Frequently Asked Questions About the AP Physics 1 Exam - Get to Know the Exam and Set Up Your Study Program - 5 Steps to a 5: AP Physics 1: Algebra-Based 2017 (2016)

5 Steps to a 5: AP Physics 1: Algebra-Based 2017 (2016)


Get to Know the Exam and Set Up Your Study Program

CHAPTER 1 Frequently Asked Questions About the AP Physics 1 Exam

CHAPTER 2 Understanding the Exam: The AP Physics 1 Revolution

CHAPTER 3 How to Use Your Time


Frequently Asked Questions About the AP Physics 1 Exam


Summary: This chapter provides the basic information you need to know about the AP Physics 1, Algebra-Based Exam. Learn how the test is structured, what topics are tested, how the test is scored, as well as basic test-taking information.

Key Ideas

It”s not possible to “game” this test. In order to get a good score, you must know your physics .

Half of the test consists of multiple-choice questions and the other half of free-response questions. Each section accounts for half of your score.

Most colleges and universities will award credit for scoring a 4 or a 5 on the exam. Some schools even accept a score of 3 on the exam.

Topics on the exam include kinematics; forces; gravitation; impulse-momentum; energy; rotation, motion, torque, and angular momentum; electricity; and mechanical waves, sound, and simple harmonic motion.

The focus of the test is not numbers and equations. You may use a calculator and an equation sheet, but these will not be very helpful because far more explanations and verbal responses are required than calculations and numerical answers.

FAQs: The AP Physics Program

This chapter contains the answers to some of the most frequently asked questions about the AP Physics 1, Algebra-Based course and exam. If you have additional questions, check out the College Board”s “AP Central” web pages ( ). Another helpful resource for the test is the author”s physics teaching blog at .

What Is AP Physics 1, Algebra-Based, and How Is It Different from a Typical Advanced Physics Course?

AP Physics 1 is a first-time, no-calculus physics course covering mechanics, waves, and electricity. 1 The AP Physics 1 exam involves fewer topics than typical high school or college introductory courses, but it requires far more explanations and verbal responses than calculations and numerical answers.

Even though most advanced physics courses require loads of numerical answers and mathematical manipulation, AP Physics 1 requires you to be able to do only to things mathematically: (1) solve straightforward algebraic equations, and (2) use the basic definitions of the trigonometric functions sine, cosine, and tangent. There”s no completing the square, no trigonometric identities—just the basic stuff you learned in your algebra and geometry courses.

The next chapter contains more information about how the AP Physics 1, Algebra-Based curriculum differs from the old AP Physics B course and other traditional advanced physics courses.

Who Should Take the AP Physics 1, Algebra-Based Course?

The Physics 1 course is ideal for all college-bound, high school students. For those who intend to major in math or the heavy-duty sciences, Physics 1 serves as a perfect introduction to college-level work. For those who want nothing to do with physics after high school, Physics 1 is a terrific terminal course—you get exposure to many facets of physics at a rigorous, yet understandable level.

Most important, for those who aren”t sure in which direction their college career may head, 2 the Physics 1 course can help you decide: “Do I like this stuff enough to keep studying it, or not?”

What Are the Other AP Physics Courses?

In addition to AP Physics 1, the College Board now offers three other AP Physics courses.

AP Physics 2 is designed as an algebra-based follow-up to AP Physics 1. In the same style of requiring depth of understanding and verbal explanation, AP Physics 2 covers electricity, magnetism, fluids, thermal physics, atomic and nuclear physics, and more.

The AP Physics C courses are only for those who have already taken a solid introductory physics course and are considering a career in physical science or math. Physics C consists of two separate, calculus-based courses: (1) Newtonian Mechanics, and (2) Electricity and Magnetism. Of course, the Physics 1 and Physics 2 courses cover these topics as well. However, the C courses go into greater mathematical depth and detail. The problems are more involved, and they demand a higher level of conceptual and mathematical ability, including differential and integral calculus, and some differential equations. You can take either or both 90-minute Physics C exams. The AP Physics C exams have not changed in many years. If you decide to attempt the Physics C Exam, try 5 Steps to a 5: AP Physics C .

