AP Physics exams: know the test content, format, and pacing

Students planning ahead for AP success need to know not only what's tested on the exams but also how the tests are structured.

Here's an overview of the AP Physics exams, including what students can expect from this year's digital tests.

What's on the AP Physics test?

The AP Physics exams are designed to measure your mastery of the fundamental concepts of physics. There are four AP Physics exams:

  • AP Physics 1 
  • AP Physics 2
  • AP Physics C: Mechanics
  • AP Physics C: Electricity and Magnetism

AP Physics 1 & 2 are algebra-based tests, while the AP Physics C exams require students to know calculus. If you're not sure which test is right for you, consult your college counselor and teachers.

Content

The AP Physics 1 course involves 10 major units of study:

  1. Kinematics
  2. Dynamics
  3. Circular Motion and Gravitation
  4. Energy
  5. Momentum
  6. Simple Harmonic Motion
  7. Torque and Rotational Motion
  8. Electric Charge and Electric Force
  9. DC Circuits
  10. Mechanical Waves and Sound

The AP Physics 2 course involves 7 major units of study:

  1. Fluids
  2. Thermodynamics
  3. Electric Force, Field, and Potential
  4. Electric Circuits
  5. Magnetism and Electromagnetic Induction
  6. Geometric and Physical Optics
  7. Quantum, Atomic, and Nuclear Physics

The AP Physics C: Mechanics course involves 7 major units of study:

  1. Kinematics
  2. Newton’s Laws of Motion
  3. Work, Energy, and Power
  4. Systems of Particles and Linear Momentum
  5. Rotation
  6. Oscillations
  7. Gravitation

The AP Physics C: Electricity and Magnetism course involves 5 major units of study:

  1. Electrostatics
  2. Conductors, Capacitors, Dielectrics
  3. Electric Circuits
  4. Magnetic Fields
  5. Electromagnetism

Need help mastering the content? Consider scheduling a few sessions with a tutor, who can work with you one-on-one to reinforce the material you're learning in school. To get started with an expert AP tutor, reach out to us here.

How are the AP Physics tests structured?

The AP Physics exams are two-part tests consisting of a multiple-choice section followed by a free-response section. A graphing, scientific, or four-function calculator is permitted on both sections.

Because the AP Physics exams are timed tests, you will have to carefully pace yourself. This includes making determinations about whether you should skip and guess on any questions. In order to achieve the best possible score, you need to answer as many questions correctly as possible.

As you prepare for test day, you may come up with a personalized pacing plan, but as a starting point, here are rough guidelines based on the timing of each section:

AP Physics 1 exam timing

  • Multiple choice:
    • 90 minutes to answer 50 questions
    • 1 minute 48 seconds per question
  • Free response:
    • 90 minutes to answer 5 questions
    • 18 minutes per question
    • Note: The free-response section contains both long free-response questions and short free-response questions. You are free to divide your time between both types of questions as you like.

AP Physics 2 exam timing

  • Multiple choice:
    • 90 minutes to answer 50 questions
    • 1 minute 48 seconds per question
  • Free response:
    • 90 minutes to answer 4 questions
    • 22.5 minutes per question
    • Note: The free-response section contains both long free-response questions and short free-response questions. You are free to divide your time between both types of questions as you like.

AP Physics C exam timing (both exams)

  • Multiple choice:
    • 45 minutes to answer 35 questions
    • ~1 minute 17 seconds per question
  • Free response:
    • 45 minutes to answer 3 questions
    • 15 minutes per question
    • Note: The free-response section contains one question that has an experimental or lab-based component. You are free to divide your time between both types of questions as you like.

 

What will this year's digital exams look like?

The College Board will offer multiple exam dates and formats to AP students in 2021. There will be three testing dates for each subject. On certain dates, schools can offer digital exams that may be administered either in school or at home.

The AP Physics 1 exam will be offered on May 5 (paper exam in school), May 24 (paper exam in school), and June 9 (digital exam in school or at home).

Here are the similarities and differences between the paper and digital versions of the test:

AP Physics 1 Paper vs Digital

The AP Physics 2 exam will be offered on May 7 (paper exam in school), May 25 (paper exam in school), and June 10 (digital exam in school or at home).

Here are the similarities and differences between the paper and digital versions of the test:

AP Physics 2 Paper vs Digital

The AP Physics C: Mechanics exam will be offered on May 3 (paper exam in school), May 24 (paper exam in school), and June 9 (digital exam in school or at home).

Here are the similarities and differences between the paper and digital versions of the test:

AP Physics C Paper vs Digital

The AP Physics C: Electricity and Magnetism exam will be offered on May 3 (paper exam in school), May 25 (paper exam in school), and June 10 (digital exam in school or at home).

Here are the similarities and differences between the paper and digital versions of the test:

AP Physics C Paper vs Digital

If you'll be taking a digital exam this year, find out how to adjust your prep plan by reaching out to one of our experts here.

Need more individualized advice?

The recommendations above are general suggestions. If you have specific questions, reach out to our experts here. We’re happy to help in any way we can.

 

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Erin Ohsie-Frauenhofer

About Erin Ohsie-Frauenhofer

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