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Big Reviews: Finals & Exam Prep

2021 AP Physics 1 Exam Guide

9 min readโ€ขfebruary 24, 2021


Your guide to the 2021 AP Physics 1 exam

We know that studying for your AP exams can be stressful, but Fiveable has your back! We have created a study plan that will help you crush your AP Physics 1 exam. We will continue to update this guide with more information about the 2021 exams, as well as helpful resources to help you score that 5. Create a Fiveable account and join our Discord to stay involved in all things AP exams! ๐Ÿ˜

Format of the 2021 AP Physics 1 Exam

This year, all AP exams will cover all units and essay types. The 2021 AP Physics 1 exam format will be:
  • Early May/Late May Testing (Paper)
    • Multiple Choice - 50% of your score
      • 50 questions in 1 hour and 30 minutes
    • Free Response - 50% of your score
      • 5 questions in 1 hour and 30 minutes
  • June Testing (Digital)
    • Multiple Choice - 50% of your score
      • 50 questions in 1 hour and 30 minutes
    • Multiple Choice and Free Response - 50% of your score
      • 25 questions in 45 minutes
      • 2 questions in 45 minutes
Check out our study plan below to find resources and tools to prepare for your AP Physics 1 exam.

When is the 2021 AP Physics 1 exam and how do I take it?

There are three different exam administrations this year and the tests will be taken in person at your school unless your AP Coordinator has indicated otherwise. Here is what we know from College Board so far:
  • The first exam date is on paper at your school on May 5, 2021, at 12 pm, your local time.ย 
  • The second exam date is on paper at your school on May 24, 2021, at 12 pm, your local time.ย 
  • The final exam date is digital at your school or home on June 9, 2021, at 4 pm ET (see above the changes for digital version).ย 
You will have 3 hours to take the exam. We will have more updates from the College Board soon, but as of now, this is what we know! Create a Fiveable account to get updates on the latest 2021 exam news.ย 

How should I prepare for the exam?

  • First, download the AP Physics 1 Cram Chart PDF - a single sheet that covers everything you need to know at a high level. Take note of your strengths and weaknesses!ย 
  • Review every unit and question type, and focus on the areas that need the most improvement and practice. Weโ€™ve put together this plan to help you study between now and May. This will cover all of the units and essay types to prepare you for your exam
  • Join our Discord channel to talk to real students just like you studying for this exam! We have TAs in each subject channel to support you this Spring.ย 
  • Finally, check out our live Cram events so that you can review for the AP Physics exam with a rockstar teacher and study socially among other students! ๐Ÿค“

Pre-work: set up your study environment

Before we begin, take some time to get organized. Remote learning can be great, but it also means youโ€™ll need to hold yourself accountable more than usual.ย 
๐Ÿ–ฅ Create a study space.
Make sure you have a designated place at home to study. Somewhere you can keep all of your materials, where you can focus on learning, and where you are comfortable. Spend some time prepping the space with everything you need and you can even let others in the family know that this is your study space.ย 
๐Ÿ“š Organize your study materials.
Get your notebook, textbook, prep books, or whatever other physical materials you have. Also create a space for you to keep track of review. Start a new section in your notebook to take notes or start a Google Doc to keep track of your notes. Get yourself set up!
๐Ÿ“… Plan designated times for studying.
The hardest part about studying from home is sticking to a routine. Decide on one hour every day that you can dedicate to studying. This can be any time of the day, whatever works best for you. Set a timer on your phone for that time and really try to stick to it. The routine will help you stay on track.
๐Ÿ† Decide on an accountability plan.
How will you hold yourself accountable to this study plan? You may or may not have a teacher or rules set up to help you stay on track, so you need to set some for yourself. First set your goal. This could be studying for x number of hours or getting through a unit. Then, create a reward for yourself. If you reach your goal, then x. This will help stay focused!
๐Ÿค Get support from your peers.ย 
There are thousands of students all over the world who are preparing for their AP exams just like you! Join our Discord channel to chat, ask questions, and meet other students who are also studying for the spring exams. You can even build study groups and review material together!ย 

AP Physics 1 2021 Study Plan

*Note: Units 8, 9, and 10 are no longer covered on the exam effective this year.

๐Ÿƒ๐Ÿปโ€โ™‚๏ธ Unit 1: Kinematics

Big takeaways:

Unit 1 is focused on the basics of motion. Describing how an object moves in a straight line and projectile motions. Also, key ideas such as slopes and areas of a graph are used to change from displacement to velocity to acceleration and back. While this topic does stand on its own fairly well, youโ€™ll often see projectile motion questions attached to the end of an FRQ from a different unit.

