What You Need to Know About the AP Physics Exam (page 2)

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By — McGraw-Hill Professional
Updated on Feb 14, 2011

What Is the Format of the Exam?

The following table summarizes the format of the AP Physics B and C exams.

What You Need to Know About the AP Physics Exam

Who Writes the AP Physics Exam?

Development of each AP exam is a multiyear effort that involves many education and testing professionals and students. At the heart of the effort is the AP Physics Development Committee, a group of college and high-school physics teachers who are typically asked to serve for three years. The committee and other physics teachers create a large pool of multiplechoice questions. With the help of the testing experts at Educational Testing Service (ETS), these questions are then pre-tested with college students for accuracy, appropriateness, clarity, and assurance that there is only one possible answer. The results of this pre-testing allow each question to be categorized by degree of difficulty. After several more months of development and refinement, Section I of the exam is ready to be administered.

The free-response questions that make up Section II go through a similar process of creation, modification, pre-testing, and final refinement so that the questions cover the necessary areas of material and are at an appropriate level of difficulty and clarity. The committee also makes a great effort to construct a free-response exam that will allow for clear and equitable grading by the AP readers.

At the conclusion of each AP reading and scoring of exams, the exam itself and the results are thoroughly evaluated by the committee and by ETS. In this way, the College Board can use the results to make suggestions for course development in high schools and to plan future exams.

What Topics Appear on the Exam?

The College Board, after consulting with physics teachers at all levels, develops a curriculum that covers material that college professors expect to cover in their first-year classes. Based on this outline of topics, the multiple-choice exams are written such that those topics are covered in proportion to their importance to the expected understanding of the student.

Confused? Suppose that faculty consultants agree that, say, atomic and nuclear physics is important to the physics curriculum, maybe to the tune of 10%. If 10% of the curriculum is devoted to atomic and nuclear physics, then you can expect roughly 10% of the exam will address atomic and nuclear physics. This includes both the multiple-choice and the free-response sections—so a topic that is not tested in the free-response section will have extra multiple-choice questions to make up the difference.

Below are the general outlines for the AP Physics curriculum and exams. Remember this is just a guide, and each year the exam differs slightly in the percentages.

What You Need to Know About the AP Physics Exam

What Types of Questions Are Asked on the Exam?

The multiple-choice questions tend to focus either on your understanding of concepts or on your mastery of equations and their meaning. Here's an example of a "concept" multiple-choice question.

The answer is B. Kirchoff 's junction rule states that whatever charge comes in must come out. If you don't remember Kirchoff 's junction rule, turn to Chapter 21, Circuits.

And here's an example of an "equation" multiple-choice question.

The answer is B. For this kind of question, you either remember the equation for the capacitance of a parallel plate capacitor,


or you don't. For help, turn to Chapter 6, Memorizing Equations in the Shower.

For the multiple-choice part of the exam, you are given a sheet that contains a bunch of physical constants (like the mass of a proton), SI units, and trigonometric values (like "tan 45° = 1"). All in all, this sheet is pretty useless—you'll probably only refer to it during the course of the test if you need to look up an obscure constant. That doesn't happen as often as you might think.

The free-response questions take 10–15 minutes apiece to answer, and they test both your understanding of concepts and your mastery of equations. Some of the free-response questions ask you to design or interpret the results of an experimental setup; others are more theoretical. Luckily, for this portion of the exam, in addition to the constant sheet you get with the multiple-choice questions, you will also get a sheet that contains every equation you will ever need.

We talk in much more detail about both the multiple-choice and the free-response sections of the test later, in Step 5, so don't worry if this is all a bit overwhelming now.

Who Grades My AP Physics Exam?

Every June, a group of physics teachers gathers for a week to assign grades to your hard work. Each of these "readers" spends a day or so getting trained on one question—and one question only. Because each reader becomes an expert on that question, and because each exam book is anonymous, this process provides a very consistent and unbiased scoring of that question.

During a typical day of grading, a random sample of each reader's scores is selected and crosschecked by other experienced "Table Leaders" to ensure that the consistency is maintained throughout the day and the week. Each reader's scores on a given question are also statistically analyzed, to make sure they are not giving scores that are significantly higher or lower than the mean scores given by other readers of that question. All measures are taken to maintain consistency and fairness for your benefit.

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