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Is AP Physics 2 Hard? Is AP Phys 2 Worth Taking?

5 min readโ€ขnovember 18, 2020

Jed Quiaoit

@user8958644


Introduction ๐Ÿ”

It's that time of the year: picking your classes. As you go down the selection of STEM courses you're thinking of taking, you see AP Physics 2 on the list, but two questions are holding you back: Is it hard? and Is it worth taking?

Ever been curious about why water moves faster when you put your hand on the hose's opening? Wondered why metal feels colder than wood when touched? Pondered why straws look bent when in water? If you said yes on any of these questions, AP Physics 2 is the class for you!

Overview โญ

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

AP Physics 2 covers the following major topics:

Note that even with these distinctions, there are still overlaps between some groups that aren't explicitly implied below.
  • Fluids and Thermodynamics ๐ŸŒ€

  • Electricity (Electrostatics + Circuits) and Magnetism ๐Ÿงฒ

  • Geometric & Physical Optics ๐Ÿ‘“

  • Modern Physics ๐ŸŽ

Factors to Consider ๐Ÿค”

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:

  • Have you taken AP Physics 1 before?

    • If yes: How was it? Did you enjoy the class? Do you see yourself taking another physics course?

    • If no: How much physics and algebra do you know before taking AP Physics 2?

  • Besides AP Physics 2, what other APs are you taking this year?

  • Consider your school's offering of the class.

    • How many resources does the subject teacher offer?

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

  • Outside of the AP Physics 2 class, what other supplemental resources can you consult if you ever need assistance?

Difficulty ๐ŸŽข

Before taking Physics 2, we highly recommended taking Physics 1. Without the understanding of the fundamentals of physics like dynamics and work, some topics in Physics 2 might be very challenging.

"AP Physics 2 delves into similar material as AP Physics 1 but goes much deeper into each of them. If someone took AP Physics 2 without taking AP Physics 1 or took the class without understanding the concepts of AP Physics 1, itโ€™s definitely going to be hard." โ€”Vidya Subramanian

Another difference between the two is that Physics 2 covers fewer units than 1, which means that you have more time to understand the topics.

"AP Physics 2 has fewer topics. While those topics require an understanding of topics in AP Physics 1, they are not necessarily more difficult." โ€”Humza Syed

You might remember hearing this back in Physics 1: physics is about conceptual understanding and mathematical reasoning. Not one or the other. The proper approach to learn Physics 2 involves a combination of both.

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. ๐Ÿ˜ต

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 because it explains why each answer choice is (in)correct.

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 2 ๐Ÿ“

In a nutshell: AP Physics 2 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) to add on what you know in class. Do a lot of practice problems to familiarize yourself with what'll be on the AP exam!

Data ๐Ÿ“Š

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

  • 5: 12.6%

  • 4: 19.8%

  • 3: 31.1%

  • 2: 27.8%

  • 1: 8.7%

Compared to AP Physics 1, AP Physics 2 has a better score distribution with more 4 and 5 scorers. Remember that this comes with practice and diligent work throughout the year.

So, is it worth it? ๐Ÿง 

If you took AP Physics 1 before: You've been there. You know the drill: problem sets, nightly readings, FRQ practices, etc. AP Physics 2 is an awesome supplement to what you've learned in AP Physics 1.

If this is your first physics class: Check out a couple of AP Physics 1 units to familiarize yourself with the foundations of physics. Then, skim through the AP Physics 2 curriculum via Fiveable and/or Khan Academy (see links above). If you find them interesting (or at the very least, understandable), AP Physics 2 is a worthwhile course!

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 ๐Ÿ™Œ

Final Thoughts ๐Ÿ˜Ž

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 2. Don't overwork yourself!

If you're taking on the challenge to take the class, best of luck, and don't forget the Right-Hand Rules! You got this ๐ŸŽ‰

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