Should I Take: AP Calculus AB?


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Photo Credit: Roman Mager.

Ryan Nguyen

“Don’t get discouraged by the beasts of the problems that they give you.”

Pre-Calculus students this year face the same choice as pre-calculus students at AHS have had for years: should they take AP Statistics or AP Calculus AB?

Of the two math classes, AP Statistics is the popular choice. But which one is the best choice for you?

The class average on the National Exam is a 3.6, according to National Exam data compiled by AP Calculus AB teacher, Kimberley Gibson.

Students who score a 5 on the AP Calculus AB National Exam can earn up to a total of eight transferable college credits. At the University of Oregon, that would equate to the completion of MATH 251 and MATH 252, fulfilling prospective freshmen’s Bachelor of Science mathematics and Science Group requirements. The class average on the National Exam is a 3.6, according to National Exam data compiled by AP Calculus AB teacher, Kimberley Gibson. Students who pass with a 3 can earn a total of four credits, which raises students in terms of academic standing.

At the beginning of every class, Gibson will project the homework assignment onto the projector screen — usually six to 20 problems out of the textbook — which students will copy down while she stamps homework assigned from the previous class. Homework is worth 15% of students’ final grades — quizzes, tests, projects, and finals constitute the remaining 85% — and is peer-reviewed at the end of every unit, collected on test day and turned in as a thick packet to be reviewed by Gibson. Late homework loses points unless a late pass is stapled to it; students receive four of these purple passes to use in each semester for full credit.

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Middle: Senior Justin Perez prepares his homework to be stamped. (Photo: Kiara Yin-Husband)

“I want to be a math teacher when I grow up,” stated senior Xitali Martinez. “[Even if] I didn’t [understand] calculus right away, I would still — at least — have [some] background knowledge when I would take calculus again in college.”

Calculus is an essential mathematics for those entering the fields of engineering, medicine, or business, and the subject has wide applications as well, from dynamic economic analysis to modeling Poiseuille’s Law to measure blood vessel flux.

The course also offers a 15-point grading scale, meaning that an A is equivalent to a 100% to an 85%, a B from an 84% to a 70%, a C from a 69% to a 55%, and so on. Like all AP courses, AP Calculus AB has weighted grades, with each letter grade being worth the letter grade above it on your weighted GPA (e.g., a C in an AP class is worth a B, a B an A, and so on). However, this doesn’t mean that the coursework is easy.

“[The class is for] motivated individuals that want to get ahead in college learning,” stated senior Eben Elling.

“If you don’t work or give 100%, you will not succeed.”

Students who receive 5s on the National Exam have their names engraved on the large plaque in front of the classroom, dubbed, “The Wall of Fame.” The plaque is currently less than half full.

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The “Wall of Fame” can be seen to the right of the classroom, where ambitious students gaze longingly at it. (Photo: Kiara Yin-Husband)

“I think the hardest part about this class is that it’s really time-intensive, said Martinez. “It’s just very time-consuming, and the class always has to be my number-one priority; I can’t put any other classes ahead of it.

“It’s not like you can just plug-and-chug [numbers] either, you have to know the concepts behind it. Like for the applications of derivatives, you have to know what a derivative is and actually fully understand what it is before you can do applications of derivatives.

“If [calculus] has nothing to do with your [career field], I wouldn’t recommend [the class].”

Students who have earned As and Bs in Pre-Calculus and who are considering mathematics-related fields are highly encouraged to enroll in AP Calculus AB. Topics studied center around differential and integral calculus, including limits, derivatives, indefinite and definite integrals, and the Fundamental Theorem of Calculus.

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A visual representation of how the derivative of a function is calculated. (GIF Credit: Wikimedia)

Prospective AP Calculus AB students should have taken courses studying algebra, geometry, trigonometry, and pre-calculus.

“Don’t get discouraged by the beasts of the problems that they give you.” recommends senior Samuel Genes-Eantin, who plans to pursue mechanical engineering.

“I usually come in a little bit before school or after school,” says Martinez. “and [Ms. Gibson is] always nice about it.

Gibson is a strong promoter of having the growth mindset, which is the idea that individuals hold when they strive to improve and learn from their mistakes as opposed to having a fixed mindset. In a calculus context, the latter would be holding the belief that some students will never be able to work their way up to the skill level of those more naturally inclined towards math. In other words, they refuse to try and improve themselves. Gibson will point at the whiteboard at the back of the class, a brain depicted on the board. All her students know what she’s referring to.

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A GIF depicting the visual intuition of a Riemann Sum, an integral part of calculus. (GIF Credit: Wikimedia)

In addition, the Advanced Math Center is available during Access Tutorial in L-2, Ms. Gibson’s current classroom. There are also various online resources that AP Calculus students swear by, such as PatrickJMT, a YouTube math educator; MathBFF, an MIT graduate also on YouTube (though her channel is currently on pause until later this year); and ViHart, a YouTuber and self-proclaimed “mathemusician” who’s famous for her mathematical recreation videos, for when your brain needs a dose of mathematical inspiration… through doodling.

When asked what advice she would give to incoming students, Martinez says, “make sure you do the homework. Always!

“And do it on time! Always go in and ask for help, because Gibson isn’t mean, she’s pretty nice and always more than willing to help. Just make sure you pay attention during class [too].

“[Don’t copy] work without really thinking about it,” she continues. “Actually try to think about why [it’s] solved that way; try to understand it.”

Note: Answers have been edited for length and/or clarity.

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