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AP Physics One Course Guide

Course Overview:

The AP Physics One Course is part one of a two-part algebra-based introductory physics course.  The ideas in the course are similar to those that you would encounter in a basic physics course that can be taken in a university.  While there are no prerequisites for this course that are explicitly stated, it is highly recommended by the College Board website that students taking this course have completed geometry and be enrolled in or already have completed algebra II as the math topics in this class require knowledge of these subjects.

The topics that are explored in this class include:

  • Newtonian mechanics that include rotational motion
  • Work, energy, power, and how they interact
  • Mechanical waves and sound
  • Simple circuits

The main AP Physics One Course content is encompassed in six ideas that deal with the scientific principles and how they push traditional boundaries and allow students to think about the physical world in new ways.  The ideas for this class are designed to allow students to establish lines of evidence to test natural phenomena.  This testing is done through the use of scientific methods of inquiry such as analyzing data, evaluating evidence, and working with the scientific method to define and evaluate theories.  Directly from the College Board website, the six ideas are as follows:

  • “Objectives and systems have properties such as mass and charge. Systems may have internal structure.”
  • “Fields existing in space can be used to explain interactions.”
  • “The interactions between systems can result in changes in those systems.”
  • “Changes that occur as a result of interactions are constrained by conservation laws.”
  • “Waves can transfer energy and momentum from one location to another without the permanent transfer of mass and serve as a mathematical model for the description of other phenomena.”

These six ideas are expressed through lecture and lab portions of the class.  There is a twenty-five percent requirement of hands-on work to inquire about the science practices learned in the lecture portion of the class.  This lab work is meant to give students the hands-on experience that can be severely lacking in a straight lecture class.  Because physics is the study of matter, something we can touch, it makes even more sense to include a lab portion because that allows for the students to manipulate the matter and see how those manipulations affect how the matter behaves.

The majority of this class is based on the relationship between natural phenomena and the mathematical principles that allow for students and scientists to investigate how the natural world operates.  Through the lecture portion, students will learn the needed principles that allow them to identify how manipulating one aspect of something can then alter the calculations and the final result of the effect on matter.  This lecture portion that introduces the main ideas is then reinforced by the lab portion where students can manipulate the matter and how much energy that is applied to it to see the effects.  After all, physics is the study of matter, energy, and the interaction between them.

Exam Information:

The AP Physics One Course Exam is much like a standardized test.  Everyone enters a room where there are proctors.  You cannot have your phone or your bag at your desk, and you will be seated alphabetically.  You may have a calculator since you will probably need one for this course’s exam, but any scratch paper that you may need or want will be provided to you at the time of testing.  The whole of the exam seems a little intimidating, but your teachers prepare you well for what you are about to embark upon.

For the AP Physics One Course Exam, the test consists of a total of one hundred and eighty minutes of testing, or three complete hours.  There are two parts to the exam: multiple choice and free response.  These two sections are timed individually.

The first part that students will take for this exam is the ninety-minute multiple choice section which contains fifty questions.  These questions are composed of forty-five single select questions and five multi-select questions.  Single select is much like a traditional multiple choice exam: there are multiple answer choices given and only one of them is right so you may only choose one answer.  In contrast to that, multi-select questions are those that have two correct answers and so the test instructs you to choose multiple answers.  An example of a question that you might encounter is shown below (as found on the College Board website):

AP Physics 1: Algebra-Based Physics Course Guide For Students

After the multiple-choice part of the AP Physics One Course exam, there is a ninety-minute free response section.  This section consists of three types of questions: experimental design, qualitative/quantitative translation, and short answer.  In this exam, there is one experimental design question.  This type of question asks you to design a specific experiment based on some information that the test provides.  This experiment is then “carried out” in order to connect the experiment that was designed to real life ideas like you were in the lab yourself.  Sometimes experiments don’t work in real life, so this type of question may ask you to show data that is not physically possible and explain why this might be what you produce in lab.  Additionally, in this exam, there is one qualitative/quantitative translation question.  This type of question is fairly straight forward in that it will ask you to do the math involved with a problem and then use that math to infer something about the experiment or the object that you are conducting the math for.  Lastly, there are three short answer questions in this exam that are simply problems like those that you would do in lab or in a homework during the school year.

Tips for Success:

The tips for almost all Advanced Placement exams are the same as if it were a normal standardized test.  There are testing strategies that are more helpful than others, but for the most part, just knowing your basic testing strategies will get you through the test.  Below is a list of things that you should be aware of before even opening your test booklet:

  • Know how much time you have on your exam. The proctors are there to give you a timing, but sometimes they can forget.  If you know how much time that you are allowed, you can have a watch (that doesn’t beep as that disrupts the testing environment) and pace yourself through the test.
  • When you are learning the information for the test and going over the basics for the tests in class, your teacher will give you approximate times that it should take to complete one part of the exam. There are also suggested times on the exam booklet.  Stick to those times.  If you have time left over at the end to go back and finish up a problem that you didn’t quite finish, then do so, but it will hurt you more in the long run if you haven’t at least put something down for all of the questions.
  • Know your strengths. If you know that you are stellar at the math questions for this part of the exam, then do those first because those are the ones that you will probably finish the fastest.  This will allow you to have extra time to go back to problems you haven’t finished (see bullet number two).
  • If you make a mistake, don’t stress out. Just cross out what you messed up and start over.  There is plenty of room in the testing booklets for you to mess up.  If you really think you will have trouble, however, I would suggest using scratch paper first and transferring the final answer into the testing booklet.

Those tips are awesome for knowing how to get through an exam.  But there are also tips that can help you prepare.