Is One Exam Better than the Other? Should I Take More than One?

We strongly recommend taking only one exam—and make sure it”s the one your high school AP course prepared you for! Physics C is not considered “better” than Physics 1 or 2 in the eyes of colleges and scholarship committees. They are different courses with different intended audiences. It is far better to do well on the one exam you prepared for than to attempt something else and do poorly.

Why Should I Take an AP Physics Exam?

Many of you take the AP Physics Exam because you are seeking college credit. The majority of colleges and universities will award you some sort of credit for scoring a 4 or a 5. Many schools will even accept a score of 3 on the exam. This means you are one or two courses closer to graduation before you even start college!

Therefore, one compelling reason to take the AP Exam is economic. How much does a college course cost, even at a relatively inexpensive school? You”re talking several thousands of dollars. If you can save those thousands of dollars by paying less than a hundred dollars now, why not do so? Even if you do not score high enough to earn college credit, the fact that you elected to enroll in an AP course tells admissions committees that you are a high achiever and are serious about your education.

You”ll hear a whole lot of misinformation about AP credit policies. Don”t believe anything a friend (or even a teacher) tells you; instead, find out for yourself. One way to learn about the AP credit policy of the school you”re interested in is to look it up on the College Board”s official website, at . Even better, contact the registrar”s office or the physics department chair at the college directly.

FAQs: The AP Physics 1 Exam

I”ve heard that no one does well on AP Physics 1. Is that true? That”s a rather melodramatic and overly general comment. More people passed (i.e. earned 3 or better on) the AP Physics 1 exam in its first year than ever passed the old AP Physics B exam. But since double the number of students took the Physics 1 exam than ever took Physics B, the percentage of students who passed dropped substantially.

The Physics 1 exam is a more difficult exam than Physics B was. And, the raw score necessary for each score has increased, by about 5%. It”s therefore not surprising that a smaller portion of the country scored well.

The good news is, colleges know well how this exam has changed. Those students who pass AP Physics 1 are showing a significantly higher level of accomplishment than those who pass AP English or AP US History. Good scores—not just 5s, but 4s and 3s, too—will likely be rewarded in college admissions and credit.

What Is the Format of the AP Physics 1 Exam?

The following table summarizes the format of the AP Physics 1 Exam.

Table 1.1 AP Physics 1 Exam Structure

What Types of Questions Are Asked on the Exam?

The multiple-choice questions all have four choices. Most are traditional multiple-choice questions, the kind you are already familiar with. But a five-question subsection of the multiple-choice portion is designated as “multiple correct” questions: you will be asked to choose two of the answers as correct. On these questions, you must mark both of the correct choices in order to earn credit.

The free-response section includes two short problems similar in style to end-of-chapter textbook problems; they include open-ended problem solving, as well as “justify-your-answer,” verbal-response items. Another short problem requires a written response in paragraph form. One of the longer free-response questions is posed in a laboratory setting, asking for descriptions of experiments and analyses of results. The other long question is called the “qualitative-quantitative translation,” which asks you to solve a problem numerically or symbolically and then explain in words how you got to your solution and what the solution means.

More details about these kinds of questions and how to deal with them can be found in Chapter 7 (“Strategies to Approach the Questions on the Exam”) of this book.

Who Writes the AP Physics Exam?

Development of each AP Exam is a multiyear effort that involves many folks. At the heart of the effort is the AP Physics Development Committee, a group of college and high school physics teachers who are typically asked to serve for three years. The committee and other physics teachers create a large pool of multiple-choice questions. With the help of the testing experts at Educational Testing Service (ETS), these questions are then pretested with college students for accuracy, appropriateness, clarity, and assurance that there is no ambiguity in the choices. The results of this pretesting allow each question to be categorized by degree of difficulty. After several more months of development and refinement, Section I of the exam is ready to be administered.

The free-response questions that make up Section II go through a similar process of creation, modification, pretesting, and final refinement so that the questions cover the necessary areas of material and are at appropriate levels of difficulty and clarity. The committee includes the chief reader of the exams, who ensures that the proposed free-response problems can be graded consistently, fairly, and rapidly. The ETS specialist works with the committee to ensure that topic coverage and the scope of the exam are appropriate; the specialist makes sure that the exam tests what it”s supposed to test.

