AP Physics

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In the United States, Advanced Placement (AP) Physics collectively refers to the College Board Advanced Placement Program courses and exams covering various areas of physics. Each course culminates in an optional exam for which high-performing students may receive some credit towards their college coursework, depending on which college or university they attend.[1] One or more of these AP physics courses – taken along with courses in algebra, trigonometry, and a science that included laboratory components[2] – also prepares students for the SAT Subject Test in Physics to fulfill entrance requirements at some U.S. colleges.

AP Physics B (discontinued)[edit]

AP Physics B – discontinued in 2014 – was supposed to be equivalent to an introductory algebra-based college course in physics, with a laboratory component.[3] The course was non-calculus-based, utilizing algebra and basic trigonometry to solve various physics problems.[4] AP Physics B was divided into five different sections: Newtonian Mechanics, Fluid Mechanics and Thermal Physics, Electricity and Magnetism, Waves and Optics, and Atomic and Nuclear Physics.[4]

AP Physics B was replaced by AP Physics 1 and 2.

AP Physics 1 and 2[edit]

AP Physics 1 and AP Physics 2 were introduced in 2014.[5] The courses were designed to emphasize critical thinking and reasoning as well as learning through inquiry.[6] They remain as algebra-based courses that do not require students to have taken calculus.[7]

AP Physics 1 covers the same Newtonian mechanics as AP Physics B plus rotational mechanics, as well as an introduction to electricity (Coulomb's Law and simple DC circuits), and mechanical waves and sound.[7]

AP Physics 2 covers the remaining subjects from AP Physics B: thermodynamics, fluid mechanics, optics, electricity and magnetism, and modern physics.[7]

AP Physics C[edit]

The College Board offers two courses in the AP Physics C suite, each equivalent to a calculus-based college course for majors in physical science or engineering:[8][9]

  • AP Physics C: Mechanics studies Newtonian mechanics, with units on kinematics; Newton’s laws of motion; work, energy, and power; systems of particles and linear momentum; circular motion and rotation; and oscillations and gravitation.[8]

The two AP Physics C courses can be combined to make a unified Physics C course that prepares for both exams. In this scenario, Mechanics is taught first to impart knowledge required by Electricity and Magnetism.[citation needed]

When only one Physics C course is offered, it is typically Mechanics.[citation needed] This, in combination with the fact that many schools do not complete their unified Physics C courses before the exam date, is a probable explanation for why more students take the Mechanics exam than the E&M exam.[citation needed]

In schools that use block scheduling, since a year's worth of work fits within a semester, it is possible to both complete both courses within a full year's time and not lose in-class time in the process. However, since the AP Exams are scheduled in May, and since the school year usually ends a month later in June, this presents the same problem as the regular unified course taught in a non-block-scheduled school, described above. Teachers usually mitigate this by beginning to cover the Electricity and Magnetism material a couple weeks before the actual start of the second semester.[citation needed]


  1. ^ "Credit & Placement". AP Students. The College Board. 2017. Retrieved January 30, 2017. 
  2. ^ "Physics Subject Test". SAT Suite of Assessments. The College Board. Recommended Preparation: One-year introductory college-preparatory course in physics, Courses in algebra and trigonometry, Experience in the laboratory 
  3. ^ "AP Physics B". AP Central. College Board. 2011. Archived from the original on 2 July 2011. Retrieved July 24, 2011. 
  4. ^ a b Physics Course Description (PDF), The College Board, May 2009, archived from the original (PDF) on 2010-06-01 
  5. ^ "AP Physics 1 and 2, 2014–15". AP: Advances in AP. The College Board. Archived from the original on October 18, 2014. 
  6. ^ "AP Physics 1 Course Home Page". AP Central. The College Board. Archived from the original on October 15, 2014. 
  7. ^ a b c AP® PHYSICS 1: ALGEBRA-BASED AND AP® PHYSICS 2: ALGEBRA-BASED – Course and Exam Description – Effective Fall 2014 (PDF), New York, NY: The College Board, 2014 
  8. ^ a b AP® PHYSICS C: MECHANICS (PDF), College Board, December 2016, retrieved January 30, 2017 
  9. ^ a b AP® PHYSICS C: ELECTRICITY & MAGNETISM (PDF), College Board, December 2016, retrieved January 30, 2017 

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