Choosing the correct AP Physics Course

Physics courses are almost an integral part of high school, as well as a lot of college courses. All STEM courses would teach you at least an introductory physics course. Therefore, the AP Physics courses are an especially attractive course for students of all branches. A lot of colleges grant credit for AP Physics courses. Moreover, physics AP courses are considered rather advanced, and look good on your college applications.

College Board offers four physics Advanced Placement Courses –

● AP Physics 1

● AP Physics 2

● AP Physics C:Magnetism and Electricity

● AP Physics C:Mechanics

AP Physics Course

However, it is generally agreed that four AP physics courses is definitely overkill. You would miss out on a lot of other courses in trying to do these courses, and if a general physics course offered by your school covers the same syllabus, then you’re not gaining anything with the AP course. Therefore, it is important that you decide which courses to do and which not to.

An overview of Physics 1:

It is essentially the AP version of introduction to physics. It only requires a knowledge of algebra, so it is advised that you take this up in the first year of high school, after completing or concurrently with an algebra course. The topics covered are given below:

Unit 1: Kinematics

Unit 2: Dynamics

Unit 3: Circular Motion and Gravitation

Unit 4: Energy

Unit 5: Momentum

Unit 6: Simple Harmonic Motion

Unit 7: Torque and Rotational Motion

Unit 8: Electric Charge and Electric Force

Unit 9: DC Circuits

Unit 10: Mechanical Waves and Sound

Keep in mind that not all colleges offer college credit for this course. A lot of institutions with good engineering or core science programs such as MIT will not give credit for this course, while others like Notre Dame would only give credit to a score of 5.

An overview of Physics 2:

This course uses algebraic techniques to cover more advanced topics than AP Physics 1. The mathematical background needed for this course is still algebra and geometry. It can come after AP Physics 1 or any general introductory course, and is recommended as a second year course. The topics covered are given below:

Unit 1: Fluids

Unit 2: Thermodynamics

Unit 3: Electric Force, Field, and Potential

Unit 4: Electric Circuits

Unit 5: Magnetism and Electromagnetic Induction

Unit 6: Geometric and Physical Optics

Unit 7: Quantum, Atomic, and Nuclear Physics

Keep in mind that not all colleges offer college credit for this course. A lot of institutions with good engineering or core science programs such as MIT will not give credit for this course, while others like Notre Dame would only give credit to a score of 5.

An overview of Physics C: Mechanics

Physics C – Mechanics deals with Newtonian mechanical concepts in detail. The College Board recommends that the student should have completed or concurrently be taking a calculus course before pursuing this course. Because of the use of calculus, students can delve into concepts in much greater detail than AP Physics 1 and 2. While AP Physics C is divided into two completely separate courses, a lot of schools teach it over two semesters – Mechanics in the first semester and Electricity and Magnetism in the second semester. Exams are offered back to back for the combined set of courses.

The syllabus covered in Physics C: Mechanics is

Unit 1: Kinematics

Unit 2: Newton’s Laws of Motion

Unit 3: Work, Energy, and Power

Unit 4: Systems of Particles and Linear Momentum

Unit 5: Rotation

Unit 6: Oscillations

Unit 7: Gravitation

An overview of Physics C: Magnetism and Electricity

This is the most advanced AP Physics course available today. It deals with concepts such as dielectrics, conductors, networks and magnetic fields using calculus based concepts. As with Physics C: Mechanics, it draws on calculus concepts and you should have completed or should be concurrently pursuing a general calculus course. In some schools, only the mechanics course is offered, while others that allow block allotments let you choose both courses together. Put together, each Physics C course is equivalent to one semester of college-level calculus-based physics course. The topics covered are listed below:

Unit 1: Electrostatics

Unit 2: Conductors, Capacitors, Dielectrics

Unit 3: Electric Circuits

Unit 4: Magnetic Fields

Unit 5: Electromagnetism

Check with the colleges you want to apply to if they credit for this course. However, Physics AP courses are recommended if you’re pursuing engineering or core physics as a degree.

What courses should I take?

The simple answer here is to look at what you want to pursue. If you wish to go for architecture, engineering or get a physics/chemistry/science degree, you should definitely do one or both Physics C courses. If you’re going towards a non-science degree or one like the health sciences, which does not relate to core sciences, you can take Physics 2.

Because AP Physics C is an advanced course, you must not jump into it unprepared. You should take either Physics 1/2 or an equivalent general physics course before doing this course. If you only want to look at introductory physics, say for a program that only requires an introductory algebra-based physics course, you can opt for Physics 1 and/or Physics 2. These courses provide a solid foundation for physics.

However, if you want to go on and take a Physics C course, you can opt for Physics 2, then Physics C; or Physics 1 then Physics C. If your school does not offer Physics 1 or 2, or if you don’t want to take 3 AP courses, it is perfectly fine to take general Introductory physics courses and then opt for AP physics C.

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