Definitely do this:

๐ŸŽฅ Watch these videos:
๐Ÿ“–Read these Fiveable study guides:

If you have more time or want to dig deeper:

๐ŸŽฎย  Play around with some simulations:

๐ŸŒ€ Unit 2: Dynamics

Big takeaways:

Dynamics is the study of the forces, the interactions of an object with another object, that cause objects and systems to move. The basic understanding of force as a push or pull helps to solidify the notion that it is a vector quantity and has both magnitude and direction.ย 
Similar to that of Unit 1, translation is key in Unit 2. You must be able to show the same objectโ€“force interactions through different graphs, diagrams, and mathematical relationships. During Unit 2, you will also learn a necessary skill throughout the remaining units of AP Physics 1: how to derive new expressions from fundamental equations to form predictions in unfamiliar scenarios.

Definitely do this:

๐ŸŽฅ Watch these videos:
๐Ÿ“–Read these Fiveable study guides:

If you have more time or want to dig deeper:

๐ŸŽฎ Play around with some simulations

๐Ÿš€ Unit 3: Uniform Circular Motion & Gravity

Big takeaways:

Unit 3 takes the ideas learned from Unit 2 and applies them to objects moving in a circular path with a constant speed. Combining this with Newtonโ€™s Law of Gravity lets us solve problems involving planetary orbits and satellites, as well as describing changes in weight when we move from one location to another. Similar to Unit 1, these concepts are often embedded into other FRQ and are rarely asked in stand-alone questions.

Definitely do this:

๐ŸŽฅ Watch these videos:
๐Ÿ“–Read these Fiveable study guides:

If you have more time or want to dig deeper:

๐ŸŽฎ Play around with some simulations

โšก๏ธ Unit 4: Energy

Big takeaways:

Unit 4 is another vital unit in terms of the AP exam. The skills and ideas learned here will show up again and again in Unit 5-7. In addition, there is ALWAYS an FRQ that is solvable by using the energy concepts. Key concepts that you need to be comfortable with include applying the Law of Conservation of Energy to a variety of problems, defining systems, and calculating the work done to or by a system.

Definitely do this:

๐ŸŽฅ Watch these videos:
๐Ÿ“–Read these Fiveable study guides:

If you have more time or want to dig deeper:

๐ŸŽฎ Play around with some simulations

๐ŸŒ๐Ÿปโ€โ™‚๏ธ Unit 5: Momentum

Big takeaways:ย 

Unit 5 introduces the idea of the Law of Conservation of Momentum. This lets us describe and calculate masses, velocities, and energies before and after collisions or explosions. This unit draws on many of the skills learned in Unit 4, especially the concept of kinetic energy. Be sure you know how to apply the conservation laws. As far as FRQs go, momentum questions can be stand-alone but are often incorporated into questions involving forces (Unit 2) or energy (Unit 4).

Definitely do this:

๐ŸŽฅ Watch these videos:
๐Ÿ“–Read these Fiveable study guides:

๐ŸŽธ Unit 6: Simple Harmonic Motion

Big takeaways:ย 

Unit 6 focuses on the concept of periodic motion, a motion that repeats over and over in a set time interval. Two commonly used examples of this are a mass oscillating on a spring and a pendulum swinging at a small angle. In analyzing these two systems, weโ€™ll draw on forces (unit 2), energy (unit 4), and some trigonometry. Be sure you know how to calculate period and frequency as well. Regarding FRQs, SHM topics are often embedded into questions regarding energy but could be seen as a stand-alone question as well.

Definitely do this:

๐ŸŽฅ Watch these videos:
๐Ÿ“–Read these Fiveable study guides:

If you have more time or want to dig deeper:

๐ŸŽฎ Play around with some simulations

๐ŸŽก Unit 7: Rotation

Big takeaways:ย 

Congratulations, youโ€™ve made it to the last unit on this yearโ€™s AP exam! Unit 7 takes all the concepts weโ€™ve covered so far in Units 1-6 and applies them to solving problems involving rotating objects. Youโ€™ll need to be able to calculate angular distance, velocity and acceleration (unit 1), torques (units 2 and 3), rotational kinetic energy (unit 4), angular momentum (unit 5), and period/frequencies (unit 6). Because there are so many connections to the previous units, FRQโ€™s from unit 7 are robust enough to stand on their own, and will often only focus on a small subset of the skills from this Unit. Oftentimes, these subsets are either torque and forces or energy. Some of the other skills such as angular momentum can be combined with the planetary motion questions from unit 3.

Definitely do this:

๐ŸŽฅ Watch these videos:
๐Ÿ“–Read these Fiveable study guides and try some trivia:

If you have more time or want to dig deeper:

๐ŸŽฎ Play around with some simulations

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AP Physics Essentials
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Free Response Questions (FRQs)
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Multiple Choice Questions (MCQs)
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Unit 10: Mechanical Waves & Sound
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Unit 1: Kinematics
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Unit 2: Dynamics
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Unit 3: Circular Motion
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Unit 4: Energy
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Unit 5: Momentum
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Unit 6: Simple Harmonic Motion
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Unit 7: Torque & Rotational Motion
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Unit 8: Electric Charges & Electric Force
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Unit 9: DC Circuits