How to Prepare for the AP Calculus Exam – Part 3

Now that you know what to expect from the test, let’s tackle the multiple-choice questions (MCQs) first. In this post we’ll talk about some useful test-taking strategies and the key concepts you should study before test day.

Practice, Practice, Practice

The first strategy I’ll recommend has more to do with what you do before the test, rather than what you do while you’re taking it. As with any standardized test, you want to get as many practice problems under your belt as possible. This may seem obvious, but there’s a good reason behind it. Standardized tests are made up of the same types of problems over and over again. The AP Calc exam is no different. Year in, year out the actual problem types remain the same just with different numbers, scenarios, and other factors changed.

Being able to quickly and correctly identify question types is absolutely crucial on the AP Calc exam. The most important part of this “problem recognition” skill is finding the problems you know you can complete both quickly and easily. Remember, the easiest MCQ is worth the same number of points as the hardest MCQ on this test.

We know you only need to answer about 65% of the questions on this test correctly to earn a 5. This means there’s no need to spend a ton of time banging your head against the hardest problems when you could first complete the easy ones. Knowing which problems you can consistently solve will help you spend your time wisely and in turn earn more points.

To accomplish this, I suggest you simply complete the MCQ section in two passes. On the first pass simply do all of the problems you know how to do quickly, circling and skipping the ones you know will take longer or you know you’re not as adept at.  On your second pass attack the more complicated ones and make sure that you have filled in every answer on the bubble sheet before time expires. There is no guessing penalty on the AP Calc exams.

Also, don’t forget to use the calculator when necessary.  There are problems that CAN be done by hand, but are much quicker with the calculator.  Graphing to find intersections or using the definite integral function (MATH 9!) can save a lot of time and hassle on this section.  Knowing how to use your calculator effectively will really help you here.

What topics should I study?

When reviewing material for the MCQ section, start by studying these fundamental topics:

  • Limits
  • Continuity
  • Basic trig values
  • Derivatives and derivative rules
  • Basic integrals
  • Slope fields
  • Fundamental theorem of calculus
  • L’Hopital’s rule

Mastering these will give you enough points to earn at least a 3 on the exam.

When you’re comfortable with those, review the following set of topics:

  • Position/velocity/acceleration
  • Related rates
  • Optimization
  • Differential equations
  • Derivatives of general functions

Of course there are more topics on the test, but if you are confident in all of the above concepts you should get through this section with enough points to get a 5.  

If you’ve found this series helpful so far, we’re not done yet. We’ve still got one more blog post left in this series where we will look at how to attack the free-response questions (FRQs). Stay tuned for that early next week and keep on studying!

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