AP Precalculus?

Recently, there have been discussions on the AP Calculus mailing list about whether or not there should be an AP Precalculus course. If done well, I think this is a unique opportunity for the College Board. I feel that one of the strengths of the AP program is the reputation it maintains for high standards, thereby allowing many 4-year universities to award credit based on student performance on the AP tests. Precalculus is a course that sits in that grey area. Many 4-year universities do not consider Precalculus to be a credit-bearing course if they offer it at all (evidence needed to support this assertion – I could just be talking out of a body part other than my mouth here). However, Precalculus is a credit-bearing course at community colleges. Oddly enough, I don’t believe that many community colleges award credit for a passing score on the AP Calculus exam. It seems like community colleges have been left out of the conversation at the College Board – is that true? Are 2-year institutions represented in those that read the AP exams? Do they have representation on the committees that determine the curriculum or write the AP test questions? Maybe this is an opportunity to bring the 2-year colleges into the AP conversation. It might also provide options or alternatives for “calculus readiness” tests that many 4-year institutions spend resources on administering.  Perhaps a passing AP Precalc score could count for credit at a 2-year college and count as a prerequisite for Calc I at a 4-year college?

These are the kinds of thoughts that literally keep me up at night.


About Clint

Looking for answers and enjoying the journey.
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7 Responses to AP Precalculus?

  1. Sam Shah says:

    That’s such an interesting idea. What I wonder is what would fall under the umbrella of Pre-Calculus. The name itself is a misnomer – most of the topics have nothing to do with an AP Calculus course. And it seems like every school I talk to has wildly differing definitions on what goes under Pre Calculus. Rational functions — or is that Algebra II? Trigonometry — or is that it’s own 1 semester class? Conics? Matrices? Probability? It seems like it is this huge hodgepodge of mathematical topics that don’t hang together super well. And I see an AP codification of this course being a double edged sword. Because I think AP does do math well, and they’d probably do a good job with this (proposed) course. But I also think that the openness to the course gives teachers so much freedom to have fun, and a little latitude with what they teach and in how much depth. It’s so rich.

    Those are my initial thoughts/reactions, anyway. Happy 4th of July.


    • Clint says:

      I agree that the openness to the course does make PreCalc a fun class to teach. If it does become an AP course, I hope that the number of topics is closer to something like AP Calc AB rather than BC. In AB, I feel like we were able to cover topics well, have time to do projects and investigations, and still had 4 full weeks of pure review time before the exam. (I’m on pins and needles waiting for scores online… I’m really proud of the work that many of my students put in – extra review sessions, Saturday mock exams, and 20 out of 21 students paid for and took the exam)

      Maybe “PreCalc” isn’t the best term – perhaps AP Math Analysis would be better? I think the discussion to form an AP course description would be fruitful and help standardize what a “PreCalculus” couse should cover both at the high school and college level. I also think it would help establish some expectations with regard to the use of calculators in the course.

      In my own PreCalc course, I feel like we’ve gone into more depth into topics like general functions (notation, composition, inverse), higher-order polynomial functions, rational functions and limits, exponential/logarithmic functions, unit circle trigonometry, and some basic trig identities. But this has come at the cost of covering things like conic sections (we didn’t talk about ellipses and hyperbolas, and spent little time on circles), matrices, or probability. In deciding what to do, I (perhaps selfishly – referring to the students moving on to AP Stats) really kept Calc AB as the target in mind – when there were Alg2 topics that I felt were critical for Calc AB that I thought my students needed to strengthen, we spent more time on it.

      On the topic of precalc curriculum or texts, I really haven’t found one that I’m completely happy with. I think the Demana, Waits text has great problems which foreshadow the Demana, Waits, Kennedy Calc text nicely. I think Forester’s Precalc is refreshingly original and deep in his coverage of topics. I’m also going to be using this next year to take a closer look at CPM’s PreCalc (I’ve taken a cursory glance, but don’t feel like I’ve looked at it deeply enough to give it a fair review).

  2. Paul Thomas says:

    I am glad thatstuff like this keeps up other people. Great opening salvo. Getting people thinking is a great thing.

    Maybe the College Board needs a brand for CC-level AP. I like the idea of this, but understand that branding is a real concern.

  3. Thanks for posting about this – it’s the first I’ve heard of it.

    I wonder if the College Board is concerned about any type of Pre-Calc AP course stealing thunder (and students) away from AP Calculus. For students whose main goal is to have “AP” prefixes on their course schedule, would some no longer push themselves towards AP Calculus if AP Pre-Calculus was an option? What about small schools with tiny AP courses? (I’ve seen it taught to 1-3 students.) If there was AP Pre-Calculus, how many such schools would drop AP Calculus for the greater number of students they could serve in AP Pre-Calculus?

    I don’t know if the College Board has a marketing department, but I’m guessing this is the kind of thing that keeps them up at night.

  4. Jasmine Wicks says:

    I don’t agree with the concept of AP Pre-calculus. I feel as though AP Precalculus taints the whole premise of AP classes corresponding with college level courses. Pre-Calculus, a math, wouldn’t be required, or even likely considered as a graduation requirement for a math, science, or engineering major. Odds are, it wouldn’t be allowed to count as an elective for liberal arts majors. It’s a remedial course at colleges. We don’t want College Bound kids striving for remedial.

    • Liz Kempske says:

      Jasmine you’re crazy. I took the AP Pre-calculus exam in June 2010 and was one of 314 kids to earn a 4. My parents are super proud of me and they even let me study linear algebra this summer while I learned how to program in binary.

  5. brainopennow says:

    I remember from my years at Thee University that my 5 on Calc BC earned me squat in terms of credits or advanced placement. They did their own placement tests, and nearly everyone placed into one of the three levels of Calculus [extremes on both ends of the bell curve placed accordingly]. And I know from later experiences what low opinion the department head had of the AP exam.

    Point being, the AP Calc experience I remember held very little credence in terms of what I needed for my math major. The procedures were helpful, but Calc ends up being an Advanced High School Algebra course, not one that speaks to the rigorous analysis applied at a higher level.

    Long ramble short, AP Calc may not encapsulate the types of deep thinking and problem solving that is needed at the college level. Pre-calc is probably better left to the capable hands of your local high school math teacher / blogger.

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