Calculus AB vs Calculus BC: What Should I Choose to Enter College?

High school students often ask our online math tutors what’s the best way to prepare for college-level mathematics courses. The answer, unfortunately, is not as straightforward as we would like it to be. It depends on the college you plan to attend, the major you plan to study, and your own mathematical abilities and interests. However, we can give you some general advice that may help you make a decision.

If you are planning to major in science or engineering, you will most likely need to take Calculus BC in college. This is because many of the courses in these majors require knowledge of Calculus. However, if you are not planning on majoring in science or engineering, you may be able to get away with taking just Calculus AB. It really depends on the requirements of the individual colleges and majors.

The Difference Between AP Calculus AB and BC

Calculus AB covers calculus courses equivalent to the first semester of college. College BC covers calculus courses equivalent to both the first and second semesters of college.

Both courses cover:

  • Unit 1 covers Limits and Continuity
  • Unit 2 covers Differentiation: Definition and Fundamental Properties
  • Unit 3 covers Differentiation: Composite, Implicit, and Inverse Functions
  • Unit 4 covers Contextual Applications of Differentiation
  • Unit 5 covers Analytical Applications of Differentiation
  • Unit 6 covers Integration and Accumulation of Change
  • Unit 7 covers Differential Equations
  • Unit 8 covers Applications of Integration

Calculus BC covers some additional topics in Units 6, 7 and 8 and two additional units – Units (9 and 10). These additional topics are:

  • In Unit 6, this course also covers Additional Techniques of Integration
  • In Unit 7, this course also covers Euler’s Method and Logistic Models with Differential Equations
  • In Unit 8, this course also covers Arc Length and Distance Traveled along a Smooth Curve
  • Unit 9 covers Parametric Equations, Polar Coordinates, and Vector-Valued Functions
  • Unit 10 covers Infinite Sequences and Series

As you can see, the courses cover mostly the same topics. However, Calculus BC goes into greater depth and covers additional topics that may be required for certain majors in college.

Since both courses cover essentially the same courses, the prerequisites for them are similar. Mathematics courses online math tutors recommend students take if they want to take AP Calculus AB or AP Calculus BC courses are algebra, geometry, analytic geometry, trigonometry and elementary functions.

Is it better to take Calculus AB or BC?

The answer to this question depends on the student. We recommend that students discuss this with their mathematics teacher or online math tutor to see what is the best fit for them. Some factors to consider are:

  • How strong are your algebra and trigonometry skills?
  • Do you feel comfortable with manipulating equations?
  • What is your mathematical interest?
  • How are your study habits?
  • How much time are you willing to spend outside of class on homework and studying?
  • What type of learner are you- do you learn better with more structure or less structure?
  • What type of college do you plan on attending?
  • What major do you plan on pursuing?

Some students may feel more comfortable starting with Calculus AB because it covers less material and the pace is slower. Other students may feel that they learn better when they are challenged and pushed to their limits, in which case Calculus BC may be a better choice.

Some colleges require students to take Calculus BC if they plan on majoring in science or engineering.

Is Calculus BC harder than AB?

Yes. The general perception is that Calculus BC is significantly harder than AB. This is because it covers more material and the pace is faster. In addition, the course requires students to be comfortable with manipulating equations, which can be difficult for some students.

With the right guidance and support, however, any student can succeed in Calculus BC. We recommend that students speak with their math tutor to see if this course is right for them.

Should I take both AP Calculus AB and BC exams?

Technically you can but our online tutors advise against it. The exams are very similar, so there is no need to take both. Taking both exams will not give you any extra credit towards your college application. If you want to go for a challenging course, the Calculus BC course covers all the topics of the Calculus AB course and more. So, it is generally a better idea to focus on one exam and do well on that, rather than try to juggle two difficult exams.

November 24, 2022
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