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Recent research shows that around 1.2 million high school students took at least one AP exam in 2020. That’s more than 38% of the total U.S. student population.  Is your high-schooler planning to take one this year? If so, it pays to be prepared. This is especially true when it comes to a complex and challenging exam, such as AP Calculus.

Here’s an in-depth look at what the AP Calculus exams will look like in 2021. In addition to explaining the format, we’ll share helpful tips and resources that can put your student on the fast track to that sought-after high score.

A Brief Overview of the 2021 AP Calculus Exams

An AP Calculus exam will test your child’s knowledge of the mathematical concepts that they’ve covered in class, as well as cumulative knowledge of algebra, trigonometry and pre-calculus concepts. In addition to solving equations, students will also be required to select and use the proper formulas for each calculation. They will also need to show the procedures they used to find the answer, using correct notations in their work.

This coursework is challenging, and the exam can be intimidating. However, it can also open new doors of opportunity for your child, including the chance to demonstrate readiness for more challenging coursework and the opportunity to earn college credit! For those reasons, it’s smart for your child to take the exam, even if it seems daunting.

Testing Timeframes

If your child is currently enrolled in AP Calculus, they will have the opportunity to take the final exam in the spring of 2021. This year, exam dates are broken into three Administration periods.  Administration 1 and Administration 2 dates are offered in-person, in school. They are available via paper format only. Administration 3 dates are digital, online exams offered either in school or at home.

In 2021, the dates for the AP Calculus exams are as follows. Both AB and BC exams will be offered on the same day.

  • Administration 1: Tuesday, May 4, 2021
  • Administration 2: Monday, May 24, 2021
  • Administration 3: Wednesday, June 9, 2021

Individual schools are free to use any of the testing options, so it’s important to check with your teen’s teacher or school’s AP coordinator to understand how, when, and where the test will be conducted. The paper and digital versions of the exam will both be comprehensive and full-length.

Test Length and Format

Both paper and digital exams will last three hours and 15 minutes. There will be 45 multiple-choice questions as well as six free-response questions. Here’s a more detailed breakdown.

If a subject doesn’t come easily for your child, you may notice that they’re spending an inordinate amount of time on their homework, lab assignments or school projects. While there will undoubtedly be assignments that require substantial work and time to complete, it could be a sign that they’re stuck on a particular topic and can’t work past it. When this happens, a tutor can help break even the most difficult chemistry topics into approachable segments that are easier to learn and retain. This way, they’ll be able to approach their work in a more easily digestible manner that will help them require less time studying.

Multiple-Choice Questions

The multiple-choice portion of the 2021 AP Calculus exam is divided into two sections. They include:

  • Part A: 30 questions: 33.3% of total exam weight, 60 minutes
  • Part B: 15 questions: 16.7% of total exam weight, 45 minutes

Your student will not be able to use a graphing calculator to complete Part A of the multiple-choice questions. They are required to use it in Part B.

Multiple-choice questions will test your child’s knowledge of different types of functions. These include:

  • General
  • Algebraic
  • Logarithmic
  • Exponential
  • Trigonometric

Students will be required to showcase their skills in employing a variety of mathematical practices to solve a given problem. These practices are broken down as:

  • Applying mathematical processes: 53% to 66% of total exam weight
  • Connecting representations: 18% to 28% of total exam weight
  • Justification: 11% to 18% of total exam weight

Note that calculator restrictions only apply to students taking the paper-based AP Calculus exam. Graphing calculators are permitted on all sections of the digital exam.

Free-Response Questions

Free-Response Questions - learn more by Tungsten Prep

Likewise, there are two sections of free-response questions. They include:

  • Part A: 2 questions: 16.7% of total exam weight, 30 minutes
  • Part B: 4 questions: 33.3% of total exam weight, 60 minutes

Your student is required to use a graphing calculator to complete Part A of the free-response questions. If they’re taking a paper test, then they are not allowed to use it in Part B. The free-response questions will be equally divided between procedural and conceptual types. Your student should also expect at least two questions that present course subjects in a real-world scenario.

All three of the mathematical practices covered in the multiple-choice questions are also covered here, though the weights are different. There’s also an extra fourth practice. In the free-response portion of the test, these breakdowns apply:

  • Applying mathematical processes: 37% to 55% of total exam weight
  • Connecting representations: 9% to 16% of total exam weight
  • Justification: 37% to 55% of total exam weight (Calculus AB), 37% to 59% (Calculus BC)
  • Communication and notation: 13% to 24% of total exam weight (Calculus AB), 9% to 20% (Calculus BC)

Units Covered 

The specific units covered in the exam will depend on whether your child is currently enrolled in AP Calculus AB or AP Calculus BC. Note that they cannot take both exams in the same testing period. The AP exam for students in AP Calculus AB will cover eight course units, while the exam for AP Calculus BC will cover 10 course units. Let’s take a closer look at each unit, and the exam weight it carries.

