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Advanced Placement

Is AP Physics 1 Hard? A Complete Guide [2024]

Written by Apoorvaa Agarwal

Updated on: 27 May 2024


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  • AP Physics 1 is considered one of the hardest AP classes by AP class alumnae.
  • AP Physics 1 course is organized into 7 topics: Introduction to Physics, Kinematics, Dynamics, Work and Energy, Momentum and Collisions, Rotational Motion, Oscillations, and Waves
  • The pass rate of the AP Physics 1 Exam for 2022 was 43.3%. This is lower than the pass rate for AP overall.
  • AP Physics 1 exam is divided into two sections: multiple-choice and free-response.

Is AP Physics 1 hard?

Yes, the general consensus is that AP Physics 1 course is considered one of the hardest AP classes. It is considered the 2nd toughest AP subject when compared with all the 39 subjects.

With a difficulty rating of 3.1 out of 5, as per a survey among AP Class alumni, this course is known for its time-intensive and demanding nature.

In 2022, AP Physics 1 recorded one of the lowest pass rates among AP subjects, with only 43.1% of students scoring 3 or higher, significantly below the average pass rate of 60.2% for all AP courses.

Additionally, the average score for AP Physics 1 in 2022 was 2.83 out of 5, lowest than the average across all AP exams.

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.

What are the topics covered in the AP Physics 1 exam?

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.

Exam Tip: Each topic in AP Physics 1, from dynamics to energy and momentum, poses unique challenges. Our expert-vetted tutors specialize in these areas, offering personalized support. Achieve a thorough understanding of every subject with our expert AP Physics 1 Tutoring.

What determines the difficulty of AP Physics 1? 5 key factors

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.

  • Conceptual understanding : AP Physics 1 requires a deep conceptual understanding of physics and 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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. 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.
  • 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. A tutor can help you understand the concepts in a better and simple manner and help you in practicing problems.

What is the AP Physics 1 exam structure?

The AP Physics 1 exam consists of two sections: multiple-choice questions and free-response questions.

Here is a breakdown of the AP Physics 1 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

How are the AP Physics 1 exams scored?

The scoring system for AP Exams is based on a scale from 1 to 5, with 5 being the highest score.

The scores are determined by a combination of the student’s performance on the multiple-choice questions and the free-response questions.

The multiple-choice section accounts for 50% of the total score, while the free-response section accounts for the remaining 50%.

  • A score of 5 indicates that the student is extremely well-prepared for college-level physics and has a thorough and firm understanding of the subject matter.
  • A score of 4 indicates that the student is well-qualified and prepared for college-level physics and has a good understanding of the subject matter.
  • A score of 3 indicates that the student is adequately prepared for college-level physics and has a basic understanding of the subject matter.
  • A score of 2 indicates that the student is not adequately prepared for college-level physics and has a limited understanding of the subject matter.
  • A score of 1 indicates that the student has little or no understanding of the subject matter and is not prepared for college-level physics.

AP Physics 1 Score Distribution:

The AP score distribution is a statistical representation of how students performed on each AP exam. It shows the percentage of students who earned each score (1, 2, 3, 4, or 5) in a given year.

AP Physics 1 score distribution for 2022 is as below:

Exam ScoreNo. of studentsPercentage of students
AP Physics 1 Score Distribution 2022

AP Physics 1 Credit Policy:

Different colleges and universities have different policies regarding AP exam scores and credit. Some may award college credit for an AP Physics 1 score of 4 or 5, while others may require a higher score or may not award credit at all.

For details refer to our AP Physics 1 Credit Policy Guide.

AP Physics 1 Exam Pass Rate and Mean Score Trends (2013-2022)

According to the College Board’s AP exam data, the AP exam pass rate [Students scoring 3 or more] for the AP Physics 1 exam has been hovering between 39.2% and 43.3% over the past 10 years from 2013 to 2022.

For year-on-year data, refer to the AP Physics 1 Pass Score Trends Graph below:

Pass Score of AP Physics 1
Pass score trends of the AP Physics 1 exam

Note that the College Board does not officially classify 3 as a passing score.

Notably the average pass rate across all AP exams has been consistently higher than AP Physics 1 across these 10 years.

As an example for 2022, the AP average pass rate stands at 60.2% while that of AP Physics 1 is 43.3%.

It is also worth noting that despite its lower pass rate AP Physics 1 is a popular exam for students interested in pursuing careers in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) fields.

144,526 students appeared for the AP physics exam taking it in 2022.

Another way to evaluate the difficulty of an AP exam is to look at the mean scores of the subject relative to overall mean scores for all AP exams.

The mean score for AP Physics 1 is consistently lesser than the mean score for all subjects. This indicates that AP Physics 1 is among the most difficult AP Courses.

Refer year on year AP Physics 1 Mean Score Trend Graph below:

Mean Score Trends of the AP Physics 1 exam

How to study for the AP Physics 1 exam?

Preparing for the AP Physics 1 test requires dedication, discipline, and a structured approach. Here are some tips on how to study effectively for the exam:

  1. Review the course material: Before diving into the exam preparation, make sure to review the course material thoroughly. Review the textbook chapters, lecture notes, and lab reports.
  2. Practice problems: Practice problems are key to mastering the concepts and skills needed for the exam. Use the review materials provided by your teacher or textbook, or seek out additional resources online. View our AP Physics 1 practice test resource.
  3. Create flashcards: Flashcards can be a great way to memorize key concepts, equations, and terminology. Make a set of flashcards with important information and review them frequently.
  4. Join study groups: Study groups can provide an opportunity to work through challenging material with peers. Meet with other students to review material, discuss concepts, and work on practice problems together.
  5. Take practice exams: Practice exams can help you get familiar with the format and structure of the actual AP Physics 1 test. Use past AP Physics 1 exams or practice tests from online resources.
  6. Seek out additional resources: There are many online resources available to help students prepare for the AP Physics 1 Exam. Consider using online review materials, video tutorials, and online study groups. Some popular AP Physics 1 exam prep resources include
  7. Take 1-1 private tuitions: The Wiingy AP Physics 1 tutoring program adheres completely to the AP Physics 1 course outline. The platform has expert AP Physics 1 tutors who can help you with concepts, coursework homework help, and test-prep to help you get a top grade on the exam

Power Tip: Refer to the Wiingy AP Physics 1 Exam Guide for detailed information on the AP Physics 1 Exam and strategies to ace the test.

Remember, effective studying requires consistent effort over time. Start preparing early, stay focused, and stay positive.

In summary

The AP Physics 1 course is considered to be one of the difficult courses among the 39 AP Courses

With a difficulty rating of 3.1 out of 5, as per a survey among AP Class alumni, this course is known for its time-intensive and demanding nature.

In 2022, AP Physics 1 recorded one of the lowest pass rates among AP subjects, with only 43.1% of students scoring 3 or higher, significantly below the average pass rate of 60.2% for all AP courses.

Additionally, the average score for AP Physics 1 in 2022 was 2.83 out of 5, lowest than the average across all AP exams.

Despite these statistics, AP Physics 1 continues to attract a substantial number of students, with over 144,000 candidates in 2022, marking it as the 7th most enrolled AP exam.

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.


  1. examstudyexpert.com/is-ap-physics-1-2-hard-easy/
  2. bestcolleges.com/resources/ap-physics-1/
  3. www.albert.io/blog/are-ap-physics-1-2-hard/
  4. ap-physics-1-course-and-exam-description.pdf
  5. apcentral.collegeboard.org/courses/ap-physics-1

Written by by

Apoorvaa Agarwal

Reviewed by by

Priyanshi Agrawal

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