Strategies for Guessing on the AP Calculus Exam

Guessing is a valid strategy on the multiple choice section of the AP Calculus exam.  Though some students will be able to answer more questions than others, very few will be able to answer all of them confidently in the time allowed.  This, combined with the fact that there is no penalty for guessing on the AP Calculus exam, means that most students will want to apply guessing strategies to at least some problems.  This post overviews a few of the strategies you can use to turn the format of the test to your advantage by making educated guesses.

Elimination is Your Friend

Since there are five answer choices on the multiple choice portion of the exam, each one you can eliminate raises your chances substantially.  Eliminating one gives you a 25% chance, eliminating 2 gives you a 33% chance, and eliminating three gives you a 50% chance.  Consider everything you know about the question and examine the answer choices, and see how many of them you can eliminate just based on general principles.  The following strategies are some ways that you might be able to eliminate answers and tip the odds in your favor:

1.  Ask “What If?”

You might be able to eliminate some answers by plugging them into the question.  This can be time consuming, and not many questions on the AP exam will be susceptible, but it can be a good first check.

2.  Set Up Without Solving

If the problem looks intimidating, it can help to start by just setting it up.  Once you have the setup written down, try looking at the answers again and see if you can eliminate any of them based on the setup.  You may even spot the right answer before you finish writing the problem all the way out.

3.  Draw It Out

Try drawing a picture of the graph of the function and see if this gives you any ideas about answers that may be correct or that you can eliminate.  Looking at the picture can give you information about the problem itself as well as about its derivatives and integrals.

4.  Think Like a Testwriter

Look for correspondences between the answer choices and the question, and ask yourself where those correspondences come from.  If several answer choices all have the same number written in different ways, for example, and only one or two do not, then you should look closely at those one or two and see if they can be eliminated, and look closely at the others to see if you can determine which one is likely to be the answer.

5.  Be Suspicious of Extremes

You can expect that most of the time, extreme answer choices like “none of the above”, “it cannot be determined”, “no values of x”, and “all values of x” will not be correct.  Since the question writers have to go to the trouble of writing the question and all of the answers anyway, they usually include the correct one.  When guessing, you can usually eliminate such answers.

Good luck on the AP Calculus Exam!

Dane Dormio is an online tutor and blogger with an unconventional approach to education.  Visit his tutoring blog at www.synergy-tutoring.com.

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