Units 1-8: Both Calculus AB and BC

The following eight units are covered in the exams for both Calculus AB and Calculus BC. However, they’re weighted differently for each course type. Here’s the breakdown:

  • Unit 1: Limits and Continuity: 10% to 12% for AB, 4% to 7% for BC
  • Unit 2: Differentiation (definition, basic rules): 10% to 12% for AB, 4% to 7% for BC
  • Unit 3: Differentiation (composite, implicit, inverse functions): 9% to 13% for AB, 4% to 7% for BC
  • Unit 4: Differentiation (contextual applications): 10% to 15% for AB, 6% to 9% for BC
  • Unit 5: Applying derivatives: 15% to 18% for AB, 8% to 11% for BC
  • Unit 6: Change integration and accumulation: 17% to 20% for AB, 17% to 20% for BC
  • Unit 7: Differential equations: 6% to 12% for AB, 6% to 9% for BC
  • Unit 8: Applications of integration: 10% to 15% for AB, 6% to 9% for BC

Units 9 and 10: Calculus BC Only

Calculus BC expands on the topics covered in Calculus AB. As such, the exam for this course includes two more units. These are:

  • Unit 9: Parametric equations, polar coordinates, vector-valued functions: 11% to 12%
  • Unit 10: Infinite series, sequences: 17% to 18%

Tips to Help Your Student Prepare

Before your child takes the AP Calculus exam, there are a few study tips that can help them go into test day with the utmost confidence. Here are a few of our top suggestions.

Practice Task Verbs

In the Course and Exam Description (CED) for AP Calculus AB and BC, you’ll find a list of key task verbs that The College Board typically looks for in free-response questions. By learning this list, your student can make sure their answers respond precisely to the question that is asked.

A few of the ones to remember include:

  • Approximate
  • Calculate
  • Determine
  • Estimate
  • Indicate
  • Interpret
  • Justify
  • Represent
  • Verify

A question that asks a student to represent the answer might require a graph or drawing of a geometric shape, while a question that calls for the student to justify will warrant a written explanation supported by a proof or other steps that use relevant equations or techniques. By incorporating these varied mathematical techniques into their responses, students can demonstrate mastery in the subject and reveal their depth of test preparedness.

Try Practice Questions

The 2021 AP Calculus Exams Format and Tips by Tungsten Prep

The CED also includes several helpful practice questions. Your child should have received a copy of this guide when they first enrolled in their AP Calculus course, but it is also available on the College Board website.

They can take a look at these questions and see if they can get the answers correct. If not, this is a great way to prioritize which concepts need attention first.

Take Advantage of Digital Practice

Is your student planning to take the exam online in June? If so, they can see what test day will be like via The College Board’s Digital Practice page. This is a new feature rolled out to help students become more acclimated to taking the test in a virtual environment.

With this tool, they can preview the different types of questions on their exam (both multiple-choice and free-response). They can also learn all of the pre-exam steps they need to complete, as well as the directions and tools to follow. This is also a great time for them to check and make sure their technology is working as it should!

If they can’t access the extensive Digital Practice library, students can log into the shorter App Demo. The demo covers the same concepts but includes fewer practice questions.

Get AP Test Prep 

Some parents want extensive, year-long support for their child as they navigate their AP Calculus course. Others simply want dedicated, short-term test prep as they gear up for the AP Calculus exam. Either way, our team is here to help. Our AP Test Prep services were designed with the ambitious student in mind.

Not only do we know the content, format, and scoring methodology, but we can also help your student learn other skills to improve their testing performance. For instance, we’ll cover how to self-pace to ensure adequate time during the test. We’ll work one-on-one with your child to make sure they understand exactly what to expect on the big day. We’ll cover the concepts to learn so they can demonstrate college readiness throughout the exam.

Help Your Child Ace the AP Calculus Exam

The AP Calculus exams might look a little different this year, but it’s still critical for your student to prepare as early as possible. If they’ve persevered through a year of studying, homework, and  test-taking, then it’s smart to take exam prep seriously.

At Tungsten Prep, we take it seriously too.

We offer extensive AP test prep services on a variety of subjects, and we’d love to help your child succeed. Book a free consultation today to learn more about the services that we can provide.