AP Physics 1 Exam Information

Learn What Score You'll Need and What Course Credit You'll Receive

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The AP Physics 1 exam (non-calculus) covers Newtonian mechanics (including rotational movement); work, energy and power; mechanical waves and sound; and simple circuits. For many colleges, the Physics 1 exam does not cover the same depth of material as a college physics course, so you'll find that many of the more selective schools will not accept a high Physics I exam score for college credit. If at all possible, students serious about the sciences and engineering should try to take the calculus-based AP Physics C exam.

About the AP Physics 1 Course and Exam

Physics I is an introductory-level physics course grounded in algebra, not calculus. Students in the course explore a range of topics in Newtonian physics organized into 10 content areas:

  1. Kinematics. Students study forces and how interactions between systems can change those systems.  
  2. Dynamics. Students examine how the properties of a system determine how the system will behave. 
  3. Circular Motion and Gravitation. Students learn about gravitational forces and use Newton's third law to predict the behavior of systems.
  4. Energy. Students study the relationship between forces on a system and kinetic energy, and they learn how to calculate the total energy of a system. They also study the transfer of energy.
  5. Momentum. Students learn about the ways in which a force on a system can change the momentum of an object. This content area also covers the conservation of momentum.
  1. Simple Harmonic Motion. Students examine the conservation of energy, and the behavior of oscillating systems.
  2. Torque and Rotational Motion. Students learn how a force on an object can create torque and change the object's angular momentum. 
  3. Electric Charge and Electric Force. This content area examines how a charge on an object can affect its interaction with other objects. Students study long-range and contact forces.
  1. DC Circuits. In studying direct current circuits, students examine how the energy and electric charge of a system is conserved.
  2. Mechanical Waves and Sound. Students learn that a wave is a traveling disturbance that transfers energy and momentum, and they study concepts such as amplitude, frequency, wavelength, speed, and energy. 

AP Physics 1 Score Information

AP Physics 1 exam is the most popular of the four AP Physics exams (it has four times more test-takers than the AP Physics C Mechanics exam). In 2017, 170,447 students took the AP Physics 1 exam, and they earned a mean score of 2.40. Note that this is by far the lowest mean score of all AP exams—in general, students who take the AP Physics 1 exam are less prepared than those who take any other AP subject. Since most colleges who do allow credit for the exam require a score of a 4 or 5, only about 22% of all test takers are likely to earn college credit. Be sure to consider this low success rate before deciding to take AP Physics 1 in high school.  

The distribution of scores for the AP Physics 1 exam is as follows (2017 data):

  • 5 - 5.4%
  • 4 - 16.2%
  • 3 - 20.3%
  • 2 - 29.1%
  • 1 - 29.0%

Course Credit and Placement for AP Physics I

The table below presents some representative data from a variety of colleges and universities.

This information is meant to provide a general overview of the scoring and placement practices related to the AP Physics 1 exam. For other schools, you'll need to search the college website or contact the appropriate Registrar's office to get AP placement information.

Sample AP Physics 1 Scores and Placement
CollegeScore NeededPlacement Credit
Georgia Tech4 or 53 hours of credit for PHYS2XXX; the Physics C (calculus-based) exam is required to earn credit for PHYS2211 and PHYS2212
Grinnell College4 or 54 semester credits of science; will not count towards the major and does not satisfy any prerequisites
LSU3, 4 or 5Students need to take the Physics C exams to earn course credit
MIT-no credit or placement for the AP Physics 1 exam
Michigan State University4 or 5PYS 231 (3 credits
Mississippi State University3, 4 or 5PH 1113 (3 credits)
Notre Dame5Physics 10091 (equivalent to PHYS10111)
Reed College-no credit or placement for the Physics 1 or 2 exams
Stanford University4 or 5Students must score a 4 or 5 on BOTH the Physics 1 and Physics 2 exams to earn course credit
Truman State University3, 4 or 5PHYS 185 College Physics I
UCLA (School of Letters and Science)3, 4 or 58 credits and PHYSICS General
Yale University-no credit or placement for the Physics 1 exam

A Final Word About AP Physics 1

It's helpful to keep in mind that college placement isn't the only reason to take the Physics 1 exam. Selective colleges and universities typically rank an applicant's academic record as the most important factor in the admissions process. Extracurricular activities and essays matter, but good grades in challenging college preparatory classes matter more. The reality is that success in challenging courses is the best predictor preparedness available to the admissions officers. Doing well in a course such as AP Physics 1 serves this purpose well, as do other AP, IB, and Honors classes. 

To learn more specific information about the AP Physics 1 exam, be sure to visit the official College Board website.