AP Physics 1 Exam Guide (2024)

June 19, 2024
5 min read

Getting ready for the AP Physics 1 exam requires solid preparation to ace the test. Let’s take a look at what to expect. 

Physics is crucial for understanding the world and advancing technology. It's used in everything from designing bridges to developing medical equipment. But let's face it, physics can seem daunting. This is true whether you’re taking the class or facing the exam without taking the class

This blog breaks it down. We’ll go over the topics that are covered and how they’re applied in a selection of sample questions. Let's get started! 

What Topics Are Covered on the AP Physics 1 Exam?

The Physics 1 exam assesses foundational physics through concepts and calculations. It spans seven units, including kinematics, dynamics, circular motion, energy, momentum, simple harmonic motion, and rotational motion. Scores are also weighted differently across units. 

Here's an overview of the exam topics, including the parts and topics within each unit and the percentage of the exam score they contribute to.

Unit 1: Kinematics (12%–18% of Exam Score)

  • Introduction to motion
  • Position, velocity, and acceleration
  • Representations of motion

Unit 2: Dynamics (16%–20% of Exam Score)

  • Force and motion interaction
  • Systems
  • The gravitational field
  • Contact forces
  • Newton’s First, Second, and Third Laws
  • Free-body diagrams
  • Applications of Newton’s Laws

Unit 3: Circular Motion and Gravitation (6%–8% of Exam Score)

  • Complex motion models, including circular paths and orbiting satellites
  • Vector fields
  • Fundamental forces
  • Gravitational and electric forces
  • Gravitational field/acceleration due to gravity on different planets
  • Inertial vs. gravitational mass
  • Centripetal acceleration vs. centripetal force
  • Free-body diagrams for objects in uniform circular motion

Unit 4: Energy (20%–28% of Exam Score)

  • Definitions and relationships between energy, work, and power
  • Open and closed systems: Energy
  • Work and mechanical energy
  • Conservation of energy, work–energy principle, and power

Unit 5: Momentum (12%–18% of Exam Score)

  • Relationship between force, time, and momentum
  • Momentum and impulse
  • Conservation of linear momentum
  • Open and closed systems: momentum

Unit 6: Simple Harmonic Motion (4%–6% of Exam Score)

  • Analysis of simple harmonic motion
  • Period of simple harmonic oscillators
  • Energy of a simple harmonic oscillator

Unit 7: Torque and Rotational Motion (12%–18% of Exam Score)

  • Motion of an object rotating around an axis
  • Rotational kinematics
  • Torque and angular acceleration
  • Angular momentum and torque
  • Conservation of angular momentum

How Does the AP Physics 1 Differ from the AP Physics 2 Exam?

AP Physics 1 introduces algebra-based fundamentals, while AP Physics 2 demands a stronger math background for exploring complex topics. Both entail hands-on labs and similar exams, but AP Physics 2 necessitates a deeper math foundation.

AP Physics 1 focuses on basics like motion, waves, and simple circuits, suitable after completing geometry and Algebra II. Its three-hour exam mixes multiple-choice and free-response questions, allowing calculators and physics formulas.

AP Physics 2 delves deeper into heat, fluids, magnetism, and nuclear physics, requiring prior study of AP Physics 1 or similar courses and proficiency in precalculus. Labs and exam format mirror AP Physics 1, but with more challenging content.

Breakdown of Sections and Questions on the AP Physics 1 Exam?

Let’s take a look at free-response and multiple-choice questions to help you practice for the AP Physics exam. 

1. A cart on a horizontal surface is attached to a spring. The other end of the spring is attached to a wall. The cart is initially held at rest, as shown in Figure 1. When the cart is released, the system consisting of the cart and spring oscillates between the positions x = + L. Figure 2 shows the kinetic energy of the cart-spring system as a function of the system,’s potential energy. Frictional forces are negligible. 

a) On the graph of kinetic energy K versus potential energy U shown in Figure 2, the values for the x-intercept and y- intercept are the same. Briefly explain why this is true using physics principles. 

