AP® Physics 1 Exam Format

One of the key reasons students do well on the AP® Physics 1 exam is that they are well-acquainted with the format of the exam itself. As with any AP exam, the format of the AP Physics 1 exam is tailored to the subject. So, familiarity with the structure of the exam is critical in order to do well on the exam.

Are you interested in learning about the format and structure of the AP Physics 1 exam so you can perform better? Well, if you know what to expect from the exam in terms of the number of sections, number of questions, time allotted, and weighting of the various units, you’ll be able to prepare better for it. Knowing what to expect on an exam means you won’t be caught off guard. You can go into it fully confident in what you have learned and expect to answer each question with confidence.

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What Is the Format of the AP Physics 1 Exam?

The AP Physics 1 exam will test your knowledge of three key aspects of the course: science practices, big ideas, and the units of instruction. Each question on the exam will center around one or more science practices through which your understanding of the various concepts taught during the course will be tested.

The AP Physics 1 exam structure includes two main sections - Section 1: Multiple-Choice Questions (MCQs) and Section 2: Free-Response Questions (FRQs). Each section is worth 50% of the total exam score.

The exam lasts for a total of 3 hours, with 90 minutes allotted per section. Section 1 of the exam includes 50 multiple-choice questions. Out of these 50 questions, 45 questions will be single-select questions and 5 will be multiple-select questions. In Section 2, you will find a total of five free-response questions of varying formats.

You will be given a sheet containing a table of constants and equations that are needed to answer questions in both sections of the exam. In addition to this, you will be allowed to use either a four-function, scientific, or graphing calculator to help you. The use of a calculator is permitted in both sections of the exam.

Sections Number of Questions Score Weight Total Time
Section 1A:
Single-Select Multiple-Choice Questions
45 Questions 50% of the total exam score 90 minutes
Section 1B:
Multi-Select Multiple-Choice Questions
5 Questions
Section 2:
Free-Response Questions
7 50% of the total exam score 90 minutes

Now that you have had a brief introduction to the AP Physics 1 exam format, let's take a closer look at each of the sections on the exam.

Section I: Multiple-Choice

The multiple-choice section is the first section you will see on the AP Physics 1 exam. Unlike most other AP science exams, this section has two types of MCQ questions. The first kind is the single-select multiple-choice question and the second is the multiple-select multiple-choice question. In both cases, you will be given a question with four answer choices.

Single-select MCQs will have only one right answer choice from the given set of options. Questions of this type can be either discrete, meaning an individual question, or sets of 2 or 3 questions. A set of questions provides a particular scenario with accompanying data, such as tables or graphs, if applicable, and asks 2 or 3 corresponding discrete questions based on that information.

Multiple-select MCQs will have two right answer choices from the given set of answer choices. Questions of this type will always be discrete questions, meaning that you will have only one question to answer based on the given piece of information.

As we mentioned earlier, the questions in this section of the exam will test your skills in the science practices taught during the course. Here’s the weighting of each science practice in section 1 of the AP Physics 1 exam.

Science Practice Exam Weight
1. Modeling 28–32%
2. Mathematical Routines 16–20%
3. Scientific Questioning N/A
4. Experimental Method 2–4%
5. Data Analysis 10–12%
6. Argumentation 24–28%
7. Making Connections 10–16%

In addition to testing your skills in the science practices, you will also be tested on your knowledge of the topics and concepts covered in the 7 units of the course. Here is the weight of each unit in section 1 of the AP Physics 1 exam.

Unit Exam Weight
1. Kinetics 12–18%
2. Dynamics 16–20%
3. Circular Motion and Gravitation 6–8%
4. Energy 20–28%
5. Momentum 12–18%
6. Simple Harmonic Motion 4–6%
7. Torque and Rotational Motion 12–18%

Remember to keep these weightings in mind as you study and review for the exam. With this information, you can plan out which units and science practices you need to focus on the most. You can also chart out how much time you will need for each of these units based on their importance.

Given that you will have 50 questions to answer in 90 minutes, the maximum amount of time you can spend per question would be about a minute and a half. However, it would be advisable to try and wrap up answering each question in this section within a minute.

This allows for two things:
  1. You will have enough time to dedicate to questions in sets since you may need to keep referring back to the given information for clues.
  2. You will allow yourself enough time at the end of the section to go back and re-check your answers, or re-attempt any questions that you might have left out.

Remember, there is no negative marking for incorrect answers in section 1 of the AP Physics 1 exam. So, be sure to try and attempt every question or at least take a guess. You never know, you might just get it right and earn that point!

