To our students currently enrolled in AP Calculus (AB and BC):
In light of testing facility closures because of COVID-19, the College Board has announced changes to this year’s AP Exams. This year’s exams will be administered exclusively online, starting May 11, and will be OPEN-BOOK and FREE-RESPONSE. There will be NO MULTIPLE-CHOICE items on this year’s tests. Instead, each AP exam will feature 1-2 open-ended, essay-type questions. You will have 45 minutes for the test. Each question you answer will be timed separately.
How should you prepare for these changes? Here are a few tried and true recommendations.
Before the Exam:
1. Prepare: Although the exam is “open-book,” this does not mean you don’t need to prepare. It is tempting to think of open-book exams as being easier than closed-book exams. They are not. You will not have time during the exam to look things up that you don’t already know. You should prepare just as you would for any other exam by reviewing all of the concepts and facts from your notes. Solidify your understanding of things you weren’t clear on earlier.
2. Create a Study Schedule: Studying for an exam is a skill and one that you can master. The first step is to create a study schedule. Figure out how many study days you have until the exam and divide the course content among those days. If you envision stages for your studying, mark when each of those will start. If you have multiple exams you are studying for, include them all in the study schedule.
3. Outline Your Notes: What’s the best way to study? One effective way to study is progressive outlining of your notes. It may sound “old school,” but this method works best if you write your outlines by hand, even if you took the raw notes on your computer. Start with the raw notes you made and make a new set of notes that summarizes these in an outline format. Keep important headings, subheadings, lists, and the brief explanations you need to understand the ideas in a topic. During this pass, revisit the things you don’t understand in your notes, go back to the lecture that discussed them, and check other sources until you really understand them. From this second set of notes make a new, even more compact outline. Each time you make an outline you are organizing and repeating the important ideas of the course—and learning them. It might be possible to distill the essentials of a course onto one or two pages, but you are committing the background to memory.
If you did not make a set of notes while you were progressing through the course, we suggest doing so as part of the process for studying. Consider stepping through the lectures or using the printed notes to guide you through the content. Identify important concepts and key facts and processes and make sketches of important structures and ideas. Organize your notes using a hierarchy of headings and subheadings.
4. Review Questions from Previous Exams: A second useful way to prepare is to know what will be on the exam. Review the released questions and understand the subject areas they address and the skills they assess. Practice those skills.
5. Understand What They Want: It is worth noting what the AP Calculus exam wants you to know, understand, and be able to do. The exam questions will assess the practices and ideas in the course framework found in the AP Calculus AB and BC Course and Exam Description:
There are four mathematical practices outlined in the document above and assessed on the exam. These practices describe what you should be able to do as you respond to the exam questions.
- Determine expressions and values using mathematical procedures and rules.
- Translate mathematical information from a single representation or across multiple representations.
- Justify reasoning and solutions.
- Use correct notation, language, and mathematical conventions to communicate results or solutions.
Remember that AP Calculus is structured around three “Big Ideas” or content areas.
- Analysis of Functions
Also, note the AP Calculus AB and BC Course and Exam Description outlines all the units in the course. However, not all units will be assessed on this year’s exam. To see which units are eligible for the 2020 exam, cross-reference the Course and Exam Description with the course-specific exam information on the AP Exam Schedule webpage.
During the Exam:
1. Have Your Resources Organized and Ready: During the exam, use your notes and textbook as resources. You will have little time to look things up, so it is always better to know the details from studying. Looking things up on the Internet will take too much time and you may find incorrect information, so this is NOT advised.
2. Understand What is Being Asked: Read the question a couple of times to make sure you understand what it is asking.
3. Use Your Time Wisely: Questions are timed, so you don’t need to divide your time up. Use all of your time for each question; if you finish early, read through your response and make changes.
4. Show Your Work: It is very important to show your work. As you will see in the scoring guidelines, sample responses, and scoring commentary of free-response questions from previous years, your score depends on communicating your thinking clearly and completely while using correct mathematical notation. This includes
- defining the variables,
- writing appropriate expressions, equations, or functions,
- showing all intermediate steps used to simplify, solve, or evaluate, and
- stating the answer in a complete sentence.
You may also show work for checking your answers. Be sure to review everything you wrote and make corrections, as well as insert any additional details that explain your thinking.
Preparation and Writing Tips for the 2020 (COVID-19) AP Calculus (AB and BC) Exam
The College Board has resources for this year’s exams. Review these so you know what to expect.
The general guidelines are located here:
They provide a page with tips on taking open-book exams:
There are details about the format of the AP Calculus exam on this page:
The College Board also provides released free-response questions for exams from 2018 and earlier. As a part of your studying, you should look through a year or two of these to see the kinds of questions that are asked on the exam. Also, study the scoring guidelines, sample responses, and scoring commentary.
The 2019 free-response questions with sample responses and scoring commentary can be found under “Exam Questions and Scoring Information” here: