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Chapter 1: Inside the AP Physics Exams
Overview of the Exam Structure
How the Exams Are Scored
Registration and Fees
If you are reading this, chances are that you're already in (or thinking about taking) an Advanced Placement (AP) Physics course. If you score high enough on the exams, many universities will give you six to eight hours of credit (two classes) in a related introductory physics course.
Depending on the college, a score of 4 or 5 on the AP Physics exams will allow you to leap over the freshman intro course and jump right into more advanced classes. These classes are usually smaller in size, better focused, more intellectually stimulating, and, simply put, more interesting than a basic course. If you are concerned about fulfilling your science requirement solely so you can get on with your study of Elizabethan music or French literature, AP exams can help you there, too. Ace one or both of the AP Physics exams and, depending on the requirements of the college you choose, you may never have to take a science class again.
If you're currently taking an AP physics course, chances are that your teacher has spent the year cramming your head full of the physics know-how you will need for the exams. But there is more to the AP Physics exams than know-how. If you want your score to reflect your abilities, you will have to be able to work around the challenges and pitfalls of the tests. Studying physics and preparing for the AP Physics exams are not the same thing. Rereading your textbook is helpful, but it's not enough.
That's where this book comes in. We'll show you how to marshal your knowledge of physics and put it to brilliant use on Test Day. We'll explain the ins and outs of the test structure and question format so you won't experience any nasty surprises. We'll even give you answering strategies designed specifically for the AP Physics exams.
Preparing yourself effectively for the AP Physics exams means doing some extra work. You need to review your text and master the material in this book. Is the extra push worth it? If you have any doubts, think of all the interesting things you could be doing in college instead of taking an intro course filled with facts you already know.
Advanced Placement exams have been around for a half of a century. While the format and content have changed over the years, the basic goal of the AP Program remains the same: to give high school students a chance to earn college credit or placement in more advanced college courses. To do this, a student needs to do two things:
1. Find a college that accepts AP scores
2. Do well enough on the exams to place out of required subjects
The first part is easy, since a majority of colleges accept AP scores in some form or another. The second part requires a little more effort. If you have worked diligently all year in your coursework, you've laid the groundwork. The next step is familiarizing yourself with the test itself.
As you may already know, there are actually two types of AP Physics exams: AP Physics B and
AP Physics C. Physics B is the more general and comprehensive of the two exams and is therefore the one most students prefer and prepare to take. The Physics B exam is three hours long and covers a broad range of topics, and a successful score on this exam will give you three hours of college credit toward an introductory physics course. Physics C is a more specific exam, and is actually split into two separate parts: One focuses on Newtonian Mechanics and the other focuses on Electricity and Magnetism. Students are allowed to take either part. The Physics C exam not only requires a more in-depth knowledge of the subjects covered, but also requires a working knowledge of calculus as it applies to physics calculations. Each part of the exam is
90 minutes long, and each part of the examination is graded separately. Students who choose
to take the entire three-hour exam can earn up to two classes' worth of credit, depending on how they score on each part.
OVERVIEW OF THE EXAM STRUCTURE
The Educational Testing Service (ETS) -- the company that creates the AP exams -- releases a list of the topics covered on each exam. It even provides the percentage amount that each topic appears on a given exam. Check out the breakdown of topics of the AP Physics exams below.
NOTE: The material on the C exam is half Newtonian Mechanics and half Electricity and Magnetism. You may choose to take either or both halves. The material on the B exam represents all the topics outlined below in the given proportions.
I. Newtonian Mechanics (B exam - 35%) (C exam - 50%)
B. Newton's laws of motion
C. Work, energy, and power
D. Systems of particles, linear momentum
E. Circular motion and rotation
F. Oscillations and gravitation
II. Fluid Mechanics and Thermal Physics (B exam - 15%)
A. Fluid mechanics
B. Temperature and heat
C. Kinetic theory and thermodynamics
III. Electricity and Magnetism (B exam - 25%) (C exam - 50%)
B. Conductors, capacitors, dielectrics
C. Electric circuits
IV. Waves and Optics (B exam - 15%)
A. Wave motion
B. Physical optics
C. Geometric optics
V. Atomic and Nuclear Physics (B exam - 10%)
A. Atomic physics and quantum effects
B. Nuclear physics
HOW THE EXAMS ARE SCORED
The AP Physics B exam is three hours long and consists of two parts: a multiple-choice section and a free-response section. In Section I, you have 90 minutes to answer 70 multiple-choice questions with five answers each. This section is worth 50 percent of your total score.
