Bad grade in AP Calculus AB - Need advice

Hello, our sophomore son is struggling in AP Calculus AB and there is a very real possibility of him getting a D in first semester. He has tried everything from tutoring to practicing extra questions. We even went to meet the teacher, the teacher thinks he has not had a good foundation in freshman year due to Covid. The teacher is advising us to having him either move down to regular calculus or withdraw from the course.

We are not sure if moving down to regular calculus is a real possibility because of schedule conflicts.

Just wanted to get advice from here with regards to having a W on his transcript. Will it ruin his changes at a decent college? He is mostly a straight A student and is doing well in his other AP and honors courses.

First, this will not stop your son from getting into “a decent college”. Full stop. Whatever the result you choose.

Your son is already quite advanced in maths. Taking a breath, dropping down to ‘regular calculus’ as a sophomore after Covid disrupted his 8th/9th grade years in maths preparation is not going to do anything other than help him have the time he needs to understand the concepts. Regular calculus is the same material, taught slower so he might not get through as much in a year but he will probably understand it better.

He can go back to AP Calc next year, or he might find he wants to do a different maths class next year. He will have/does have options.

Personally, I look at high school as a place and time for students to have a fairly low stakes, low cost place to try new things, stretch, possibly struggle/possible fail at some stuff, process their experiences and learn how to move forward/move on.

My oldest does not have a ‘pristine’ high school transcript (to put it mildly, lol). She dropped down a math level her senior year in high school due to the grade she was receiving (and she informed all the schools she had applied to since she had applied ED/EA to those schools). None of the schools cared she dropped, and her ED school told her flat out that they were happy if she stayed in the class with a bad grade (if she liked the class and thought she was learning), they were happy for her to drop down to the lower AP level course, they’d be happy if she changed the maths course she was taking entirely. It was up to her (and she received the highest merit that school offers in her acceptance letter). Their only suggestion was that she continue taking some form of maths Senior year just to stay in the maths groove.

This stuff works out, and your son will probably learn more from how you, the school and he handle this situation than from any subject class he takes during high school. Does he feel heard and supported? Does he understand his options aren’t ‘messed’ up? Does he feel he can be successful even with a set back? Those are the important things here - he can and will learn calculus…but more important is him learning how to deal with setbacks and how those who should be helping him respond to these challenges.


A W is better than a D. If he switches to non-AP calculus does he still have the D? Clearly, with tutoring and all of his efforts, this class is not working.

Does he need calculus? Did he take precalculus last year? How did he do? What do you think of the idea that he did not get a good foundation? Do you think this is a matter of preparation or aptitude?

My kids definitely did not do calculus in sophomore year. Was your son previously advanced ahead of his peers? It is strange that he was so advanced but is not doing well. Is there anything else going on, a distraction, COVID depression, undiagnosed ADHD etc.?


The most important thing here is solid math preparation. Calc as a sophomore is for kids who LOVE math, have a solid and strong understanding of all the concepts that have come before, and would be bored out of their minds on a traditional math sequence.

If this is not your kid- have him drop down, maybe back to algebra 2 if his prep is weak due to covid, and don’t look back. There is zero value to acceleration if there are holes in the foundation.


I’d really evaluate his math mastery from the last 2 years with Covid. A ton of kids struggled with remote learning. If he’s an A student who’s suddenly struggling in Calc AB, I’d drop him to Precalc - in all honesty, I’d do that even if he was struggling with a C. He might be able to muddle through non AP Calculus, but as a sophomore, it just makes zero sense to rush. He’s YOUNG, make sure his foundation is strong, that is way, way more important than finishing calculus as a sophomore.


Thank you so much for the responses. To answer some of your questions, he took Accelerated Algebra 2 with Trig as a freshman and did well. Our district offers this track of taking AP Calculus AB as a sophomore if a student does well in freshman year accelerated Algebra. So basically he skipped precalculus and we and the teacher suspect that is a big reason for the hole in his foundation. He is definitely not a math lover and is definitely regretting taking AB.

Dropping down to Precalculus with the school is not an available option.

