AP Physics 1 Exam: Everything You Need to Know

16/02/202416 minute read
AP Physics 1 Exam: Everything You Need to Know

If you're gearing up to tackle the AP Physics 1 exam, it’s completely normal to feel a little overwhelmed. There’s a lot to keep track of! 

In this blog, we're breaking down the ins and outs of the AP Physics 1 exam. We’ll provide an overview of how the exam works, how the exam is scored, and things you absolutely must do before sitting the exam! 

What’s on The AP Physics 1 Exam?

Unlike traditional physics courses, AP Physics 1 takes a more conceptual approach, focusing on key concepts and reasoning skills rather than memorization of formulas.

This means you won't just be crunching numbers but understanding the "why" behind the physical phenomena.

Here are the core concepts you'll encounter throughout the AP Physics 1 exam:

  • Kinematics
  • Dynamics
  • Circular Motion and Gravitations
  • Energy
  • Momentum
  • Simple Harmonic Motion
  • Torque and Rotational Motion

What’s the Format of the AP Physics 1 Exam?

The exam is split into two main sections:

1. Multiple-Choice Questions (MCQ):

  • Makes up 50% of your total exam score.
  • 50 questions in total, each with four answer options.
  • 45 single-select questions, where one answer is correct.
  • 5 multi-select questions where two answers are correct.

2. Free-Response Questions (FRQ):

  • Makes up 50% of your total exam score.
  • 5 free-response questions of different types

The free responses are categorized into 4 different types, each assessing a different skill or concept:

  • Experimental Design (1 question): Designing and describing a physics experiment, analyzing data, and identifying and explaining patterns in the data.
  • Qualitative/Quantitative Translation (1 question): Applying qualitative and quantitative reasoning and translating from one to the other.
  • Short Answer: Paragraph Argument (1 question): Creating a coherent argument using information provided in the question for a logical, well-supported conclusion.
  • Short Answer (2 questions): Other skills not assessed in the previous questions.
SectionDurationScore WeightingStructure
Multiple-Choice Questions (MCQ)90 minutes50%- 45 single-select questions, where one answer is correct. - 5 multi-select questions where two answers are correct.
Free-Response Questions (FRQ)90 minutes50%- 1 Experimental Design question - 1 Qualitative/Quantitative Translation question - 1 Paragraph Argument question - 2 Short Answer questions

How Long is the AP Physics 1 Exam?

The duration of the exam is 3 hours in total. The MCQ section is 90 minutes long, and the FRQ section is another 90 minutes.

Why AP Exams Matter More Than Ever

How is the AP Physics 1 Exam Scored?

While the total possible number of points from the exam are 95 points, your total score is scaled down to be a number from 1 to 5, similar to a letter grade.

AP Physics 1 Exam ScoreQualificationClosest Equivalent College Grade
5Extremely well qualifiedA+ or A
4Very well qualifiedA-, B+, or B
3QualifiedB-, C+, or C
2Possibly qualified-
1No recommendation-

To increase your chances of getting credit at a top university, you’ll need a score of 4 or 5 - that’s the score most schools accept to grant college credit.

The MCQ is worth 50 points, 1 point per question. For the FRQs, each question is worth a different amount of points.

AP Physics 1 Exam Scoring
SectionNumber of questionsPoints per questionTotal possible pointsWeighting
MCQ50 questions1 point per question50 points50%
FRQs5 questionsExperimental Design: 12 Qualitative/Quantitative Translation: 12 Short Answer Paragraph Argument: 7 Short Answer Questions: 7 per question45 points50%

Remember: The total number of points you score for each section contributes to 50% of your total score - so both sections are equally important!

What’s the Difference Between AP Physics 1 and AP Physics C?

AP Physics 1 covers a broad range of topics, introducing you to the fundamentals of mechanics, waves, Newtonian mechanics and electricity. It's a bit like the first semester of a college-level physics class without diving too deep into calculus.

AP Physics C is a more mathematically rigorous exploration of Physics and dives deeper into calculus. It’s divided into two parts: Mechanics and Electricity and Magnetism.  

Expert Tips and Material to Prepare for the AP Physics 1 Exam

1. Study Past Questions

Practice makes perfect, and this definitely applies to getting good grades for AP Physics 1 exam.

Dig into past exam questions to get a feel for the format, question types, and the level of difficulty you can expect. This not only helps you identify your weak spots but also boosts your confidence as you become more familiar with the exam's nuances.

