AP® Physics 1 Exam Format

Are you interested in learning about the format and structure of the AP® Physics 1 exam? One of the key reasons students do well on AP Physics 1 is that they are well-acquainted with the format of the exam itself.

As with any AP exam, the structure of the AP Physics 1 exam aligns with the course material. If you know what to expect 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 the exam means you won’t be caught off guard. So, familiarity with the exam's structure is critical to doing well on the exam. You can go into it fully assured of what you have learned and expect to answer each question confidently.

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What Is the Format of the AP Physics 1 Exam?

The AP Physics 1 exam is an introductory college-level physics course that utilizes algebra as its primary mathematical framework. Through classroom study, in-class activities, and hands-on laboratory work, students develop their understanding of physics. They delve into concepts such as systems, fields, force interactions, change, and conservation throughout the course.

The AP Physics 1 exam includes two main sections1: 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 will be single-select MCQs and 5 will be multiple-select MCQs. In Section 2, you will find five free-response questions of varying formats. The AP Physics 1 exam consists of two main sections: Section 1, comprising multiple-choice questions (MCQs), and Section 2, featuring free-response questions (FRQs). Each section contributes equally, accounting for 50% of the total exam score. Beginning Fall 2024, the College Board is revising AP Physics, and the changes will go into effect during the 2024-25 school year. These revisions will involve the removal of multi-select MCQs, reducing the number of FRQs from 5 to 4, and will reflect the adjustments to the curriculum and exam format.

Students will receive a sheet containing a table of constants and equations needed to answer questions in both sections of the exam. In addition to this, they will be allowed to use either a four-function, scientific, or graphing calculator in both sections of the exam.

Sections Number of
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 5 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, these questions have 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 related discrete questions based on that information.

Multiple-select MCQs will have two right answer choices from the given 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 exam section 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. However, beginning Fall 2024, you will be tested on 8 units instead of 7. Notably, Unit 8: Fluids is transitioning from AP Physics 2 to AP Physics 1, expanding the scope of knowledge required for the exam. 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%
8. Fluids (Spring 2024 only) 10-14% (Spring 2024 only)

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 unit based on their importance.

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

Pacing yourself at one minute per question ensures 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 skipped.

Remember, there are no penalties for incorrect answers in section 1 of the AP Physics 1 exam. So, be sure to 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 of the AP Physics 1 exam is the free-response section. You will find five free-response questions in this section that you will have to answer in 90 minutes. The answers in this section must 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 is given in the question itself. The answers you submit will be reviewed and scored by an AP Reader.

There are five 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 No. of questions Skills Assessed Points per Question
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, of which you will have two. However, beginning Fall 2024, the FRQ section will feature four types of question types. While Experimental Design and Qualitative/Quantitative Translation will remain unchanged, short answer types will be replaced by Math Routines and Translation Between Representations questions.

As we mentioned earlier, each question in this AP Physics 1 exam section will test your skills in the prescribed science practices. Understanding the weighting of each science practice in this section ensures you can better prepare for the exam. Here’s a table with the science practices and the weightings2 you can expect.

Science Practice Exam Weight
1. Modeling 22–36%
2. Mathematical Routines 17–29%
3. Scientific Questioning N/A
4. Experimental Method 8–16%
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. In order to qualify for AP Physics 1, students should have already completed geometry and be enrolled in an Algebra II3 or an equivalent course. Although AP Physics 1 includes a basic use of trigonometric functions, students can develop a foundational understanding of trigonometry either in the context of a separate math course or in the context of AP Physics 1 itself.

In the year 2023, 159,582 students from around the world took the AP Physics 1 exam. From this, it is clear that AP Physics 1 is as popular as the other AP science exams, such as AP Chemistry and AP Biology.

To do well on the exam, you will need to cover the full expanse of the AP Physics 1 syllabus. The syllabus is divided into two major parts⎯ 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.

What to study - five big ideas, science practices units and topics

Now that you are well-acquainted with the AP Physics 1 exam format, you can better prepare. Refer back to this article when you’re charting out an 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

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