  • Make sure that your calculator has batteries! This can always be an issue! While it is possible to do all of these math problems without a calculator, it will take much more time and effort, and probably negatively affect your final grade.
  • Bring multiple pencils. Like all standardized tests, the multiple choice section of this exam requires a number two pencil.  I would suggest bringing at least two (mechanical or traditional) so that you have a spare if you need one.
  • Bring multiple pens. The free response section of this exam requires that you write in blue or black ink.  This is because the graders of these exams do not get the actual exam itself but rather a copy.  It is easier to see pen than pencil in a copy.

The last and most important tip that I can think of is simply this: Do not stress. Your teachers have taught these classes and will fully prepare you for anything that the College Board could throw at you.  Take a deep breath and just begin.

Equation Table:

The AP Physics One Course requires a lot of math based concepts.  To this end, there are a lot of formulas that would be important to know because this is an algebra-based course.  Instead of memorizing all of them, at least know what each one does.  College Board has put together a table of equations that they thought that you would need when you take this exam.  This list is probably not completely inclusive, but it is probably very close.  Being able to identify which equation will help you will be a key strategy for this exam.  The majority of the free response questions are math based, therefore, it is important that you know the basics behind each equation so that you can use them effectively.  The equation table for this exam has the following on it:

  • Constants and conversion factors such as proton, neutron, and electron mass, the speed of light, electron charge magnitude, Coulomb’s law constant, the universal gravitational constant, and acceleration due to gravity at the Earth’s surface.
  • Unit symbols such as meter, kilogram, second, ampere, kelvin, hertz, newton, joule, watt, coulomb, volt, ohm, and degree Celsius.
  • Prefixes such as tera, giga, mega, kilo, centi, milli, mirco, nano, and pico
  • Values of sine, cosine, and tangent for commonly used angles.
  • Mechanics equations
  • Electricity equations
  • Wave equations
  • Geometry and trigonometry equations like those that involve rectangles, triangles, circles, rectangular solids, right triangles, cylinders, and spheres.

In all of the sections with equations, the sheet is divided into those sections as well as listing the variable and what it stands for in each of the equations.  This being said, do not rely solely on this table.  This table can be a helpful aid if you find that you need it, but relying solely on this table is asking to fail.  There is not enough time in the exam for you to look up every equation that you use.  Many of the equations, you will inadvertently memorize because you will use them all the time, and therefore you will feel better going into the exam.  There are equations that I still do not know, but I was able to use the table on the test to figure out the problem in a timely manner.

I am not saying this to scare you.  Really I just want you to be fully prepared for anything that the College Board will throw at you.  The way the tests are set up, you will do well if you know the material.  They do not intentionally try to trick you so that you fail the exam.  The questions are created with the thought that the student taking the exam will study beforehand.  If there are a few equations that you are fuzzy on, by all means look them up!  The table is provided to you for a reason.  Use all of your resources on the test because it will help you rather than hurt you, just use them in a timely manner so that you can finish the whole test and not be stressing to finish that one last problem as they call time.

Possible Careers:

A lot of questions that many people ask when they go to take classes and exams like this is “What can taking this class or this exam do to help further me in my career?”  That is a perfectly valid question.  I’m sure most of you taking this exam are high school juniors and seniors so the future is on your mind a lot.  Well, I took it upon myself to show you what you can do with this exam.  The list below all have hyperlinks so that you can click on them and explore further if something may interest you, but they are all jobs that you could do if you pursue physics into college.  I know that physics is probably not the most exciting class, but some of these jobs may peak your interest.

In addition to checking out these exciting jobs on your own, you may want to consider talking to you teachers about how they came into being a teacher for a physics class.  Chances are, this wasn’t their first choice.  That being said, they can still point you in the right direction of things that interest you.  When I was in high school, I talked to all of my teachers and asked for their input.  When you apply to colleges and jobs, you are going to need references.  Having talked to your teachers and made that connection will allow them to know you more as a person and make them more willing to write a stellar recommendation for you.

Lastly, before the list, this is a disclaimer.  I took this list from the College Board website as the jobs that taking this course and this exam may lead to.  This is by no means an all-inclusive list.  If physics interests you, try conducting a google search on your own to see where it might lead you.  You may come up with something that never even crossed your mind before.  You will be amazed at the world that you discover when you find something that you are truly interested in.

Remember that this list is all hyperlinked, so if you find something that peaks your interest, click on it and do some investigating!

Jobs that you may find interesting: Actuaries, Aerospace Engineers, Agricultural and Food Scientists, Agricultural Engineers, Animal Caretakers, Announcers, Aquaculturists, Architects, Archivists, Art Directors, Arts Administrators, Athletic Trainers, Biological Scientists, Chemists and Materials Scientists, Composers, Computer and Information Systems Managers, Computer Programmers, Computer Scientists, Computer Systems Analysts, Conservation Scientists, Conservators, Construction Managers, Dentists, Electronics Technicians, Elementary, Middle, and High School Teachers, Environmental Scientists, Financial Analysts, Forensic Scientists, Geographic Specialists, Geoscientists, Graphic Designers, Historians, Illustrators, Interior Designers, Landscape Architects, Management Consultants, Materials Engineers, Mathematicians, Medical Scientists, Meteorologists, Multimedia Artists and Animators, Occupational Health and Safety Specialists, Occupational Therapists, Operations Research Analysts, Petroleum Engineers, Pharmacists, Photographers, Physicists and Astronomers, Postsecondary Teachers, Preserve Managers, Science Technicians, Special Education Teachers, Speech-Language Pathologists and Audiologists, Speech-Language Pathology Assistants, Statisticians, Technical Writers, Urban and Regional Planners, Veterinarians, Web Designers, Wildlife Technicians.

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AP Physics One Course Guide


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