Is AP Physics 1 Hard or Easy? A Complete 2023 Guide

Is AP Physics 1 hard

With this blog, we will answer a very important query of many AP students, “Is AP Physics 1 hard?” Whether you’re a seasoned physics student or just starting out, this blog provides valuable insights and resources to help you navigate the complex world of AP Physics 1 with confidence.

Is AP Physics 1 hard?

The general consensus is that AP Physics 1 is considered one of the hardest AP classes. It is considered the 2nd toughest AP Subject when compared with all the 38 subjects. The course demands a solid grasp of Algebra and Trigonometry and is intended to be equal to a first-semester college Physics course.

However, opinions on the difficulty of AP Physics 1 can vary. Some students with a strong background in Math and Science may find the course more manageable, while others may struggle if they do not have a strong STEM foundation. The materials and teaching method can also affect how challenging a course is regarded to be. Some schools may have more experienced and supportive teachers, while others may lack resources or support for students who are struggling.

It is crucial to remember that although AP Physics 1 is seen as a difficult course, it can be gratifying. Students who complete the course and exam with good AP scores can receive college credit and gain essential skills that are useful in a variety of professions. With dedication and support, students can overcome the challenges of the course and achieve success in their academic pursuits.

5 key factors that influence the difficulty of AP Physics 1

The level of difficulty of AP Physics 1 can be attributed to five key factors: conceptual understanding, mathematical aptitude, problem-solving skills, student’s background and knowledge, and quality of instruction.

1. Conceptual understanding

AP Physics 1 requires a deep conceptual understanding of physics, including the fundamental principles of mechanics, waves, and electricity. Students must understand the relationships between various physical quantities, such as force, mass, and acceleration, and be able to apply these concepts to real-world situations. With a strong conceptual foundation, students may be able to comprehend more advanced concepts and problem-solving techniques.

2. Mathematical aptitude

AP Physics 1 is a highly mathematical course that requires proficiency in algebra, trigonometry, and calculus. Students must be able to use mathematical equations and formulas to solve problems and explain physical phenomena. This requires a solid understanding of mathematical concepts, as well as the ability to manipulate equations and perform calculations accurately.

3. Problem-solving skills

AP Physics 1 is designed to develop students’ problem-solving skills, including their ability to analyze complex problems and apply critical thinking skills to arrive at a solution. This requires a high level of reasoning and a willingness to approach problems from multiple angles. Students must be able to identify relevant information, select appropriate formulas and equations, and apply them in a logical and organized manner.

4. Student’s background and knowledge

Students who have a strong foundation in maths and science, especially in concepts of Physics will face a little less difficulty in understanding this subject. Also, AP Physics 1 consists of 75% conceptual questions which require students to understand and learn these concepts in detail, and as this is an AP course the units are naturally going to be advanced level. Along with conceptual questions, 25% is problem-solving which needs a strong base in math, especially in algebra as AP Physics 1 is algebra-based.

5. Quality of instruction

The quality of instruction that you are receiving is more than important. The type of teacher you get and their teaching style and methodology are highly important as they are you receive first-hand instruction on AP Physics 1 from them. If you don’t have quality teachers in your school, it is always a better option to go for online AP Physics 1 tutoring. A tutor can help you understand the concepts in a better and simple manner and help you in practicing problems.

In conclusion, students’ conceptual knowledge of physics, their level of mathematical competency, and their problem-solving abilities all have a significant role in how challenging they believe AP Physics 1 to be. Students can effectively traverse the course’s hurdles and succeed in their academic endeavors by acquiring these abilities and asking for help when necessary.

Albert Einstein

Topics covered in AP Physics 1

Understanding the topics covered in AP Physics 1 and their weightage is crucial for exam success. Let’s explore them together.

Units coveredExam weightage (Multiple-choice section)
Unit 1: Kinematics12-18%
Unit 2: Dynamics16-20%
Unit 3: Circular Motion and Gravitation6-8%
Unit 4: Energy20-28%
Unit 5: Momentum12-18%
Unit 6: Simple Harmonic Motion4-6%
Unit 7: Torque and Rotational Motion12-18%
Topics covered in AP Physics 1

Source: College Board

Remember that each topic covered in AP Physics 1 carries a different weightage on the exam, so be sure to allocate your study time accordingly to maximize your performance.