Section II of the AP Physics B exam consists of six to eight "free-response" questions that are worth the other 50 percent of your total score. The term "free-response" means roughly the same thing as "large, multi-step, and involved," since you will spend 90 minutes answering only six to eight problems. Although these free-response problems are long and often broken down into multiple parts, they usually do not cover an obscure topic. Instead, they take a fairly basic physics concept and ask you a set of related questions about it.
The AP Physics C exam is three hours long and broken up into two parts. If you are taking only one part of the exam (either Newtonian Mechanics or Electricity and Magnetism) the exam is 90 minutes long, and consists of two sections: multiple-choice and free-response. In Section I, you have 45 minutes to answer 35 multiple-choice questions with five answer choices each. This section is worth 50 percent of your score. In Section II, you will have 45 minutes to answer three free-response questions that are worth the other 50 percent of your total score.
If you choose to take both parts of the AP Physics C exam, the entire test will be broken up into four 45-minute parts. The first segment will consist of 35 Newtonian Mechanics multiple-choice questions, the second segment will consist of the 35 Electricity and Magnetism multiple-choice questions, the third segment will consist of the three free-response Newtonian Mechanics questions, and the fourth segment will consist of the three free-response Electricity and Magnetism questions.
When your three hours of testing are up (or 1 1/2 hours, depending on the test you took), your exam is sent away for grading. The multiple-choice section is handled by a machine, while qualified graders -- called "readers" -- grade your responses to Section II. The group of readers is made up of current AP physics teachers and college professors of principles-level physics. After a seemingly interminable wait, your composite score will arrive. Your results will be placed into one of the following categories, reported on a five-point scale.
5 Extremely well qualified (to receive college credit or advanced placement)
4 Well qualified
2 Possibly qualified
1 No recommendation
Some colleges will give you college credit for a score of 3 or higher, but it's much safer to score a 4 or a 5. If you have an idea of which colleges you might attend, check out their websites or call their admissions offices to find out their particular criteria regarding AP scores.
Calculators are NOT permitted on the multiple-choice sections of the Physics B and Physics C exams. However, they are allowed on the free-response sections of both exams. Minicomputers, pocket organizers, electronic writing pads, and calculators with QWERTY keyboards will not be allowed. Essentially, your calculator memory can be used only to store and access programs that are relevant to the problem. Accessing any notes on the exam or copying and storing any part of the exam into your calculator will be considered cheating. If you forget your calculator, you will be up the proverbial creek without a paddle, since calculators cannot be shared.
Tables and Formulas
Formulas and tables are an intricate part of understanding and studying physics. Therefore, tables containing commonly used physics equations will be printed on the green insert provided with the free-response portions of both exams. The equation table cannot be used in the multiple-choice sections. You are expected to have a working familiarity with these formulas and graphs, so this information is to be used only as a reference.
The table of formulas changes each test year. However, ETS releases copies of the formulas each year in the AP Physics Course Description Booklet. Get a copy of these formulas at the beginning of your school year so you can become accustomed to using these equations. Your physics teacher will also be using these equations throughout the school year.
REGISTRATION AND FEES
You can register for the exams by contacting your guidance counselor or AP coordinator. If your school doesn't administer AP exams, contact AP Services for a listing of schools in your area that do. As of this printing, the fee for each AP exam is $82. For students with financial need, a $22 reduction is available. To learn about other sources of financial aid, contact your AP coordinator.
For more information on all things AP, visit collegeboard.com or contact AP Services:
P.O. Box 6671
Princeton, NJ 08541-6671
Phone: 609-771-7300 or 888-225-5427 (toll-free in the United States and Canada)
Copyright © 2006 by Anaxos, Inc.
Excerpted from Kaplan AP Physics B & C by Cynthia Johnson Copyright © 2005 by Cynthia Johnson. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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