  • Review past exam questions here.

2. Review the Chief Reader Report

The Chief Reader Report is your secret weapon for understanding what the examiners are looking for.

This report provides insights into common mistakes made by students in previous years to avoid similar pitfalls and fine-tune your strategies for success.

  • Review the Chief Reader Report here.

3. Understand What Common Tasks and Verbs Mean

AP Physics 1 questions often come with specific tasks and verbs that can give you valuable clues about what's expected. Don’t underestimate the importance of this!

Here’s a list of the common tasks and verbs used in the AP Physics 1 Exam and what they mean:

Calculate/”What is?”Apply mathematical steps (basic algebra, formulas from the provided AP Physics 1 formula and equation sheet) to arrive at a final calculated answer.
CompareFind relationships and differences between two different things. Describe or explain this.
DeriveUse equations, laws and mathematical steps in a proper sequence to come at a final answer. Show all the step of the process.
DescribeProvide correct information that is relevant to the topic or question. Determine: Come to a decision or conclusion using reasoning or evidence after evaluating the given information in the question.
Estimate/EvaluateRoughly calculate numerical answers, signs (positive or negative), or compare values (equal to, less than, greater than). You don’t need to show steps in calculations when estimating.
ExplainUse evidence, reasoning and/or data to provide information about why or how a particular thing happens.
LabelAdd labels to a visual representation to indicate units, scale, or other components.
PlotAdd data points and/or scale/units as needed to a graph.
Sketch/Draw This type of task requires you to create a visual representation to illustrate or explain.
State/Indicate/CirclePoint out or state your answer without an elaboration. Avoid writing an extensive amount of words and try to be as concise and accurate as possible.

4. Review the AP Physics Equation Sheet

At the exam, you’re provided an equation sheet containing equations commonly used in physics will be provided to you at the exam site.

Familiarize yourself with every equation on this sheet - knowing which formulas are at your disposal can save you precious time during the exam. Make it your go-to reference, and ensure you understand when and how to apply each equation.

  • Review the equation sheet here.

5. Bring the right calculator

Make sure you're using a calculator that's permitted for the exam. A four-function, scientific, or graphing calculator is allowed on both sections of the exam. Other types of calculators might not be allowed.

Remember that calculators may not be shared during the exam, so prepared and bring the correct calculator.

6. Work with a Tutor

Tutors can provide personalized assistance, offer targeted feedback, and help you navigate challenging topics. It's like having a dedicated coach in your corner, ensuring you're fully prepared for whatever the exam throws at you.

  • If you’re looking for the perfect score, our expert tutors can help - some of the best teachers in the world tutor at Crimson! Get in touch with us to get started.
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Tips For the Exam Day

1. Get a Good Night’s Rest

Let's start with the foundation – a good night's sleep. This isn't just a casual suggestion; it's a game-changer.

Your brain needs to be firing on all cylinders, and a well-rested you is more likely to tackle those AP physics challenges effectively.

Aim for 7-9 hours of sleep before exam day. Create a bedtime routine to wind down, avoid caffeine late in the day, and resist the urge to pull an all-nighter – it’s never worth it.

2. Deep Breaths and Mindfulness

As you enter the exam room, find your zen zone. Take a few deep breaths – in through the nose, out through the mouth. This isn't a cliche; deep breathing calms your nervous system, reducing anxiety.

Remind yourself that you've prepared for the AP Physics 1 Exam thoroughly. Read each question carefully, underlining key terms. This helps organize your thoughts and signals to your brain that you've got this under control.

3. Manage Your Time

Time management is your invisible companion in this physics adventure. Mastering time management during the exam is crucial - here’s how to do it:

  • Don't get stuck: If a question feels like quicksand, don't let it pull you under. Mark it, skip it, and revisit it later.
  • Be efficient: This applies to any exam, but especially the AP Physics 1 Exam. Revise the keywords listed above, and train yourself to read questions efficiently. Identify key terms, underline essential information, and focus on what's being asked.
  • Practice, Practice, Practice: Take practice exams under timed conditions. This hones your instincts, helping you gauge how much time to allocate for different question types.

4. Pack Smart

When packing your exam essentials, think like an organized physicist.

As mentioned above, you’ll need the right calculator, but you’ll need to pack a few other things too:

  • ID
  • Sharpened Pencils
  • Erasers
  • Water Bottle

Even if you have anything like a lucky charm - if it brings you comfort, toss it in.

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