The new AP Precalculus class, offered by College Board and coming in Fall 2023, has received mixed opinions. The general sentiment from students and other voices online is that it’s silly – what’s wrong with regular precalculus, which the majority of schools have a well-developed curriculum for already? Isn’t this just a way for College Board to make money?
These are valid concerns. But according to the College Board, half of American students take Algebra 1 before ninth grade and Calculus in high school, yet the AP Score Distribution for 2022 shows that for AP Calculus AB, the most common score on the exam was a 1 or 2. Clearly, many math classes have not prepared students well enough for the rigor of AP Calculus.
Due to the lack of standardization in precalculus courses across different high schools and school districts, many students enter AP Calculus without a strong enough grasp of precalculus. The aim of AP Precalculus is to set a standard for the topics generally taught in precalculus and provide students with the necessary background knowledge to succeed in AP Calculus and beyond.
Notably, AP Precalculus focuses on functions that “model dynamic phenomena,” which can help students develop a deeper understanding of AP Calculus later on, because the main purpose of calculus is to study and analyze change. By the time they reach AP Calculus, students who have taken AP Precalculus will have already seen many of the foundational ideas in action.
AP Precalculus Curriculum
AP Precalculus is designed to cover the same topics as a typical precalculus course, but with a focus on depth of understanding and problem-solving, particularly for real-world applications. The course consists of:
Unit 1: Polynomial and Rational Functions
- Learn the properties of polynomials and rational functions
- How to graph them
- How to use them to model real-world problems.
Unit 2: Exponential and Logarithmic Functions
- Study the properties of and solve exponential and logarithmic equations
- Explore inverses and function composition
- Learn about the applications of the natural logarithmic function.
Unit 3: Trigonometric and Polar Functions
- Learn how to use trigonometric functions to solve problems involving angles, triangles, and circles
- Understand inverse trig and sinusoidal functions
- Explore polar coordinates e.g. how to convert between rectangular and polar coordinates and graph polar equations
- Study trigonometric identities, including the Pythagorean identity, and use them to simplify expressions and solve equations
Unit 4: Functions Involving Parameters, Vectors, and Matrices
- Explore functions involving parameters (x and y in terms of t)
- Study vectors, including vector operations and applications of vectors in two and three dimensions
- Graphing conic sections
- Learn about matrices, including how to perform basic operations and use matrices to solve systems of linear equations.
- Practical applications of matrices in areas such as economics and computer science will be studied.
Who Can Take It?
Anyone who has completed Algebra 1 and Geometry or Integrated Math 3 can take AP Precalculus. However, the course isn’t just for those who are planning to take AP Calculus in high school or aiming for a STEM major. Students who plan to be non-STEM majors may also be able to use a good AP Precalculus exam score to fulfill a college math requirement and focus on the courses relevant to their major.
Pros and Cons of Taking AP Precalculus
1. AP Precalculus Bridges the Gap
Many students find the transition from precalculus to AP Calculus to be challenging because:
- Mastery of algebraic skills is needed for calculus
- Many of the new concepts introduced in calculus require some visualization to understand
- With the rapid pace of the course, a bit of self-studying and independent learning may be required
By providing students with a stronger foundation in precalculus concepts such as functions, graphs, and trigonometry, more students will be ready to tackle calculus.
2. College Credit
So far, a handful of colleges offer college credit for high scores on the AP Precalculus exam, which can save students time and money on their college education.
3. Standardized Curriculum
As with every AP class, AP Precalculus provides a standardized curriculum that ensures students have a consistent foundation in precalculus topics, which can better prepare them for advanced math courses in college.
4. College Admissions
Taking challenging courses like AP Precalculus often demonstrates a student’s academic ability and commitment to learning, which can stand out in the college admissions process.
Like with many other AP classes, AP Precalculus can be a tough course for some students, with a demanding workload and fast pace of the class.
2. AP Exam Stress
Many students already take multiple AP courses and engage in extracurricular activities so preparing for yet another AP exam can be stressful.
3. Existing Time Commitments
AP Precalculus requires a significant time commitment, including homework, studying, and test preparation.
4. May Not Be Necessary
While taking AP Precalculus has its benefits, it may not be necessary for all students, especially those who do not plan to pursue a math-related field in college or beyond.
The pros and cons may vary for each individual student so students should carefully consider their own goals and abilities when deciding whether or not to take AP Precalculus.
1. “I’m not good at math so I can’t take AP Precalculus.”
Many students struggle with math and often end up avoiding the subject altogether due to feelings of intimidation and anxiety. But taking a math class can help students develop critical thinking and problem-solving skills that can be applied to a wide range of fields.
