Best AP Calculus AB Books – May 2021 Exam

It’s no secret that many people are intimidated by Calculus. Dealing with heaps of numbers, precise computations, and varying equations are enough to keep any high school student up at night – both literally and figuratively.

Nevertheless, mastering this skill is a necessity and has very practical applications in the real world. The Advanced Placement Program stands behind this truth, which is why they are offering two separate AP courses on the subject. AP Calculus AB pre-dominantly covers Calculus in the first semester of college, while its BC counterpart encompasses the whole of freshman year.

According to the latest statistics released by the College Board, a little over 308,000 students took that exam in 2018, which yielded a passing rate of 58% and an average score of 2.94. Of that number, around 19% scored a 5 while exactly 20% had a 1.

This data is a startling reminder to everyone of how easy it is to fail. As such, strategic preparation is needed to get a high score. Of course, having these AP Calculus AB books also make a considerable difference. Here is each one, followed by a detailed run-through of their pros and cons. 

The Ultimate AP Calculus AB Prep List

AP Calc AB is one of those exams people underestimate because "oh it's not Calc BC."

No. It's not.

But that doesn't mean it's easy. With 20% of people getting a one, it's crucial that you study both smart and hard. 

Constantly answering problems is the only way true of mastering Calculus, and this book gives you exactly that. This premium edition of The Princeton Review comes equipped with six practice tests in total – five within the textbook and one online – to bolster every user’s chances of scoring a 5. 

Being in this situation is a great way of training one’s brain to think a certain way and follow a habit, all while under duress. Ultimately, this helps students to be in better control of their nerves when the actual test comes along.

Furthermore, the information found on this resource is really extensive. Not only does it cover all the key topics, but it also has a summary of every pertinent Calculus formula. The book even has handy strategies to avoid traps and minimize the risk of mental blocks.

Of all the options out there, this book is probably the most complete review book out there. Check this out for a studying experience like no other.


  • Practice exam questions are realistic and challenging
  • Affordable; its 20% cheaper than other selections on the market
  • Content and syllabus are both updated for the new AP exam
  • Designed for self-studying


  • Some noticeable misprints

Students who are thinking of studying alone, yet need a little bit of guidance to get by, are going to love this book.

Unlike other books, this is heavy on tests but balances it out with helpful tips and strategies along the way. This way, users are able to confidently go through each chapter, knowing there’s something that has their back every step of the way.

Besides the three full-length practice tests and short quizzes after each chapter, the customizable study plans are another nice touch. Preparing for the APs can be a pressure-packed affair so having mini-goals and a review schedule can help make things feel that they're more attainable.

Kaplan, the producers behind this resource, has been helping students in fulfilling their academic needs for over 80-years. Through this time, they have established a strong reputation for being credible and up to date. This longevity alone should be reason enough to consider this as a supplementary learning material.


  • Has a number of helpful qualities for self-study
  • A wide range of practice tests help students prepare for the big day
  • Schedules can be adjusted based on your learning speed and style


  • A few questions can be extremely challenging and bordering on hard to understand
  • Answers are difficult to understand

Only a few AP assets are as reputable and well thought of than this book. There's a reason why Barron is a go-to academic reviewer for several other assessments, not just in the United States of America, but also all over the world.

For one, it includes questions on both the Calculus AB and BC exams; so interested buyers are essentially treated to a great value-for-money deal. Students will just need to carefully identify each portion so they don’t end up studying for the wrong test.

Moreover, many lecturers have found this edition to be quite similar to the actual APE. It accurately covers all the right topics, while also posting comparable questions.

There are even detailed solutions after each practice test and insightful tips at the book’s end. Both these are key components to any test takers recipe for success.


  • A guide helps users better understand how to use a scientific or graphing calculator
  • Tests aid in simulation for the actual exam
  • Comes with several mediums for studying (CD-ROM, textbook, online tests, etc.)
  • Updated with any changes
  • Affordably priced


  • Has a LOT of information
  • More like a test book than a textbook

Scoring an 5 on the Calc AB exam is easier said than done. It takes a quintessential sequence of events, countless hours of studying, and even a little bit of luck to achieve this feat. Still, as seen above, this is very much within the realm of possibility, especially if you're using this book to study.

Basically, it guides readers through a modest five-step approach of conquering the APs. Not only does it provide all the technical and academic information needed, but also a whole framework to follow, complete with tips at every corner.

It begins by introducing what the test is all about and how to approach the review process, before conducting a quick diagnostic assessment. Then, the tips on answering each of the parts follow. They then give some helpful tips for answering multiple choice or problem-solving questions, before running through all the major topics that the AP test will cover. Finally – and most importantly – they ask you to accomplish two grueling sets of practice exams, just to increase confidence and calm down those nerves. 

