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How to Self-Study for The AP Physics 1 Exam

⏱️  3 min read

written by

Peter Cao

peter cao

August 4, 2020


Let’s get right to it: you want to self-study for AP Physics 1. Believe it or not, AP Physics 1 is not that hard to self-study. With a plan and motivation, Physics could be Fiveable!

Find the 2020 exam schedule, learn tips & tricks, and get your frequently asked questions answered on Fiveable's Guide to the 2020 AP Exam Updates.

🧠 1. Set a basic study plan based on College Board’s Standards

With any AP course, this class is not a cakewalk to self-study for. You need to have an organized plan for it. What I suggest is dividing your calendar into the 10 units in AP Physics 1, basing how long you spend on each topic from how much that content is emphasized on the AP test. Below, you can see the weighting of each of the units, based upon the College Board’s Course Framework.

  1. Kinematics - 10-16%
  2. Dynamics - 12-18%
  3. Circular Motion and Gravitation - 4-6%
  4. Energy - 16-24%
  5. Momentum - 10-16%
  6. Simple Harmonic Motion - 2-4%
  7. Torque and Rotational Motion - 10-16%
  8. Electric Charge and Electric Force - 4-6%
  9. DC Circuits - 6-8%
  10. Mechanical Waves and Sound - 12-16%

You can see that you should be spending, theoretically, most of your time on the Energy unit, rather than the Simple Harmonic Motion unit since it is the most dense on the AP test. Then, I suggest you subdivide your units based upon the topics within each unit. You can find the topics within each unit in the Unit Guides, available at the College Board’s Course and Exam Description.

Here’s a Tip: As you go through your calendar, you may think “Oh no! I actually can’t learn half this stuff!” As it may be true that the content can be difficult to learn, you are (most likely) doing this to not have to do this in college, so you can take that awesome Anthropology class. Stick to it!

📙 2. Learn Your Content

Now that you know what you are doing, you need to know how you are going to do it. Notably, you need two specific resources: one set to help you learn content and another to help you practice the content. Both are equally important. Let’s talk about acquiring content first. You can achieve this in a multitude of ways.

For the Book People - A Textbook is your one-stop shop for all the content you need for this class. The College Board has a list of suggested textbooks for this course:

  • Cutnell, John D., Kenneth W. Johnson, David Young, Shane Stadler. Physics (Physics 1). 10th edition. Wiley.
  • Ingram, Douglas and David Anderson. OpenStax College Physics for AP® Course 1. 1st edition. OpenStax.
  • Serway, Raymond A. and Chris Vuille. College Physics (AP Edition) 11th edition. National Geographic Learning/Cengage Learning

Prep Books also are a great source of information, Barron’s, Princeton Review, and 5 Steps to a 5 all have Physics 1 exam prep books. These also have practice questions.

For the Video People - Khan Academy has great videos over Physics 1...it even has a course dedicated to it, and has some practice questions to go over the videos. On YouTube, there is a channel called “Flipping Physics”, which I personally find very useful (you’ll love the intro. to his videos).

For the Online People - Fiveable has some great reviews of the Units and even has some practice questions to ensure that you are in the right direction. Also, individual AP teachers post PowerPoints and assignments on their classroom website.

💪 3. Practicing the Content

Physics is inherently a math-based class. You need to have ample practice of all portions of content. Most sources mentioned before have sample questions: the textbooks, Fiveable, and Khan Academy. What I would urge you to do is to do as many of them as you humanly can. Look over the internet for worksheets from other Physics classes and see if you can solve them...it never hurts! Also, don’t just practice multiple choice questions or worksheets. Also practice Free Response Questions...these constitute 50% of your exam score! Past FRQs with answer keys are located at the bottom at the webpage found in the link here.

Once you know the content and are able to show it you are ready for this test! Remember to get a good night’s sleep and have a nice breakfast before this test. You can do this!

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