AP® Physics 1 Exam Guide

If you're in high school, you've probably heard of AP® courses and might be wondering which AP classes to take. Well, if you're interested in topics such as forces and energy or momentum and collisions, then an AP physics course might be the course for you. The College Board® offers four AP physics courses; however, in this article, we'll go through the first one, AP Physics 1.

We will give you background information on the AP Physics 1 course, the exam format, and how taking this AP class may benefit you. Our goal is to help you decide whether this is a course for you by providing all the AP Physics 1 exam information you will need.

What Is AP Physics 1 Equivalent to & Who Can Take It?

The AP Physics 1 course is equivalent to the standard algebra-based physics course typically offered in the first semester of college for students majoring in biology or life sciences. It’s designed to be an introductory course for undergraduate students. However, if you decide to take AP Physics 1, you will cover the same one-semester college syllabus over two semesters (one year) while still in high school.

This introductory physics course will give you a strong conceptual foundation on topics such as Newton's laws of motion, conservation laws, and oscillatory motion. Additionally, the AP Physics 1 curriculum is crafted in such a way that it covers all the same learning objectives as the introductory college course. As a result, if you get a final score of 3 or above on the AP Physics 1 exam, you could be eligible to receive credits and skip this course in your first semester of college.

Unlike the other AP Physics courses, AP Physics 1 has few major prerequisites. Given that it is an algebra-based course, your school may require Algebra 2 or Pre-calculus as a prerequisite. However, it is not a must to have taken a previous course in physics to do well in the AP course. That's a huge plus!

Here's a list of prerequisites and corequisites for taking AP Physics 1:
  1. Successful completion of high school geometry
  2. Previous or current enrollment in Algebra II or any other equivalent course

Although you will need to use trigonometry to tackle specific questions on the AP Physics 1 exam, you will cover these topics in the course itself (or the concurrent math course you should be taking).

This course requires you to be familiar with mathematical routines and critical thinking. Further, the course instruction typically demonstrates real-life physical phenomena, which also makes it one of the more application-based AP courses.

In addition to standard classroom lectures, you will also spend time analyzing data and making observations in a lab setting. Laboratory time will account for 25% of the instructional time during the course and plays an essential role in helping students develop an understanding of various fundamental concepts.

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What Is on the AP Physics 1 Exam?

The AP Physics 1 exam will test your knowledge of the course material in each unit and the related science practices that are part of the course. This introductory physics assessment covers Newtonian mechanics, momentum, energy, and more.

So, what does the AP Physics 1 exam focus on? Let’s take a look!

Each of the units that you will be tested on during the exam are based on five main themes. These themes are referred to as the Big Ideas. Here's a list of the 5 Big Ideas in AP Physics 1:

  • Big Idea 1: Systems
  • Big Idea 2: Fields
  • Big Idea 3: Force Interactions
  • Big Idea 4: Change
  • Big Idea 5: Conservation

The AP Physics 1 course has a total of 7 units based on these aforementioned Big Ideas. Here's an overview of what these units are and their relative weight on the AP Physics 1 exam.

Instruction Units 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%

As mentioned earlier, you will also be tested on your skills in certain science practices that are part of the course. The questions on the AP Physics 1 exam will be framed in such a way that you will be required to use one or more of these science practices to get the right answer. There are a total of 7 science practices that you will be tested on. Let's take a quick look at what each of these science practices are and their weighting on each section of the exam.

  • Science Practice 1: Modeling
  • Science Practice 2: Mathematical Routines
  • Science Practice 3: Scientific Questioning
  • Science Practice 4: Experimental Methods
  • Science Practice 5: Data Analysis
  • Science Practice 6: Argumentation
  • Science Practice 7: Making Connections

If you would like a more detailed overview of the course curriculum, including the units and science practices you will be tested on, you can check out our article on AP Physics 1 Units and Topics.

Now that you have a basic understanding of AP Physics 1 and the content covered on the AP Physics 1 exam, let's look at what the format of the exam itself looks like.

AP Physics 1 Exam Format

Like most AP exams, AP Physics 1 also has two main sections. Section 1 consists of multiple-choice questions (MCQs) while Section 2 has free-response questions. Each section accounts for 50% of the total weight you can score on the exam.

During the 3-hour duration of the exam, you will be required to answer 50 multiple-choice questions and five free-response questions. Unlike the AP Biology and AP Chemistry exams, Section 1 of the AP Physics 1 exam is divided into two subsections. The first subsection has single-select MCQs while the second subsection has multiple-select MCQs.

Question Type Score Weight No. of Questions Time
Section 1A:
Single-select multiple-choice questions
50% 45 Questions
(discrete and in sets of 2 or 3)
90 Minutes
Section 1B:
multiple-choice questions
5 Questions
(only discrete)
Section 2:
Free-response questions
50% 5 Questions 90 Minutes

If you would like a more detailed introduction to the format of the AP Physics 1 exam, be sure to check out our article — AP Physics 1 Exam Format. There, we take a close look at each of the sections, the types of questions you can expect, and even share some example questions to help you understand better.