Check out our article on how to approach multiple-choice questions in AP Physics 1 to see what a question in this section might look like and pick up some important tips and tricks.

Section II: Free-Response

The second section on the AP Physics 1 exam is the free-response section. You will find a total of 5 free-response questions in this section that you will have to answer in 90 minutes. The answers in this section will need to be handwritten. Of the five questions, there will be two 12 point questions and three 7 point questions.

Unlike the MCQ section, you will not be given any answer choices, and the only information you will have to refer to will be that which is given in the question itself. The answers you submit will be reviewed and scored by an AP Reader.

There are 4 types of free-response questions on the AP Physics 1 exam. Here's a breakdown of each type of question, what they will assess, and the total number of points you can score.

Question Type & Parts Skills Assessed Total Points
Experimental Design
3-5 question parts
  • Design and describe scientific investigations.
  • Analyze laboratory data.
  • Identify patterns
  • Explain phenomena
12 points
Qualitative/Quantitative Translation
3–5 question parts
  • Translate justifications and reasoning from
    quantitative to qualitative and vice versa.
12 points
Paragraph Argument Short Answer Question
1–3 question parts
  • Use paragraph form answers with coherent flow
    to arrive at a conclusion.
  • Questions will be based on physical phenomena
    so your understanding of it will be tested.
  • You must use information given in the question
7 points
Short Answer Question
1–3 question parts
  • Consists of two short-answer questions.
  • Will test your science practice skills and
    theoretical knowledge.
7 points

Remember, these questions can come in any order on the exam and not necessarily in the same order as we have listed them here. You will be given one question from each type, except for the short-answer questions, which you will have two of.

As we mentioned earlier, each question in this section of the AP Physics 1 exam will test your skills in the prescribed science practices. It's important to know the weighting of each science practice in this section so you can better prepare for the exam. Here's a table with the science practices and the weightings you can expect.

Science Practice Exam Weight
1. Modeling 22–36%
2. Mathematical Routines 17–29%
3. Scientific Questioning 8–16%
4. Experimental Method 2–4%
5. Data Analysis 6–14%
6. Argumentation 17–29%
7. Making Connections 2–9%

Read our article on how to approach AP Physics 1 free-response questions to pick up some expert tips and strategies, and to look at a sample AP Physics 1 free-response question to help you get a better understanding of what these questions might look like.

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What to Study to Ace the AP Physics 1 Exam

The AP Physics 1 course is a foundational course in physics principles offered by the College Board®. It is equivalent to the typical first semester college course in introductory physics. Apart from this, it’s also a prerequisite course for students who wish to take AP Physics 2 or a great introduction to physics for students looking to enroll in AP Physics C: Mechanics.

In the year 2021, there were 136,238 students from around the world who took the AP Physics 1 exam. From this, it is clear that AP Physics 1 is just as popular as the other AP science exams, such as AP Chemistry and AP Biology.

In order to do well in the exam, you will need to cover the full expanse of the AP Physics 1 syllabus. The syllabus itself is divided into two major aspects — course material and science practices. Course material is comprised of the Big Ideas; which are the main themes of study, and the units of instruction which include the main topics and concepts you will learn. The science practices are a list of skills that you will need to learn in order to develop a practical approach to physics.

You will need to devise a study plan that efficiently covers these units and the science practices far in advance of the exam. Remember to take into account the weightings of the science practices in each section of the exam while studying.

Now that you are well-acquainted with the format of the AP Physics 1 exam, you can better prepare. Refer back to this article when you’re charting out AP Physics 1 exam study plan for information on the various weightings in each section.

You can also use UWorld’s online AP Physics 1 practice tests to gauge your performance and identify areas that need improvement. Each question on our practice test comes with a detailed answer explanation. You can also flag questions that you feel are important and make flashcards to help you remember key information.

Read more about the AP Physics Exam

Want to estimate your AP Physics score and get all the scoring info? Learn all the ins and outs of AP Physics 1 scoring system—including a score calculator to see where you stand.
You can easily stand out from the competition if you know the perfect prep strategies. Here is our expert AP Physics 1 study guide with prep techniques to ace this exam effortlessly.
Wondering whether AP Physics 1 is the right course for you? Learn everything about AP Physics 1, including why to take the course, exam prerequisites, difficulty, and what’s on the exam.
Be exam-ready with UWorld! Try our practice test—including hundreds of exam-style practice questions written by former AP teachers and subject-matter experts, all with detailed answers.
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