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Taking AP courses in high school are a great way to earn college credit, boost your GPA, and save money while going to college. However, choosing which AP courses to take can be a tough decision, especially if you’re trying to decide between AP Calculus AB and AP Calculus BC. What is the difference and which one should you take? We’ve broken down the differences between the two courses and factors to consider when deciding between the two.

First off, what is Calculus?

In short, Calculus is a branch of mathematics that studies continuous change. Derivative calculus measures rates of change, while integral calculus focuses on the summation of infinitesimal differences, such as the area under a curve.

What is AP Calculus AB?

Calculus AB is a college-level course that covers derivatives, definite integrals, and the fundamental theorem of calculus.

What is Calculus BC?

AP Calculus BC comes after Calculus AB; however, you’re able to take Calculus BC without taking Calculus AB. The main difference between the two courses is that Calculus BC covers the fundamentals of Calculus AB at a faster pace and includes additional topics such as parametric functions, polar functions, vector functions, and analysis of series.

Which One Should I Take?

In order to take either course, you’ll need to take a Precalculus course. If you found Precalculus to have been fairly easy, consider taking BC Calculus over AB Calculus.

To help determine which course is best for you, consider your future. Do you think you’ll be pursuing a math-heavy career such as engineering or science? If so, taking and passing the BC Calculus exam may give you more math credit towards college.

Another important factor to weigh is your course load. Overloading your schedule may cause extra stress, leading to burnout and a lower overall grade and test score. If your schedule looks like it could be challenging, or if you’re not big on math, consider taking AB Calculus.

Key Differences

  • AP Calculus AB focuses on topics that are taught in a first-semester class. 
  • AP Calculus BC focuses on topics covered in both first and second semester calculus classes.

A brief overview of the topics covered in each course include:

AP Calculus AB course and exam topics
– Graphing Functions
– Understanding Limits
– Interpreting Asymptotes
– Analyzing Derivatives

AP Calculus BC course and exam topics
– Topics covered in Calculus AB
– Polar Graphs and Derivatives
– Functions Expressed in Polar Coordinates
– Improper Integrals
– Partial Functions
– Euler’s Method
– Parametric and Polar Curves
– Geometric, Harmonic, Taylor, and Power Series
– Integration by Parts
– Lagrange Error Bound
– Logistical Growth Models

Go into your exam with confidence. Start preparing for your AP Calculus AB Exam or AP Calculus BC Exam with Peterson’s Test Prep. Get unlimited access to full-length practice tests and testing tips tailored specifically to the exam.