need to learn to compute limits. Coverage includes one-sided limits, limits at infinity, limits and sequences, intervals of continuity, and points of discontinuity. Students learn to express limits symbolically and interpret limits that are expressed symbolically.
  • Derivatives. Derivatives are used to describe how one variable changes in relation to another variable. Students learn about different types of derivatives, methods for estimating derivatives from tables and graphs, and methods for solving certain types of differential equations. This section covers some real-world applications such as growth and decay models.
  • Integrals and the Fundamental Theorem of Calculus. The Fundamental Theorem of Calculus, as the name suggests, is central to the study of calculus, and students must understand the relationship between integration and differentiation. Students must also be able to understand definite integrals that involve a Riemann sum, approximate definite integrals using various methods, and use geometry to compute definite integrals.
  • A fourth big topic, series, is part of the AP Calculus BC curriculum.. 

AP Calculus AB Score Information

In 2017, 316,099 students took the AP Calculus AB exam, and of those students, 181,876 (57.5 percent) scored a three or higher indicating that they have reached a level of competency similar to that provided by a college calculus course.

The distribution of scores for the AP Calculus AB exam is as follows, according to 2017 data:

  • 5 - 18.7%
  • 4 - 18.0%
  • 3 - 20.8%
  • 2 - 22.0%
  • 1 - 20.4%

The mean score was a 2.93. 

Students who take AP Calculus BC cover all of the information in the AB course, and they receive a subscore for the AB test when they take the BC exam. The AB test score distribution for students who take the BC exam is significantly higher than the general AB exam pool:

  • 5 - 48.4%
  • 4 - 22.5%
  • 3 - 14.1%
  • 2 - 10.0%
  • 1 - 4.9%

The mean AB subscore for students who took the BC exam was 4.00.. 

College Credit and Course Placement for AP Calculus AB

Most colleges and universities have a math or quantitative reasoning requirement, so a high score on the AP Calculus AB exam will often fulfill this requirement. Note that AP Calculus AB, unlike AP Calculus BC, does not cover polynomial approximations and series.

The AP Calculus BC exam often offers higher placement and more course credit than AP Calculus AB.

The table below presents some representative data from a variety of colleges and universities. This information is meant to provide a general overview of the scoring and placement practices related to the AP Calculus AB exam. For schools not listed here, you'll need to search the college's website or contact the appropriate Registrar's office to get AP placement information, and you'll also want to confirm the most recent placement guidelines for the schools mentioned here.

AP Calculus AB Scores and Placement
CollegeScore NeededPlacement Credit
Georgia Tech4 or 5MATH 1501 (4 semester hours)
Grinnell College4 or 54 semester credits (conditional credit for a 3); MAT 123, 124, 131
LSU3, 4 or 5MATH 1431 or 1441 (3 credits) for a 3; MATH 1550 (5 credits) for a 4 or 5
MIT4 or 5no credit; placement in accelerated calculus
Mississippi State University3, 4 or 5MA 1713 (3 credits)
Notre Dame3, 4 or 5Mathematics 10250 (3 credits) for a 3; Mathematics 10550 (4 credits) for a 4 or 5
Reed College4 or 51 credit; placement determined in consultation with the faculty
Stanford University4 or 5MATH 42 (5 quarter units) for a 4; MATH 51 (10 quarter units) for a 5
Truman State University3, 4 or 5MATH 192 Essentials of Calculus (4 credits) for a 3; MATH 198 Analytic Geometry & Calculus I (5 credits) for a 4 or 5
UCLA (School of Letters and Science)3, 4 or 54 credits and Calculus for a 3 or 4; 4 credits and MATH 31A for a 5
Yale University51 credit

A Final Word About AP Calculus AB

To learn more specific information about the AP Calculus AB exam, be sure to visit the official College Board website.

Finally, keep in mind that even if the college you plan to attend does not give credit for the AP Calculus AB exam, doing well can strengthen your application. Success in AP courses is often a much better measure of an applicant's college readiness than SAT scores, class rank, and other measures. In general, the most important part of any college application is a success in a rigorous high school curriculum that includes AP, IB, Honors, and/or Dual Enrollment classes. Completion of calculus shows that you have pushed yourself in math and are prepared for the rigors of college.