AP Calculus BC with Nicholas Lang at MEK
MEK’s Advanced Placement Course & Exam Prep classes are opening in January 2024. We’re offering small group virtual classes and private tutoring designed to give students the strategies and skills to ace their challenging AP classes and earn a 5 on the AP exam in May.
This Spring, we are offering AP Calculus taught by expert instructor, Nicholas Lang.
Mr. Lang is a graduate of Bergen County Academies and Stockton University. His relatable teaching style and ability to make Calculus accessible make him a favorite among MEK students.
We interviewed Mr. Lang to get his insights as to what foundational skills students need going into AP Calculus, actionable steps students can take to succeed in their AP Calculus classes, and how students can build confidence in their Calculus skills.
Read on to see what he had to say!
AP Calculus AB vs. AP Calculus BC
What’s the difference between AP Calculus AB and AP Calculus BC?
Lang: AP Calculus AB and AP Calculus BC both start at the same level, but AP Calculus BC is faster-paced and covers topics more in-depth.
Students taking AP Calculus BC are stronger than students in AP Calculus AB when it comes to the fundamentals of the subject. However, both AP Calculus AB and AP Calculus BC is often the first time a lot of students are introduced to a theoretical understanding of math as opposed to their previous math classes that focus more on solving equations and formulas. So, students don’t necessarily need to know the basics of Calculus going into the class.
AP Calculus BC Skills & Advice for Success
What skills should students have going into their AP Calculus BC classes?
Lang: In order to be successful in AP Calculus BC, students need to understand that the course is about theories, concepts, and purpose as much as it’s about knowing formulas, equations, and the steps for problem-solving.
It also helps if students have an interest in the topic.
What’s a piece of advice you’d give to AP Calculus BC students?
Lang: Don’t miss class! Because the course moves so quickly, there isn’t much room for a student to have a bad day. Since they are the stronger Calculus students, they are competing on a curve against other strong students in the subject, so they need to keep up with the rigor of the curriculum.
Calculus is one of the most sequential classes, meaning that each lesson builds on the one before it. Therefore, missing a lesson makes things difficult for students because they need knowledge of the previous class.
Does having a strong understanding of AP Calculus BC help students succeed in other AP math courses?
Lang: Actually, AP Calculus BC is more related to science courses like Physics. Physics is entirely Calculus based. In fact, having a knowledge base in Calculus will help students understand the origins of concepts in Physics.
As for the AP Exam, all AP STEM exams have the same test structure. So, the specific test-taking skills students learn in one AP STEM class can be applied to all other AP STEM exams.
Why do some students find AP Calculus BC to be a difficult subject?
Lang: For many students, Calculus is the first taste they’ll have of upper level, undergraduate Math courses. For traditional public schools, the goal of the Common Core State Standards in Math culminates in Calculus. Everything students learn in their Math classes from elementary to high school prepares them for Calculus.
Therefore, students will struggle with Calculus if they didn’t enjoy their previous math classes, retain any of the information they were taught in Pre-Calculus and Algebra, and have difficulty with concepts like graph behavior.
How do you help students build confidence in their math skills?
Lang: AP Calculus BC students are academically strong to begin with. These are the students that show up. And getting a 5 on the AP Calculus exam is different than getting a 5 on the exam in any other AP course.
In fact, it’s easier for students to get a 5 on the AP Calculus BC exam because of the way the exam grades are curved. CollegeBoard knows that AP Calculus BC is taken by the upper 30%-40% of students. And 40% of students get a 5 on this particular exam, meaning the competition is less intense and there is less to stress about. AP Calculus BC has the highest rate of 5’s than any other course.
The reality is that low performing students are usually there because they were placed incorrectly into the course and are unable to handle the workload and have trouble understanding the concepts.
However, students taking AP Prep courses have an advantage. Our AP Program starts in January. And our goal is to give students a cumulative AP exam as soon as possible. Therefore, in January and February, we speed through the material they’ll learn in school from January to May, so that by late February or early March, students are taking a full cumulative exam. By that time, they will have mastered concepts, seen every question type, and had practice with those question types.
For students who are really having difficulty with the class, I’ll reach out to offer one-on-one tutoring so they get the specialized support they need.
Student Engagement & Skill Mastery
What are your specific teaching methods for student engagement?
Lang: I like to keep my classes less formal in tone. I am less strict on formalities and like to be real with my students. My goal is always to teach them what they need to know but also why they need to know it. But I come to them with the perspective of someone who has done what they are currently doing in preparing for this exam. And I try to reach them on their level.
How do you get kids to progress and master skills to succeed in AP Calculus BC in both the course and on the exam?
Lang: What we need to do as instructors is not only teach students the material that will be on the exam but also teach students how the CollegeBoard phrases their exam questions about that material. This is because the way exam questions are worded doesn’t always make it obvious what a student is expected to solve for. Therefore, students need to understand how CollegeBoard will ask them to apply the material they’ve learned.
Most programs focus too much on course content without introducing students to test-taking strategies. Not only does MEK teach you specific course concepts, but at MEK, we take the time and effort to help students master the exam itself, like how the questions and answers are worded to avoid tricks and traps.
Results come from practice and recognition of the actual exam for a bigger picture. A slight difference in wording can mean two different concepts. Long term, AP exams matter more than the AP course. Earning a 5 on the test can get students college credits before they step foot on campus, meaning you’ll save time and money on your degree.
What are actionable steps students can take to succeed in AP Calculus BC?
Lang: Calculus is all about rigor. Students need to make sure they have ample practice with all variations and exceptions of fundamental concepts in questions. They can find practice questions in their textbooks and on homework and class work assignments. They can also find problems online that are more challenging.
AP courses are tough and may seem intimidating at first. But with a solid study plan and good study habits, students can get high grades and ace exams.
Many AP teachers focus on only the course material, leaving students underprepared for the actual 2-3 hour exam. At MEK, we take a two-pronged approach to AP Prep. Through providing students with both lectures by experienced teachers and practice exams, students gain a solid understanding of the material and learn test-taking skills to maintain their performance under time pressure.
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