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Is AP Physics 1 Hard? Is AP Physics 1 Worth Taking?

⏱️  5 min read

written by

Jed Quiaoit

jed quiaoit

September 26, 2020


Ever been curious about why a ball travels in a curved path when thrown across a room? Wondered why some objects can slide across a wooden table faster than others? Pondered how the moon doesn't stray away from the Earth's orbit?

If you said yes on any of these questions, AP Physics 1 is the class for you!

Overview ⭐

AP Physics 1 is the first of two algebra-based Advanced Placement® physics classes. It used to be merged with content from AP Physics 2 into a yearlong Physics B class, but the College Board separated them into two separate classes.

AP Physics 1 covers the following major topics:

Note that even with these distinctions, there are still overlaps between some groups that aren't explicitly implied below.
  • Kinematics 👋
  • Dynamics, Energy, and Momentum 💤
  • Torque, Circular & Rotational Motion, and Gravitation ⭕
  • Simple Harmonic Motion & Mechanical Waves (i.e. Sound) 🔊
  • Electricity: Electric Charge/Force & DC Circuits ⚡

Questions to Ask 🤔

Asking yourself questions before taking the course itself will help gauge how much work you need to put into your class on top of extracurriculars. Ask yourself:

  • How interested are you in physics before taking AP Physics 1?
  • How much algebra do you know before taking AP Physics 1?
  • How much physics do you know before taking AP Physics 1?
  • Besides AP Physics 1, what other APs are you taking this year?
  • Consider your school's offering of the class:

    • How much resources does the subject teacher offer?

    • What do previous students say about their quality of teaching?

  • Outside of the AP Physics 1 class, what other supplemental resources can you consult if you ever need assistance?

Difficulty 🎢

Physics is about how objects behave or move AND how to use mathematical reasoning to quantitatively express these actions. So, the proper approach to learning Physics 1 involves a combination of both.

"You need to truly understand what the formulas mean and what they are. It's hard to get that sense of intuition in a short time without putting in lots of work, which makes this class so hard."—EPICNESS2500

Memorizing formulas and just plugging numbers when a question mentions a particular quantity is NEVER the proper approach to learning physics. This, unfortunately, becomes the pitfall of a huge chunk of students: they are unable to connect the numbers presented in a problem to the associated concepts, causing them to struggle with the more conceptual questions 😵

In terms of difficulty, Physics 1 won't be that challenging if you spend time reviewing your notes before the next class session. It's important to stay on track because unit topics build on previous concepts covered. Being behind even by one or two steps will affect your ability to completely grasp key concepts later on in the course.

"I struggled throughout that class last year but picked myself up in the second semester. The key is that Physics 1 is all about the concepts. Know them inside and out. The math is just plugging in equations and knowing all the problem types, but the concepts will wreck you if you don't know them well." -FajitaOverlord

Speaking of which, don't hesitate to ask your teacher questions and use outside resources. Here's some examples:

  • Fiveable: From study guides to live stream replays, Fiveable's your go-to if you need an interactive refresher of either a given topic or the overall unit.
  • Khan Academy: Check out Khan Academy whenever you need to review special concepts or do practice problems. The practice is much recommended as it explains why each answer choice is (in)correct.
  • Flipping Physics: Another repository of awesome videos and notes, Flipping Physics does demonstrations on top of lectures—a must-see for visual learners. FP also goes over previous years' Free Response Questions (FRQs), which make up 50% of your exam score!

When browsing, look at sample problems, notes, and real-life analogies. They'll help you understand the content further, especially in such a fast-paced class as AP Physics 1 📝

In a nutshell: AP Physics 1 is challenging if you don't seek help on your own! It'll take more than one time going over the lesson before having a solid grasp over topics covered that day. Use online resources (e.g. Fiveable, Khan Academy, Flipping Physics) to add on to what you know in class. Do a lot of practice problems to familiarize yourself with what'll you'll see on the AP exam!

Data 📊

Sometimes, you have to let the numbers speak for themselves. Here are the score distributions from 2019:

  • 5: 6.2%
  • 4: 17.8%
  • 3: 20.6%
  • 2: 29.3%
  • 1: 26.1%

What does this mean for you? Physics 1 is not a walk in the park, but with hard work and dedication (sounds cliched, but it's true), getting a 3 or higher is definitely doable!

So, is it worth it? 🧠

If you find yourself curious now and then with the most mundane processes around us, from tires skidding when braking to lights dimming over time, physics is where you will learn the reasoning behind relevant concepts such as friction, gravity, and electricity. In terms of learning, you'll bring home countless takeaways from the class, especially if you are interested in taking on physics as a career option through either engineering or applied physics 🚀

Your efforts will also be handsomely rewarded at the end of the year. Most colleges across the nation offer credit if you get a score of 3 (4 or 5 for the more competitive colleges), and you can always check to see if your dream school does. Keep in mind that some colleges might require you to take their physics courses to ensure that you have a solid foundation in physics.

Still, being exposed to college-level physics in high school will be advantageous once you get to college because all you need by then is to clear off the cobwebs instead of starting from scratch 🙌

Fiveable Courses 🙌

One of our new initiatives here at Fiveable for the 2020-2021 school year is Fiveable Courses! You can sign up for the AP Physics 1 Fiveable course to get access to a bunch of assistance throughout either the fall or spring semester. This can be super helpful — whether you are self-studying or looking for extra support to supplement your in-class work.

A Fiveable course in AP Lang includes:

  • 👩‍🏫 weekly 60-min live lectures
  • 📃 study guides for every unit
  • 🤔 projects or practice assignments
  • 💭 feedback from exam readers
  • 💬 office hours led by student TAs
  • 🧑 active community & support system

It's $55, and it'll be worth it for the long run! 🙂 Sign up for Fiveable's AP Physics 1 course today!

Final Thoughts 😎

Physics may seem intimidating at first, but taking the class personally taught me how to reason scientifically.

Ultimately, the choice is up to you. Remember to consider other factors impacting you at school like community service, internships, clubs, and other activities that may divert your attention from putting your best foot forward in AP Physics 1. Don't overwork yourself!

If you're taking on the class, best of luck and don't forget that F = ma! Trust us, it'll keep you from losing your sanity. You got this 😉

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