Once you've gone through this process, you should instantly feel more equipped to handle the rigors of Calculus AB. Having this 5 Steps to a 5 book is similar to having a private tutor – pushing and correcting you each step of the way.


  • Math problems found on this book are challenging and will push anyone to get better
  • Design is built for self-study sessions
  • Those simple tips are quite helpful when taking the exam
  • Comes with a summary of AP scoring guidelines


  • Online resources may sometimes not match the book
  • Not meant as a crash course resource

AP Calc AB Books To Avoid

Since there aren’t much variations to the upcoming AP Calculus AB exam, it seems that majority of textbooks on the market are still compatible. Thus, feel free to consider all options.

However, as mentioned, there is a new topic that has been added to the most recent curriculum. While it would be too much to dissuade people from going for a particular textbook, students may just have to do some additional research on their own. Otherwise, they’ll just need to stick to the newest editions.

Test Structure

The AP Calculus AB exam consists of two main parts: multiple-choice and free-response. Participants are given a 195-minute time period to complete all the questions. If questions aren't filled in, it counts as a "wrong" answer.

Moreover, each of these two segments will be further divided into two sub-sections. Part 1 of the multiple-choice portion will consist of 30 questions, while Part 2 has 15. On the other hand, the first part of the free-response test has only two questions, with the second one having four in total. Graphing calculators will only be allowed during one part of each. The examiner should give the signal when it’s okay to take out your devices.

Compared to other APs, the Calculus AB test is relatively longer, yet with fewer questions. This setup gives students the luxury of double or even triple checking each of their answers before submitting. Since math is such a precise art, they’ll want to take full advantage of this.

Last Time The AP Calc AB Exam Was Changed

The Calculus AB test did not change much, except for a few minor additions. Firstly, L’Hospital’s Rule has been inserted as a topic into the newest curriculum. Participants should be aware of this alteration to properly prepare for it.

Also, the College Board has replaced the topic outlines with an Understanding by Design framework, which gives students a clearer path to reviewing. Essentially, the course is divided into four primary Big Ideas, with each one reflecting a set of objectives, important lessons, and concepts. Students will need to go through each one to properly refresh themselves of the overall curriculum. Furthermore, this helps make goals feel more attainable and easier to digest.

Additional Tips & Resources For Studying

Again, when studying, textbooks and reviewers aren’t the only source of information students can use. With the age of technology arguably at an all-time high, there have newer and more innovative mediums that have since popped out. Here is a quick description of a few potential examples.

Multiple Choice Question Book by Rita Korsunksy – MC questions comprise 50% of the actual AP exam. Therefore, mastering the multiple-choice round will go a long way towards boosting your overall score. This book comes ready with several five-star practice tests, together with other key information.

AP Calculus AB Lecture Notes – Besides solving math problems over and over, reading through concepts and familiarizing oneself with terms is another effective tactic to refresh knowledge. This is an interesting complement to other review materials that most students use.

Barron’s AP Calculus Flash Cards – Adding a hint of fun to anything is always good. These flashcards from Barron’s come with over 300 questions on both AB and BC courses. Play these with a group of friends to experience a different type of learning session.

Self Study Tips

Treading through the complexities of Calculus is already difficult as is; even more so if a person is doing things on their own. So to all the lone wolves out there, here are a few tried and tested techniques to help lessen the pressure.

Choose a Studying Style that Works – Math is an exact formulation, but this doesn’t have to be the case when studying. Believe it or not, there are several ways to achieve success with the Calc AP exam. It’s just about finding the right strategies to complement a student’s strengths, while simultaneously minimizing their weaknesses. So before even beginning this journey, lay down the framework first and craft everything to enhance who you are.

Solve, Solve, and Solve Math Problems – Acquainting oneself with the process of computing numbers and utilizing formulas before identifying an answer is further enhanced by repetition. Doing this regularly can train the brain to solve problems quicker and with much better accuracy.

Master Your Calculator – Some parts of the AP will allow the use a graphing calculator so mastering this handheld device can greatly convenience one’s studying. Initially, this gadget might seem intimidating with all the foreign symbols; but once fully accustomed, it can be a real lifesaver.


Hopefully, this article was an eye-opener for anyone in the process of preparing for the AP Calculus AB exam. This subject – much like other assessments – are only daunting at the beginning, but slowly become more attainable through time, effort, and of course, the right resources.

So be sure to check these textbooks out for an added boost.