At the conclusion of each AP reading and scoring of exams, the exam itself and the results are thoroughly evaluated by the committee and by ETS. In this way, the College Board can use the results to make suggestions for course development in high schools and to plan future exams.

What Topics Appear on the Exam?

The Curriculum Framework says nothing about the units or topics typically taught in an introductory physics class. Instead, the Framework is organized around six “Big Ideas” of physics that are each exemplified in numerous topics. So it”s not possible to say exactly what topics are covered and to what extent. However, a careful reading of the Curriculum Framework can give a hint.

The eight topics listed here represent my own categorization of the material covered in AP Physics 1:

  • Kinematics
  • Forces
  • Gravitation
  • Impulse-Momentum
  • Energy
  • Rotation: Motion, Torque, Angular Momentum
  • Electricity: Charge and Circuits
  • Mechanical Waves, Sound, Simple Harmonic Motion

Do I Get to Use a Calculator? An Equation Sheet?

Well, yes. But please don”t expect these things to help you much. The course is not about numbers and equations. If you come into the exam thinking you”ll find the right equation on the equation sheet and then solve that equation with a calculator, you”re going to be blown out of the water. In fact, I wish the College Board had decided not to allow calculators and equation sheets. They give a false sense of what kinds of questions will be asked on the exam and of how to prepare for them. (See Chapter 7 for more information about the types of questions you will encounter.)

Suffice it to say that you don”t need the equation sheet because by test day, you will already know and understand the important relationships between quantities that underlie the physics questions that will be asked. And if you don”t know the correct relationship, I don”t advise picking through the dense and incomprehensible equation sheet; you”re more likely to waste time than to find something useful there.

Regarding the calculator, you probably shouldn”t use it more than a few times on the entire exam. Most problems won”t involve calculation at all, but rather reasoning with equations and facts. Many of the problems that at first glance look like calculations can be solved more quickly and easily with semiquantitative reasoning. 3 The few problems that do require calculation will usually involve straightforward arithmetic (e.g., the mass of the cart will be 1 kg or 0.5 kg, not 0.448 kg).

How Is My Multiple-Choice Section Scored?

The multiple-choice section of the AP physics exam is worth half of the final score. Your answer sheet is run through the computer, which adds up your correct responses. The number of correct responses is your raw score on the multiple-choice section. No partial credit is awarded, even for the “multiple correct” items—either you choose both of the right answers, or you don”t.

If I Don”t Know the Answer, Should I Guess?

Yes. There is no penalty for guessing.

Who Grades My Free-Response Questions?

Every June, a group of physics teachers gathers for a week to assign grades to test takers” hard work. Each of these readers spends a day or so getting trained on only one question. Because each reader becomes an expert on that question, and because each exam book is anonymous, this process provides for consistent and unbiased scoring of that question.

During a typical day of grading, a random sample of each reader”s scores is selected and cross-checked by experienced “table leaders” to ensure that consistency is maintained throughout the day and the week. Each reader”s scores on a given question are also statistically analyzed to make sure scores are not given that are significantly higher or lower than the mean scores given by other readers of that question.

Will My Exam Remain Anonymous?

You can be absolutely sure that your exam will remain anonymous. Even if your high school teacher happens to randomly read your booklet, there is virtually no way he or she will know that exam is yours. 4 To the reader, each student is a number, and to the computer, each student is a bar code.

What about that permission box on the back? The College Board uses some exams to help train high school teachers so that they can help the next generation of physics students to avoid common mistakes. If you check this box, you simply give permission to use your exam in this way. Even if you give permission, your anonymity is maintained.

How Is My Final Grade Determined and What Does It Mean?

Each section counts for 50 percent of the exam. The total composite score is thus a weighted sum of the multiple-choice and free-response sections. In the end, when all of the numbers have been crunched, the chief faculty consultant converts the range of composite scores to the five-point scale of the AP grades.