AP Physics 1 exam format

The purpose of the AP Physics 1 exam is to evaluate students’ knowledge of the subject as well as their ability to apply the concepts they have learned to solve tricky situations. The exam consists of two sections: multiple-choice questions and free-response questions. Here is a breakdown of the exam format:

SectionType of QuestionNo. of QuestionTime Limit
Multiple-choice questionsPart A: Multiple choice –
Discrete items and items in sets (45 questions)
Part B: Multiple correct –
Items with two correct answers (5 questions)
5090 mins
Free-responseExperimental design (1 question)
Qualitative/quantitative translation (1 question)
Short answers (3 questions)
590 mins
AP Physics 1 exam format

The multiple-choice section is designed to test students’ knowledge of the course content, including concepts, theories, and mathematical equations. The questions are a mix of single-select (one correct answer) and multiple-select (more than one correct answer) questions.

The free-response section consists of short-answer questions and a single investigative task. The short-answer questions require students to demonstrate their ability to apply their knowledge and skills to solve problems and explain physical phenomena. The investigative task requires students to design and conduct an experiment, collect and analyze data, and communicate their findings in a written report.

ap physics 1 exam guide
AP Physics 1 Exam Guide

AP Physics 1 pass score & mean score

To pass the AP Physics 1 exam, a student must achieve a score of 3 out of 5, indicating their understanding and proficiency in college-level physics concepts.

The graphs given below depicts the AP Physics 1 pass score trend and mean score trend over a period of 10 years.

Pass Score of AP Physics 1
Pass Score of AP Physics 1

Based on College Board data from 2021 and 2022, approximately 42.1% and 43.3% of students who took the AP Physics 2 exam received a passing score of 3 or higher. However, the pass rate can vary each year due to differences in exam difficulty. The mean score of AP Physics 2 for 2021 & 2022 was 2.41 & 2.47, respectively.

Mean Score of AP Physics 1
Mean Score of AP Physics 1

AP Physics 1 score distribution

The scoring system for the AP Physics 1 exam is as follows:

SectionTotal PointsPercent of Total Score
AP Physics 1 score distribution

Each multiple-choice question is worth one point, and each free-response question is worth 10 points. The total score for the exam is the sum of the points earned on each section, with a maximum score of 100. The score is then converted to a scaled score between 1 and 5, with 5 being the highest score. A score of 3 or higher is generally considered passing and may earn a student college credit, depending on the policies of the individual college or university.

Tips for success in the AP Physics 1 exam

Although preparing for the AP Physics 1 exam could be daunting, students can increase their chances of success by using the correct methods and tactics. Here are some tips and strategies to help students perform at their peak on the exam.

  1. Develop a strong conceptual understanding: It is important to focus on building a solid foundation of conceptual knowledge in physics. This involves understanding the basic principles and concepts, as well as their applications in real-world scenarios.
  2. Practice problems regularly: Regular practice of problems is key to mastering the concepts and techniques needed for success in the AP Physics 1 exam. Students should start by practicing more straightforward problems and gradually move on to more complex ones.
  3. AP Physics online tutoring: As we have mentioned before, quality instruction is very important, especially if you have no prior experience with Physics. Opting for online private tutors can be an excellent option here. Wiingy’s 100+ AP Physics 1 tutors will help you in understanding complex concepts in a plain and simple manner and will also help you in practicing your problem-solving skills. Book a free demo class today to find your perfect tutor match.
  4. Master mathematical skills required for the course: AP Physics 1 is a highly mathematical course, so it is important to master the mathematical skills needed for the course. This includes algebra and trigonometry.
  5. Use resources effectively: Students should make use of all available resources, such as textbooks, study guides, practice tests, and online resources. These can help in understanding the concepts and techniques, as well as provide additional practice opportunities.
  6. Manage time effectively during the exam: Time management is key to success in any exam, and the AP Physics 1 exam is no exception. Students should carefully read the instructions for each section and allocate their time accordingly. It is important to answer all questions and manage time effectively to save time during the exam.
  7. Practice writing skills for free-response questions: The free-response section of the AP Physics 1 exam requires students to communicate their answers effectively. Students should practice writing clear, concise, and well-organized responses to the free-response questions.

