What content do the AP Physics exams cover?
Uniquely, the College Board offers 4 distinct Advanced Placement courses in Physics: Physics 1, Physics 2, Physics C: Mechanics, and Physics C: Electricity and Magnetism.
Physics 1 is the equivalent of a first-semester introductory college physics course. It covers kinematics, circular motion, objects with mass and charge, energy, harmonic motion, circuits, and sound, among other elementary topics in physics. Physics 2, then, is the second-semester continuation of the Physics 1 course. It covers fluids, thermodynamics, optics, quantum and nuclear physics, and magnetism and electromagnetic induction, among other topics.
AP Physics C Mechanics is very similar to Physics 1. However, whereas Physics 1 is algebra based physics, this test is calculus based. AP Physics C Electricity and Magnetism covers also the same material as Physics 2, but it, too, is calculus based. Most high schools offer their students all 4 AP Physics exams.
What is the structure of the AP Physics exams?
The general structure of all 4 AP tests is the same. Section 1’s questions are multiple-choice, and Section 2’s questions are free-response. For Physics C, Sections 1 and 2 contain 35 and 3 questions, respectively, and the exam lasts 1.5 hours. For Physics 1, Sections 1 and 2 contain 50 and 5 questions respectively, and the exam lasts 3 hours. Physics 2 is the same as Physics 1, except the free-response section has only 4 questions, not 5.
The AP exams in Physics also expect you to have certain quantitative abilities. The geometry of 2 and 3 dimensional objects is key, as is basic trigonometry. AP Physics 1 also uses vector geometry; an ability to add and subtract vectors and multiply vectors by scalars is important. Kinematic equations typically take the form of quadratic equations and appear on the Physics 1 exam. Additionally, you’ll need to memorize and apply a suite of physics laws — like Hooke’s Law or the Law of Universal Gravitation. The Physics 2 exam also contains all the previously stated mathematical abilities, plus many more formulas. The Physics C courses are explicitly calculus-based, so a working knowledge of pre-calculus and calculus would be… good.
If you like math and science, consider taking the AP Calculus or AP Statistics exams! Or, for a general overview of AP courses, AP scores, finding testing dates, and getting college credit, click here!
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