When the cart is at +L and momentarily at rest, a block is dropped onto the cart, as shown in Figure 3. The block sticks to the cart, and the block-cart-spring system continues to oscillate between -L and +L. The masses of the cart and the block are m0 and 3m0, respectively. 

b) The frequency of oscillation before the block is dropped onto the cart is f1. The frequency oscillation after the block is dropped onto the cart is f2. Calculate the numerical value of the ratio f2/f1. 

c) The dashed line in Figure 4 shows the kinetic energy K versus potential energy U of the block-cart-spring system after the block is dropped onto the cart. This graph is identical to the graph shown in Figure 2 for the cart-spring system before the block is dropped onto the cart. 

i. Briefly explain why the two graphs must be the same using physics principles. 

ii. After the block is dropped onto the cart, consider a system that consists only of the cart and the spring. In Figure 4, sketch a solid line that shows the kinetic energy of the system that consists of the cart and the spring but not the block after the block is dropped onto the cart. 

2. Two solid spheres of radius R made of the same type of steel are placed in contact, as shown in the figures above. The magnitude of the gravitational force that they exert on each other if F1, . When two other solid spheres of radius 3R made of this steel are placed in contact, what is the magnitude of the gravitational force that they exert on each other? 

  1. F1
  2. 3F
  3. 9F
  4. 81F

3. The figure above shows three resistors connected in a circuit with a battery. Which of the following correctly ranks the energy E dissipated in the three resistors during a given time interval?

4. A 2-kilogram mass is attached to a spring with a spring constant of 400 N/m. If the mass is displaced 0.1 meters from its equilibrium position and released, what is the frequency of the resulting oscillation?

5. Two objects with masses of 5 kg and 10 kg are connected by a rope over a pulley. If the system is released from rest and the 5 kg mass falls 2 meters in 1 second, what is the coefficient of kinetic friction between the 5 kg mass and the surface?

6. A 0.5-kilogram block is pushed against a spring with a force of 20 newtons, compressing the spring by 0.1 meters. If the spring constant is 200 N/m, what is the maximum velocity of the block when released?

7. An object is launched vertically upward with an initial velocity of 20 m/s. Ignoring air resistance, how high does the object travel before it begins to fall back down?

8. A car travels around a curve with a radius of 50 meters at a constant speed of 20 m/s. What is the magnitude of the car's acceleration?

9. A 0.2-kilogram ball is thrown horizontally off a 10-meter-high cliff with an initial velocity of 15 m/s. How far from the base of the cliff does the ball land? Assume no air resistance.

Feel free to use this as an AP Physics 1 practice test to prepare for the real deal. To help familiarize yourself with the class as a whole, you can also sign up for our AP Class Guide. Sign up now to get expert tips and strategies sent straight to your inbox. 


Let’s take a look at some commonly asked questions. 

1. Is Calculator Use Permitted on the AP Physics 1 Exam?

On the AP Physics 1 exam, you are allowed to use a calculator, specifically four-function, scientific, or graphing types. Make sure to check that your calculator is on the approved list. 

You can bring two calculators, but they must be checked by the proctor for compliance. You don't have to clear their memory. However, sharing calculators, using them to communicate, or trying to cheat with them is prohibited. If you opt not to use a calculator, you'll need to

2. How Is AP Physics 1 Scored?

The AP Physics 1 exam is scored on a scale from 1 to 5, with the total possible raw points being 95. This raw score is then scaled down to the 1 to 5 range, where a score of 5 indicates excellent understanding and readiness for college-level physics, and a score of 1 suggests a need for further study. 

Final Thoughts 

In wrapping up, physics is everywhere, powering our technology and shaping our world. But let's be real, it can feel overwhelming. That's where this blog comes in. 

Whether you're prepping for the exam or just curious, we're here to make physics a little less intimidating. We’ll help you put together an AP exam schedule and provide valuable insights to boost your understanding. 

And remember, if you need extra help mastering the material, consider 1:1, our online AP tutoring designed to meet every student's and family’s unique needs. Just take a look at what Laura had to say about Foundation Learning’s tutoring. 

“I’ve completed tutoring programs before, but nothing compared to Foundation Learning’s approach. Studying for my AP Biology and AP Physics exams were way less complicated thanks to my tutor’s expertise – I’ve used the study skills I learned with her in my other courses!”

She found it helpful for AP Biology and AP Physics and even improved her study skills for all her courses. 

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