Why Should You Take AP Physics 1?

Amongst the four AP Physics courses offered by the College Board, AP Physics 1 is considered the most straightforward. With its limited prerequisites and foundational-level course material, AP Physics 1 is a great stepping stone for higher-level courses. Thus, a lot more students enroll in the Physics 1 course than in other AP Physics courses. Here are some of the top reasons why you should take AP Physics 1.

  1. Free College Credit

    If you get a final score of 3 or higher, you could be eligible for free college credit in your first semester in college. Every college has their own minimum score requirements to receive college credit, so be sure to check with each college before you apply.

  2. Reduced Tuition

    One of the greatest benefits of receiving college credits is the overall reduction in tuition fees. Given how expensive a college education is, any financial relief is always a plus. So, if you score well on the AP Physics 1 exam and earn free credits, you could be paying less than your peers.

  3. Great Foundation for AP Physics 2 & C

    Taking AP Physics 1 can provide you with a great foundation for taking further advanced AP Physics courses, such as AP Physics 2 or/and AP Physics C: Mechanics. In fact, AP Physics 1 is a prerequisite for taking AP Physics 2. Alternatively, much of the material covered in AP Physics 1 is also covered in AP Physics C: Mechanics. Thus, if you’re planning on taking either of these higher AP Physics courses, taking AP Physics 1 first can be extremely beneficial.

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  1. Prepares You for College

    Given that the AP Physics 1 course content is based entirely on an introductory-level college course in physics, successfully completing the course will give you a solid foundation in college physics. Furthermore, it will also help prepare you for the pace and intensity of courses at the college-level.

  2. Develops Vital Skills

    Studying physics helps to build certain scientific skills. The ability to conduct experiments, make predictions, and draw comparisons and conclusions from data through critical thinking is crucial on the AP Physics 1 exam. The AP Physics 1 course is specifically designed to help you develop these skills.

  3. Deciding Future Steps

    Taking AP Physics 1 can expose you to the core of physics and its study. You will experience the rigors and difficulties associated with studying physics at the college level. Apart from that, it will also help you decide whether a career in the field of physics is something at which you’ll excel and enjoy. It’s the perfect introduction to what a life in the fields of science could be like.

Should You Take AP Physics 1?

Every student is different. As a result, the aptitude to study physics at a higher level will vary for each student. Whether or not you’re ready to take the AP Physics 1 course is a hard question to answer. That said, here are a few self-evaluation questions that we’ve put together to help you figure out if you should take AP Physics:

  1. Have you studied geometry?

    One of the prerequisites for taking the AP Physics 1 course is a mastery of the Geometry course. Understanding geometry plays an essential role in solving problems and learning concepts throughout AP Physics 1. So, if you did well in geometry before, you should be able to handle the geometric concepts covered in AP Physics 1 with ease.

  2. Are you currently enrolled in Algebra 2?

    A corequisite for taking AP Physics 1 is that you should be currently enrolled in (or have completed) the Algebra 2 course (or an equivalent course) while in high school. Your skills in solving algebraic equations are vital since AP Physics 1 is an algebra-based course. So, be sure that you’re already taking Algebra 2 or an equivalent course before deciding to take the AP Physics 1 course.

  3. How passionate are you about physics?

    Studying for an AP course can be challenging. When it comes to a course like AP Physics 1, which dives deep into the foundational principles of physics, it’s important to be sure that you have a keen interest in physics. By enjoying the concepts that you are studying and being passionate about the subject, the journey to mastering the course’s content can be a lot easier.

  4. Do you intend to study physics in the future?

    AP Physics 1 is specially designed for students who plan to study the biological/health sciences at a higher level (or other fields requiring an introductory physics foundation). So, if that’s in the cards for your future academic plans, then taking AP Physics 1 would definitely be a smart choice.

Some other tips to help you decide whether or not to take up AP Physics 1 are:

  1. Talking to your peers and seniors

    By talking to people who have already taken the AP Physics 1 exam or to those who have decided to start taking the course, you can get a better idea of whether you’re ready for it. They can help you understand the kind of effort and time you will need to dedicate to studying AP Physics 1.

  2. Consulting with your Guidance Counselor

    Your guidance counselor will be able to take your past performances, current and past schedules, and future college/career goals into consideration while advising you on whether or not AP Physics 1 is the course for you. Their informed opinion can help put a lot of doubts to rest and help you make the best decision.

Is AP Physics 1 Hard?

As mentioned earlier, the AP Physics 1 course is viewed as a slightly less challenging course than AP Physics 2 or AP Physics C: Mechanics. It is the introductory foundational course and requires the least number of prerequisites. However, keep in mind that the pass rate of the AP Physics 1 exam is the lowest.

That’s why we say that deciding whether AP Physics 1 is hard or not is just as subjective as deciding whether to take it. Here are a few pointers to consider while deciding how hard this course might be for you.

