AP Calculus AB and AP Calculus BC focus on students’ understanding of calculus concepts and provide experience with methods and applications. Through the use of big ideas of calculus (e.g., modeling change, approximation and limits, and analysis of functions), each course becomes a cohesive whole, rather than a collection of unrelated topics. Both courses require students to use definitions and theorems to build arguments and justify conclusions. The courses feature a multi representational approach to calculus, with concepts, results, and problems expressed graphically, numerically, analytically, and verbally. Exploring connections among these representations builds understanding of how calculus applies limits to develop important ideas, definitions, formulas, and theorems. A sustained emphasis on clear communication of methods, reasoning, justifications, and conclusions is essential. Teachers and students should regularly use technology to reinforce relationships among functions, to confirm written work, to implement experimentation, and to assist in interpreting results.
College Course Equivalent
AP Calculus AB is designed to be the equivalent of a first semester college calculus course devoted to topics in differential and integral calculus. AP Calculus BC is designed to be the equivalent to both first and second semester college calculus courses. AP Calculus BC applies the content and skills learned in AP Calculus AB to parametrically defined curves, polar curves, and vector-valued functions; develops additional integration techniques and applications; and introduces the topics of sequences and series.
Before studying calculus, all students should complete the equivalent of four years of secondary mathematics designed for college-bound students: courses that should prepare them with a strong foundation in reasoning with algebraic symbols and working with algebraic structures. Prospective calculus students should take courses in which they study algebra, geometry, trigonometry, analytic geometry, and elementary functions. These functions include linear, polynomial, rational, exponential, logarithmic, trigonometric, inverse trigonometric, and piecewise-defined functions. In particular, before studying calculus, students must be familiar with the properties of functions, the composition of functions, the algebra of functions, and the graphs of functions. Students must also understand the language of functions (domain and range, odd and even, periodic, symmetry, zeros, intercepts, and descriptors such as increasing and decreasing). Students should also know how the sine and cosine functions are defined from the unit circle and know the values of the trigonometric functions and their multiples. Students who take AP Calculus BC should have basic familiarity with sequences and series, as well as some exposure to parametric and polar equations.