AP Annual Conference 2023

Educators Explore the AP Precalculus Exam Design

In this session, attendees took a deep dive into the AP® Precalculus Exam design with Craig Wright, senior director, AP Precalculus Assessment and Michael Boardman, chief reader, AP Precalculus, Pacific University.

Craig Wright walked attendees through the course exam description (CED), the guiding document for the course framework and the essential knowledge statements, which must align with the exam. 

AP Precalculus emphases four topics, which include:

  1. Functions
  2. Modeling
  3. Symbolic Manipulations
  4. Covariation

The course exam is structured with multiple-choice and free-response questions. There are two parts for each, one that requires a graphing calculator and one that doesn’t. 

AP Precalculus Exam Components

The multiple-choice segment includes:

  • Different function representations (graphical, numerical, analytical, verbal)
  • Questions in a real-world context
  • Questions involving modeling (determining a function expression)
  • Function types are weighed as follows:
    • General Functions (non-analytical): 15%–23%
    • Polynomial and Rational Functions: 20%–25%
    • Exponential and Logarithmic Functions: 22%–28%
    • Trigonometric and Polar Functions: 30%–35%

Part A: Includes algebraic manipulation. For example, students are expected to find zeros, solve equations, and calculate values without the help of technology.

  • Factoring polynomials: factoring out common factors, rules for quadratics
  • Rules for exponents and logarithms
  • Transformations of functions
  • Values of trigonometric functions (for example, Topic 3.3)
  • Pythagorean identities; sum, difference, and double-angle identities for sine and cosine

The free-response segment includes:

  • 4 six-point free-response questions, each weighted equally and scored on an analytic scale
  • Each free-response question has 3 parts: (A), (B), (C)
  • The question examples discussed in the session are in the AP Precalculus CED and in the AP Classroom Question Bank. The CED is available on AP Central® and in AP Classroom. 
  • Scoring guidelines are also available in the CED and in AP Classroom
  • A walk-through video for teachers is available for each CED free-response question in AP Classroom.
HTML Table Colspan/Rowspan
Part A: Graphing Calculator Part B: No Calculator
FRQ 1: Function Concepts FRQ 2: Modeling a Non-Periodic Context FRQ 3: Modeling a Periodic Context FRQ 4: Symbolic Manipulations
Unit Focus: 1, 2 Unit Focus: 1, 2 Unit Focus: 3 Unit Focus: 2, 3
Skills: 1.A, 1.C, 2.A, 3.A, 3.C Skills: 1.B, 1.C, 3.B, 3.C Skills: 1.C, 2.A, 2.B, 3.A Skills: 1.A, 1.B

Michael Boardman walked attendees through examples of each free-response question to illustrate the relationship between the course framework and the AP Precalculus Exam, and serve as examples of the types of questions that appear on the exam.

He unpacked each component of the sample free-response questions so that educators could see the structure of the questions and how the questions align to each skill taught in the course. 

As a committee member for the AP Precalculus course design, Boardman and other educators took great care to design questions in a way that ensures students can show their knowledge and proficiency. As a university professor, he shared that he wants to see students’ ability answering predictable questions as it will prepare them for the next level math course. He encouraged educators to share and discuss the AP Exam instructions with students, so they understand the requirements for the exam. 

Educator Resources

Teachers are encouraged to join the AP Precalculus Teacher Community. It is a great resource to communicate with other AP teachers and also serves as an official channel to receive messages about AP Precalculus. There is also a Tuesday Tips segment of the community, a weekly feature where teachers call out helpful information. 

AP Classroom includes:

  • AP Daily videos for all topics in Units 1, 2, 3, and 4
  • Exploration of FRQs from CED (1 video for each FRQ)
  • Content deep-dive videos for AP Precalculus teachers (Covariational Reasoning; Modeling; Semi-Long Plots; Polar Functions; Parametric Equations and Vector-Valued Functions; Vectors; Matrices as Functions)
  • Progress Checks (MCQs and FRQs) for Units 1, 2, and 3 (Unit 4: late 2023)
  • Topic Questions (MCQs and FRQs) for Units 1, 2, and 3 (Unit 4: late 2023)
  • CED MCQs and FRQs
  • Practice Exams: 
    • Practice Exam 1: MCQs available now (also available on AP Central)
    • Practice Exam 1: FRQs (available in January 2024)
    • Practice Exams 2 and 3 (available in February 2024)

2024 AP Precalculus Reading

  • Apply to be a reader
  • All AP Precalculus Course Audit authorized high school teachers who are actively teaching are welcome to apply regardless of years of teaching experience. 
  • College faculty must be active faculty who teach precalculus, college algebra with trigonometry, calculus, or a mathematics course for which one of these courses is a prerequisite.
  • AP readers often refer to the AP Reading as one of the best professional experiences they have ever had.

Visit AP Central for more information about the AP Precalculus Exam.