Is AP Physics 1 worth taking?  

Students can gain a number of advantages from taking AP Physics 1. First off, it can show college admissions representatives that applicants have a passion for learning and are up to the challenges of college-level coursework. This could improve their chances of getting into prestigious schools and institutions. In addition, getting a good exam score can result in college credit, which can save students time and money.

From a professional perspective, AP Physics 1 can give students crucial abilities and information that are highly appreciated by companies in industries like engineering, physics, and computer science. The course can also help students develop critical thinking, problem-solving, and analytical skills that are transferable to a wide range of career paths.

Overall, enrolling in AP Physics 1 can significantly advance students’ scholastic and professional ambitions. It may offer students chances for advanced courses and college credit, help them stand out in the tough college admissions process, and arm them with information and abilities that can help them succeed in a number of job sectors.


Based on College Board data from 2021 and 2022, approximately 41.5% and 43.1% of students who took the AP Physics 1 exam received a passing score of 3 or higher. However, it’s important to note that the pass rate can vary each year due to differences in exam difficulty. The mean score of AP Physics 1 for 2021 and 2022 was 2.83 and 2.89, respectively.

Frequently asked questions (FAQs)

Is AP Physics 1 harder than AP Physics 2? 

The difficulty rating for AP Physics 1 is reported as 3.6 out of 10, while AP Physics 2 has a slightly lower difficulty rating of 3.3 out of 10. This indicates that students perceive AP Physics 1 to be slightly more challenging. Students need to take AP Physics 1 before opting for AP Physics 2 as most of the units covered in AP Physics 2, like Electrostatic, Atomic, Nuclear, and Quantum Physics, etc, require a strong understanding of concepts like Kinematics, Work, and Energy, Simple Harmonic Motion, etc, which are the units covered in AP Physics 1. AP Physics 2 has fewer topics and is necessarily not very difficult when compared to AP Physics 1.

Is AP Physics 1 harder than AP Physics C?

Generally speaking, AP Physics C is considered harder than AP Physics 1. AP Physics 1 is taken as a first-year course and AP Physics C is taken as a second-year course. AP Physics C: Electricity and Magnetism is generally rated as the hardest AP course with a difficulty rating of 8.1 out of 10. Also, their difficulty depends on what you are good at. AP Physics 1 deals a lot with concepts rather than maths but AP Physics C deals a lot with math as it is calculus-based.

Which AP Physics is the easiest?

According to popular student reviews and exam pass rates, AP Physics 1 can be considered a hard AP course. But it’s also not appropriate to label any AP Physics course as “easy” as they are all advanced and rigorous courses. AP Physics 1 may be considered the most accessible for students who are new to physics as it covers foundational concepts and does not require calculus. However, success in any AP Physics course requires a strong understanding of math, critical thinking skills, and a willingness to put in significant effort and dedication.

Is AP Physics 1 hard to self-study?

Due to the breadth of the material and the depth of mathematical and scientific understanding required, AP Physics 1 might require more work to self-study and it is often not recommended for self-study. Nonetheless, it is feasible to self-study for the AP Physics 1 exam if you have the necessary materials and skills, such as textbooks, practice tests, relevant sources, and expert knowledge and experience in Physics. It is crucial to remember that accomplishing any AP course independently takes a lot of time and work and may be more complex than doing it in a classroom under the supervision of an instructor.

Should I skip AP Physics 1?

Whether you should skip AP Physics 1 depends on your individual circumstances and goals. If you have a strong understanding of physics and math and are interested in more advanced topics, you may be better suited for AP Physics C. However, if you are new to physics or have yet to take advanced math courses, AP Physics 1 may be a good starting point. Skipping AP Physics 1 without adequate preparation may make succeeding in higher-level physics courses more challenging.


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