  1. When you’re in high school, your schedule might be busy. Between having many classes, extra-curricular activities, and commitments in your personal life, it might be hard to dedicate the necessary amount of time to studying AP Physics 1. If you find yourself not having enough time to spend on this class, you may encounter difficulties in AP Physics 1.
  2. If you doubt your algebraic abilities or your mastery of geometry, then you may find AP Physics 1 relatively difficult. AP Physics 1 is an algebra-based course requiring you to continuously learn and apply algebra and geometry.
  3. You will need to use drawing and visualization skills during the course and on the AP Physics 1 exam. While you don’t need to be an artist, it is important that you are able to read, understand, and sketch the required diagrams and visualizations. If that’s not something you’re too keen on, you may find this course challenging.
  4. If your school does not have the required resources to teach AP Physics 1, you could find yourself struggling with the course. Be sure about the facilities and resources available, as they can be the difference between you enjoying the course and struggling through it. You can always rely on trusted online resources, such as UWorld’s online AP practice questions, to help you study and review for the exam.

What’s the Difference Between AP Physics 1, 2, and C?

By now, you must be aware that there are four AP Physics courses that you could take. Namely:

  1. AP Physics 1
  2. AP Physics 2
  3. AP Physics C: Mechanics
  4. AP Physics C: Electricity & Magnetism

Understanding the difference between them can help you decide which one to take. Let’s compare these courses to learn how they differ.

AP Physics 1 AP Physics 2 AP Physics C
Equivalent to a first-semester
college course.
Equivalent to a second-semester
college course.
Equivalent to a first-semester or
college course.
Algebra-based physics. Algebra-based physics. Calculus-based physics.
No prior knowledge of physics
is required.
Successful completion of AP
Physics 1
or an equivalent course is required.
Successful completion of Honors
or an equivalent course is recommended.
Studying Algebra 2 or an equivalent course is required. Studying precalculus is required. Studying calculus is required.
Commonly taken in Year 1. Commonly taken in Year 2 after completing AP Physics 1. Commonly taken in Year 1 or Year 2 (or taken simultaneously)
Requires that 25% of the course
time be spent on laboratory work.
Requires that 25% of the course
time be spent on laboratory work.
Requires that 20% of the course
time be spent on laboratory work.

AP Physics 1 Exam Review Tips

Now that you are well-acquainted with the most important AP Physics 1 exam information, here are a few tips to help you review for the exam. Be sure to check out our more detailed AP Physics 1 study guide for more tips on how to prepare for the AP Physics 1 exam.

  1. Make a schedule:

    Having a well-planned schedule throughout the school year is the best way to keep track of the topics you’ve covered and the ones you have yet to work on.

  2. Get familiar with the format of the exam:

    Knowing the format of the exam will help you know what to expect on the exam. That way, you won’t be caught off guard in the middle of the examination.

  3. Review material:

    Invest in good review material, such as UWorld’s online practice tests and flashcards. You can also create your own formula and key concepts sheet for quick review closer to the exam.

Use this information to decide whether AP Physics 1 is the course for you. If you’re passionate about physics and you know you can dedicate the time and effort to studying hard, you can ace the AP Physics 1 exam. Try using UWorld to help you prepare for your exam. We can help you gain experience with the exam format with our practice tests, and you will be able to keep track of your performance and timing spent on questions. We even offer a notebook tool to let you create virtual, illustrated notes as you go through each practice question! All of these things could help improve your final AP Physics 1 exam score.

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Frequently Asked Questions

You can check the College Board website for past AP Physics 1 exams.

Note that while you are permitted to retake the exam, and there is no restriction on how many times you can retake it, the College Board offers advanced placement exams once a year. For a graduating senior, it may be impractical to retake the exam. For students who are considering taking AP Physics 2, you may wish to speak with your guidance counselor or science teacher to discuss whether the course is a good fit and what areas you may need to review to perform well.

Don’t be discouraged if you don’t achieve the score you hoped for on the AP Physics 1 exam. Research from the College Board shows students who take AP courses but score below a 3 perform better than their non-AP peers in introductory college courses. Reflect on what study skills you may need to cultivate for future academic and career success. Use that knowledge to help you as you move forward in your studies.
Students usually take AP Physics 1 in their third year of high school, followed by AP Physics 2 in their fourth year of high school.
It costs $97 USD if you are a student within the USA or $127 USD if you are an international student. To learn more about these costs and any possibility of deductions, read our article on AP Exam Eligibility & Registration.
That depends entirely on your aptitude for both these subjects and your high school schedule. Check out our AP Chemistry Exam guide and AP Chemistry Course and Exam Description for more details.

Read More About the AP Physics 1 Exam

Looking for the AP Physics 1 Exam Format? The information is just a click away—Learn all about the AP Physics 1 exam format, question types, topic-wise weights, and more!
Need a calculator to estimate your AP exam score? Learn all the ins and outs of AP Physics 1 Scoring—score distribution, scoring rubrics, and a score calculator to see where you stand.
Looking for ultimate study tips and trustworthy study material? Check out this perfect study plan, written by experts, to score the highest on your AP Physics 1 exam effortlessly.
The best way to get ready for the AP exams is to practice more questions. Get the most out of these exam-like practice questions to help you achieve your dream score.
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