I have had a privilege of knowing what concerns the admission committee about my applicant's file for pure math degree. As of right now, the most significant concern expressed was my weak performance on the GRE subject test (in math.) My question is, would the committee care about the perfect performance on AP Calculus tests, AB and BC? Could it somehow help to mitigate the less-than-appealing GRE math score?

  • Related and possible duplicate question: Should I include high school details in Grad School Resume?. – scaaahu Feb 13 '15 at 7:58
  • Thank you! It's related, but slightly different: GRE and AP Calc don't indicate the ability do to research, but rather the ability to... I actually don't know. I am still in shock that, for some reason, making time to study for GRE is more important than doing research or learning something useful in my classes. – user29323 Feb 13 '15 at 8:10
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    The questions on the math subject test are all on material that a strong math student should know from those classes where you learned something useful. – KCd Feb 13 '15 at 13:15
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    There are other things that can outweigh a bad GRE score. I had an absolutely appalling GRE score, but I had research experience and excellent recommendations. I'm currently at a top-20 university. – Johanna Feb 13 '15 at 14:05
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    Retake the Math GRE if you can. AP scores are poor predictors 4 years out. I had an appalling AP Writing score, and I ended up with a 6 in the GRE Writing Section. – Compass Feb 13 '15 at 15:48

I would say a graduate admission committee in pure mathematics would consider AP Calculus scores completely irrelevant.

Good scores (even perfect scores) on these exams show only that you are (or were) competent at high school / freshman calculus; if this were not the case, you probably should not be applying for grad school in mathematics at all. As a mathematician would say, calculus competence is necessary but not sufficient for success in a grad program. Of more direct relevance is your preparation in more advanced, proof-based subjects (abstract algebra, real and complex analysis, etc), of which the GRE is a better (thought not necessarily good) measure. You must have observed that these courses are of a very different flavor from calculus, with much more theory and less rote computation; at the graduate level this trend will only continue.

Even if you are brilliant at calculus, math professors know that this does not necessarily carry over into more advanced subjects. They really want to see what you have been doing lately.

(Disclaimer: I am a mathematician but have not been on an admission committee.)

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    I am a mathematician and have been on admissions committees, and I endorse this message. – Kimball Feb 13 '15 at 10:39
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    Putting an AP calculus score in an application for math graduate school is inappropriate, almost like saying you are listed in Who's Who. Nobody cares and it will carry zero weight with an admissions committee. It might even count against you to suggest in an application that an AP calculus test is a worthy alternative to the GRE math subject test. (I'm not even sure why someone would take both the AB and BC exams.) Equally useless would be a recommendation letter from your high school math teacher. – KCd Feb 13 '15 at 13:10
  • I am case study #1 for your third paragraph. I was one of the top math students in my state up through 3rd semester calculus (which I took while a senior in high school). Next class after that I realized that I wasn't going to be taking any more math classes, because I went from 'brilliant math student' to 'guy who can do the test but not understand one thing about the class' that quickly... – Joe Feb 13 '15 at 16:43
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    Allow me to disagree. 50% of GRE math subject test is calculus. Even if one aces more advanced subjects, one still has to spend several months studying the tricky integrals they throw at you, which was not a luxury I could afford. – user29323 Feb 13 '15 at 18:18
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    @user29323: Irregardless of whether you disagree and whether the calculus on the AP exam is comparable to that found on the MGRE, it's sort of besides the point: you asked whether admissions committees will put any weight on your high-school AP exam scores, and the answer is a flat-out "no". Admission committees almost certainly don't care about what you did in high school, unless it was something so phenomenal that it resulted in a professional journal publication or a similar achievement. – DumpsterDoofus Feb 14 '15 at 0:28

No. Half the people who take the Calculus BC exam get perfect scores, so you can assume almost every applicant has a 5 on the BC exam. (Except they wouldn't say so, because by the time they graduate college they usually have other accomplishments that carry more weight.)


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    +1. Indeed even speaking about a "perfect AP score" seems misleading. To me, getting a perfect score on an exam means that you got everything right. When they only report five numbers, the highest of which is attained by half of the participants, it seems more meaningful to say that they're just not telling you your score except in the most approximate terms. If you took a class pass/fail and passed it, would you say you did "perfectly"? This is almost the same thing. – Pete L. Clark Feb 14 '15 at 4:38
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    (Also, you can't assume "almost every applicant has a 5 on the BC exam", because it is not the case that almost every applicant for math grad school in the US went to high school in the US. Far from it! This is yet another reason why reporting these scores isn't very meaningful.) – Pete L. Clark Feb 14 '15 at 4:40

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