At MathTowne, we understand that math can be difficult for students. That’s why we’re here to offer support and guidance to help students overcome any fears or challenges you may have with math. If you take AP Precalculus and reach out for help when needed, you might be surprised at what you can accomplish.
2. “I’m not planning to pursue a STEM major in college, so I don’t need to take AP Precalculus.”
AP Precalculus is most beneficial to students who are planning to pursue STEM majors, but the course can still greatly help students aiming for other fields. Beyond problem-solving, math can also help improve memory, concentration, and decision-making skills, which are valuable for other fields.
3. “AP Precalculus is just another way for College Board to make money.”
With many universities and colleges no longer requiring SAT and ACT scores since 2021, it’s true that AP exams, which College Board charges a $95 fee for, have become a significant source of revenue for them. But given the low scores on AP Calculus AB, it seems that some thought has been put into better preparing students for it. Students may also be able to obtain college credit and save money by scoring well on the AP exam and skipping the course in college, so if AP Precalculus achieves its intended purpose, the possible motivation behind it may not be a bad trade-off.
4. “I’m already taking too many AP courses, so I shouldn’t add AP Precalculus to my schedule.”
AP Precalculus can be a valuable addition to a student’s schedule, but it’s important to balance one’s workload. Even though it provides a strong foundation in math, it can be a challenging course that takes up a considerable amount of time. Ultimately, it’s your decision whether the time and energy required for a good score on the AP exam will be worthwhile. If you believe that AP Precalculus will disturb your performance in other classes or that the amount of work isn’t worth the reward, you can opt not to take it.
Exam Format and Scoring for AP Precalculus
The AP Precalculus exam is a 3-hour long exam that consists of a multiple-choice section and a free-response section. It requires a solid understanding of algebra, functions, and trigonometry. Only Units 1 – 3 will be tested on the exam. There will not be any questions about Unit 4.
Section 1: Multiple-Choice Questions (40 questions, 2 hours, 62.5% of the exam score)
- Part A has 28 questions, no calculator allowed, and 80 minutes to complete.
- Part B has 12 questions, graphing calculator required, and 40 minutes to complete.
Section 2: Free-Response Questions (4 questions, 1 hour, 37.5% of the exam score)
- Part A has 2 questions, graphing calculator required, and 30 minutes to complete.
- Part B has 2 questions, no calculator allowed, and 30 minutes to complete.
The free-response questions each have multiple parts and test your ability to use algebraic, graphical, and numerical methods to solve problems.
The AP Precalculus exam is scored on a scale of 1-5, with 5 being the highest possible score. Your multiple-choice and free-response scores are combined to give you an overall score out of 5.
The College Board uses a holistic approach to scoring the free-response questions, which means that points are awarded based on the completeness and accuracy of your response. Partial credit may be awarded for incorrect answers if you show your work and demonstrate a clear understanding of the problem.
To earn a score of 3 or higher, you need to demonstrate a strong grasp of the algebraic, graphical, and numerical concepts covered in the course.
How to Prepare for AP Precalculus: Tips and Resources
Ideally, students should have strong foundation in algebra and trigonometry and be comfortable with graphing functions and solving equations. To prepare for the course next semester, here are some tips and resources:
1. Review algebra and geometry concepts: Students should have a good grasp of topics learned in previous math classes, such as factoring, solving equations, and right triangles, before taking AP Precalculus.
2. Use textbooks and online courses: Although there isn’t exactly a review class available for AP Precalculus since the course has not started yet, you can still prepare by using textbooks and online courses used for regular precalculus. Khan Academy, Coursera, and edX are all platforms with online courses covering many of the same concepts that will be covered in AP Precalculus and can provide you with a good understanding of what to expect.
3. Work with a tutor: If it’s been some time since you took a math class or you want extra help to prepare for AP Precalculus, consider working with a tutor. Our summer math tutoring program is designed to give students a comprehensive review and help them feel confident in their math skills before taking AP Precalculus.
AP Precalculus is a standardized course that likely won’t be too different from a regular precalculus class but will have more real-world application problems and better prepare students for calculus. The decision to take AP Precalculus depends on a student’s individual circumstances and future plans – some students may have hesitations or other time commitments, while others find the potential benefits of earning college credit and adding to the college application resume worthwhile.
At MathTowne, we believe in empowering students to make informed decisions about their education and we’re here to encourage and guide them every step of the way. Contact us today to learn more about our AP Precalculus tutoring services.
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Yuki is a skilled educator with a degree in Chemistry from Carnegie Mellon University. She discovered her passion for teaching math after tutoring at an after-school program. With five years of tutoring experience, Yuki creates a supportive learning environment for students. Outside of tutoring, she enjoys trying new cuisines and playing piano.