This conversion is not a true curve; it”s not that there”s some target percentage of 5s to give out. This means you”re not competing against other test takers. Rather, the five-point scale is adjusted each year to reflect the same standards as in previous years. The goal is that students who earn 5s this year are just as strong as those who earned 5s in 2015 and 2016.

In the exam”s first year, it took about 70% of the available points to earn a 5; it took about 55% of the points to earn a 4; and about 40% of the points to earn a 3. I”ve used similar percentages in the tables at the end of the practice exams in this book to give you a rough example of a conversion. When you complete the practice exams, you can use this to give yourself a hypothetical grade.

Point is, you are NOT expected to get classroom-style scores of 90% for an A. The exam is intended to differentiate between levels of students, and the exam tests far more than pure recall, so 70% is a very strong score, not a weak score.

You should receive your AP grade in early July.

How Do I Register and How Much Does It Cost?

If you are enrolled in AP Physics at your high school, your teacher will provide all of these details, but a quick summary here can”t hurt. After all, you do not have to enroll in the AP course to register for and complete the AP Exam. When in doubt regarding registration procedures, the best source of information is the College Board”s website ( ).

In 2013, the fee for taking the exam was $89. Students who demonstrate financial need may receive a reduction to offset the cost of testing. The fee and the reduction usually change from year to year. You can find out more about the exam fee, fee reductions, and subsidies from the coordinator of your AP program or by checking information on the College Board”s website.

I know that seems like a lot of money for a test. But you should think of this $89 as the biggest bargain you”ll ever find. Why? Most colleges will give you a few credit hours for a good score. Do you think you can find a college that offers those credit hours for less than $89? A credit hour usually costs hundreds of dollars. You”re probably saving thousands of dollars by earning credits via AP.

There are several optional fees charged if you want your scores rushed to you or if you wish to receive multiple-grade reports. Don”t worry about doing that unless your college demands it. (What? Do you think your scores are going to change if you don”t find them out right away?)

The coordinator of the AP program at your school will inform you where and when you will take the exam. If you live in a small community, your exam may not be administered at your school, so be sure to get this information.

What If My School Doesn”t Offer AP Physics at All? How Can I Take the Exam?

Any high school student is allowed to register for the exam, not just those who are taking an officially designated AP Physics course.

If your school doesn”t offer any of the four AP Physics courses, then you should look at the content outlines and talk to your teacher. Chances are, you will want to take the AP Physics 1, Algebra-Based Exam, and chances are that you will have to do a good bit of independent work to delve deeper than your class discussed and practice the verbal responses necessary on this new exam. If you are a diligent student in a rigorous course, you will probably be able to do fine.

Your counseling office will be able to give you information about how to sign up for and where to take the test.

What Should I Bring to the Exam?

On exam day, I suggest bringing the following items:

  • Several pencils and an eraser that doesn”t leave smudges
  • Black or blue pens for the free-response section5
  • A ruler or straightedge
  • A watch so that you can monitor your time (You never know if the exam room will have a clock on the wall. Make sure you turn off all beeps and alarms.)
  • Your school code
  • Your photo identification and social security number
  • Tissues
  • Okay, fine, a calculator, if it makes you happy (Don”t you dare use it more than a few times.)
  • Your quiet confidence that you are prepared (Please don”t study the morning before the exam—that won”t do you any good. Stop the studying the night before, and relax. Good luck.)

1 The first AP Physics 1 exam was given in May 2015. For the previous four decades, AP Physics B was the College Board”s algebra-based introductory physics exam.

2 That may be most of you reading this book.

3 By semiquantitative reasoning I mean something like, “If I double the net force with the same mass, I also double acceleration by Fnet = ma . So the new acceleration is twice the old acceleration of 1.2 m/s per second, so the answer is 2.4 m/s per second.”

4 Well, unless you write something like, “Hi, please kick Mr. Kirby in the butt for me. Thank you! Sincerely, George.”

5 Yes, I said pens . Your rule of thumb should be to do graphs in pencil and everything else in pen. If you screw up, cross out your work and start over. Then if you change your mind about what you crossed out, just circle it and say, “Hey, reader, please grade this! I didn”t mean to cross it out!”