We are hoping to have him either drop down to regular calculus or have him withdraw and take precalculus online. He will carry over his D to regular calculus if he makes the switch.

Just debating what would be the best course of action from here on.

Appreciate all the advice. Thanks again!

If he is not a math lover, why was he trying to accelerate from the +2 to the +3 track?

Why isn’t dropping down to precalculus (which would still have him on the +2 track) not an option? That seems like what he should have been in all along.

Here is a quiz he can try to see how well he knows the prerequisites for calculus: rurci3


Note: “regular [non-AP] calculus” in many high schools is like calculus for business majors in many colleges. If he has difficulty with the non-trigonometry prerequisite topics, he may still have trouble there. He can try rurci3 to check his knowledge of prerequisites for calculus for business majors.


Our school won’t allow him to drop down to PreCalc since it’s too far out in the semester already and dropping down to Precalc would technically be a course change.

Him being not a math lover and still choosing to take +3 path is due to his stubbornness sadly :((

He needs a year of precalculus. Drop the AP Calc and make sure he gets a strong foundation in precalc. You mentioned he is not a math lover. I would be worried that by accelerating this fast he will become a math hater. That’s a difficult spot to return from. It’s a big mistake to jump from Algebra 2 to AP Calculus in most all cases. Sorry your school allows for this to happen.


I will have to look into this. I will have him take the quiz. Thanks!

Thanks for your kind words. Had no idea what he was getting into when he chose this track. Will be meeting with the counselor ASAP to figure this out for him.

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Rather than drop down to regular calculus, I would say it’s better to take a “W” and do some precalc online . Aleks is a self paced, adaptive program that will find and fill the gaps that he has. You can look into their Independent use option. I would also suggest using Aleks with a tutor once a week or so. He can sign up for Calc AB next year if he is prepared.


Good luck! I know it’s late in the game to switch into precalculus but I would ask the counselor for accredited online classes that the school would accept and potentially add to his transcript. My kids have never done this so I’m not knowledgeable but I know some schools allow this. Hope he doesn’t get too discouraged. Life is full of “change the course” moments.


Thank you for this information. I had not heard of Aleks before. I will look into it and see if it might work for our son.

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Good luck to you - I’d take the W and do precalc online if he’s comfortable with online learning. If there is a community college near you, they often offer precalc as well and he could take it next semester in person if that’s more his learning style.


When my S was in 8th grade he repeated algebra due to difference between private and public school teaching. It was a huge blow to his ego as a math kid but it has absolutely worked out in the long run. He wont take calculus until his senior year and my understanding from many here is that is just fine. It makes no sense for a kid to be two years ahead in math to get a D. Can he drop the class now and take precalculus next year and calculus as a senior? Sounds like he would then be able to take BC and be really prepared for college math.


D20 is not a math person, mostly because of some pilot programs and curriculum changes along the way. She lacks confidence and does not have a strong foundation. Math was definitely the low points of her transcript. Through family friends, we found an excellent math tutor who spent a lot of time filling in the gaps in her knowledge and her biggest piece of advice was to approach math like a foreign language because if you don’t understand the words/concepts, it is hard to fix it further down the road. Her advice and support helped D a lot but she is happily at a school (T20 LAC) where she never has to take math again. One “bad” grade, one weaker subject area? That does not define your son.

ETA: If he is struggling to find his footing, it is best to address it now, rather than later. If he still struggles, things can work out ok without math :grin:


UPDATE: The school has agreed to drop the course and give an NoMark (NM) instead of a W. He can’t drop to regular calculus or switch to precalculus but if he takes a precalculus course from outside, the school will add it to the transcript. We will enroll him at the local community college for precalculus course in spring. This is a huge relief and under the circumstance the best possible outcome we could have hoped for. The counselor has also recommended him to either become a TA for pre calc class (if the teacher allows) or become a peer tutor for other math classes.

My deepest and sincerest gratitude to everyone here for your valuable insights and responses. Thank you all from the bottom of my heart.


This isn’t meant to be a knock on the OP, but this is a problem with a lot of schools districts today.