What You Need to Know About the AP Physics Exam (page 3)

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

Will My Exam Remain Anonymous?

Absolutely. Even if your high-school teacher happens to randomly read your booklet, there is virtually no way he or she will know it is you. To the reader, each student is a number, and to the computer, each student is a bar code.

What About That Permission Box on the Back?

The College Board uses some exams to help train high-school teachers so that they can help the next generation of physics students to avoid common mistakes. If you check this box, you simply give permission to use your exam in this way. Even if you give permission, your anonymity is still maintained.

How Is My Multiple-Choice Section Scored?

The multiple-choice section of each physics exam is worth half of your final score. Your answer sheet is run through the computer, which adds up your correct responses and subtracts a fraction for each incorrect response. For every incorrect answer that you give, one-quarter of a point is deducted and the total is a raw score. This formula looks something like this:

    Section I Raw Score = Nright – 0.25Nwrong

If I Don't Know the Answer, Should I Guess?

One-fourth of a point is subtracted from your score for every question you answer incorrectly; however, no deduction is made for a question you don't answer at all. This deduction of one-fourth of a point for an incorrect response is called the "guessing penalty." If you don't have time to read the question or you've read it but can't eliminate any of the answer choices, the odds are that you'll neither help nor hurt your score. However, if you can eliminate one or more of the answer choices, the odds change and you are likely to improve your score by guessing among the remaining choices. So the strategy you should pursue is simple: Never guess wildly, but if you can eliminate at least one answer choice, you'll get your best score by guessing among the remaining choices.

How Is My Free-Response Section Scored?

Your performance on the free-response section is also worth half of your final score. This section of the Physics C exams each consist of three questions, worth 15 points each. The Physics B free-response section will consist of longer questions, worth 15 points, and slightly shorter questions, worth 10 points. Your score on the free-response section is simply the sum of your scores on each problem.

How Is My Final Grade Determined and What Does It Mean?

Each section counts 50% of the exam. The total composite score is thus a weighted sum of the multiple-choice and the free-response sections. In the end, when all of the numbers have been crunched, the Chief Faculty Consultant converts the range of composite scores to the 5-point scale of the AP grades. This conversion is not a true curve—it's not that there's some target percentage of 5s to give out. This means you're not competing against other test takers. Rather, the 5-point scale is adjusted each year to reflect the same standards as in previous years. The goal is that students who earn 5s this year are just as strong as those who earned 5s in 2000 or 2005.

The tables at the end of the practice exams in this book give you a rough example of a conversion, and as you complete the practice exams, you should use this to give yourself a hypothetical grade. Keep in mind that the conversion changes slightly every year to adjust for the difficulty of the questions—but, generally, it takes only about 65% of the available points to earn a 5.

Finally, you should receive your grade in early July.

How Do I Register and How Much Does It Cost?

If you are enrolled in AP Physics in your high school, your teacher will provide all of these details, but a quick summary here can't hurt. After all, you do not have to enroll in the AP course to register for and complete the AP exam. When in doubt, the best source of information is the College Board's Web site:

The fee for taking the exams is $86 for each exam. (This means $86 for Physics B, and $86 each for Physics C Mechanics and for Physics C Electricity and Magnetism.) Students who demonstrate financial need may receive a $22 refund to help offset the cost of testing. In addition, for each fee-reduced exam, schools forgo their $8 rebate, so the final fee for these students is $56 per exam. Finally, many states offer exam subsidies to cover all or part of the cost. You can learn more about fee reductions and subsidies from the coordinator of your AP program, or by checking specific information on the official Web site:

I know that seems like a lot of money just for a test. But, you should think of this $86 as the biggest bargain you'll ever find. Why? Most colleges will give you a few credit hours for a good score. Do you think you can find a college that offers those credit hours for less than $86? Usually you're talking hundreds of dollars per credit hour! You're probably saving thousands of dollars by earning credits via AP.

There are also several optional fees that must be paid if you want your scores rushed to you or if you wish to receive multiple-grade reports. Don't worry about doing that unless your college demands it. (What, you think your scores are going to change if you don't find them out right away?)

The coordinator of the AP program at your school will inform you where and when you will take the exam. If you live in a small community, your exam may not be administered at your school, so be sure to get this information.

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