Are APs Physics 1 and Physics 2 easy or hard? We reveal the AP Physics 1 and 2 difficulty rating, based on a unique combination of 2021 pass rate data, and 2,627 class reviews from real AP alumnae collected by r/APStudents.

Are AP Physics 1 and 2 Easy Or Hard?

Physics 1

AP Physics 1 is considered quite hard, with class alumnae rating it 7.0/10 for overall difficulty (the 5th-most-difficult out of the 28 large AP classes surveyed).

The pass rate is the lowest of all AP classes, with 42% graduating with a 3 or higher.

AP Physics 1 is quite widely-taken (136,238 entries last year), and 80% would recommend the class, which is lower than other AP classes.

Is AP Physics 1 Easy or Hard – Difficulty Rating

Physics 2

AP Physics 2 is considered quite hard, with class alumnae rating it 6.5/10 for overall difficulty (the 6th-most-difficult out of the 28 large AP classes surveyed).

The pass rate is about average vs other AP classes, with 65% graduating with a 3 or higher.

AP Physics 2 is a very small class (18,449 entries last year), and 73% would recommend the class, which is lower than other AP classes.

Is AP Physics 2 Easy or Hard – Difficulty Rating

Whilst class alumnae rated both AP Physics 1 and 2 as quite hard, reviews demonstrate they found the courses enjoyable and manageable, especially with a strong grasp of the underlying concepts and consistent preparation for the exams.

You can see how AP Physics 1 and 2 compare to other classes for difficulty in the below chart:

AP Physics 1 and 2 difficulty

We’ve highlighted both AP Physics 1 and 2, and related physics classes (Physics C – E/M and Mechanics) only – to see the full version of this chart, check out our article ranking ALL the AP classes from easy to hard.

You can read more about both AP Physics C courses – Electricity & Magnetism and Mechanics here.

How Difficult Are APs Physics 1 and 2 – As Rated By Class Alumnae

AP Physics 1 is considered quite hard, with class alumnae rating it 7.0/10 for overall difficulty, making it the 5th-most-difficult out of the 28 large AP classes surveyed.

AP Physics 2 is also considered quite hard, with class alumnae rating it 6.5/10 for overall difficulty, making it the 6th-most-difficult out of the 28 large AP classes surveyed.

AP Physics 1 and 2 difficulty

What Are the AP Physics 1 and 2 Pass Rates 2021?

The AP Physics 1 2021 pass rate was the lowest of all the AP classes surveyed, at just 42%. The highest percentage of candidates received a 1 (31%), almost double the all-AP average. In contrast, just 7% attained a 5, less than half the all-AP average.

The AP Physics 2 2021 pass rate was 65%, about average compared with other AP classes. The highest percentage of candidates passed with a 3 (32%), and the percentage of students who achieved a 4 or 5 was about average. Only 8% of students received a 1.

AP Physics 1 and 2 Pass Rates / Score Distribution Over Time: 2021, 2020, 2019…

Physics 1

The AP Physics 1 score distribution has varied somewhat over the past 5 years of exams. 2020 saw a slightly increased pass rate of 52%, which fell by 10% in 2021 to just 42%.

Physics 2

The AP Physics 2 score distribution has also varied over the past 5 years of exams. As with AP Physics 1, 2020 had a significantly improved pass rate as compared to surrounding years, at 73%.

Are AP Physics 1 and 2 Time Consuming To Study: As Rated By Alumnae

Both AP Physics 1 and AP Physics 2 are rated as moderately time-intensive relative to other AP classes.

A survey of AP alumnae asked for a rating out of 10 for time needed to study each class, with 1 = least time needed, 10 = most time.

The average rating for AP Physics 1 was 5.7/10 (vs the average across all AP classes of 5.3/10), and the average rating for AP Physics 2 was 5.5/10.

Are AP Physics 1 and 2 Easy or Hard To Self-Study

Both AP Physics 1 and AP Physics 2 are rated as very hard to self-study relative to other AP classes.

A survey of AP alumnae asked for a rating out of 10 for how easy each class is to self study, with 1 = easiest to self study, 10 = hardest to self study.

The average rating for AP Physics 1 was 7.5/10 (vs the average across all AP classes of 5.7/10), and the average rating for AP Physics 2 was 7/10.

How Hard Are APs Physics 1 and 2: 145 Real AP Physics 1 and 2 Alumnae Share Their Experiences

If you’re looking forward to taking one or both of AP Physics 1 and 2, it’s important to take both the positive and negative feedback in context. There are multiple factors that could contribute to a great or poor experience of the class, such as your teacher and your personal preferences as a learner.

80% of AP Physics 1 alumnae and only 73% of Physics 2 alumnae would recommend the class. Both scores are lower than other AP classes.

The majority of reviews focus on course difficulty and enjoyment, the importance of understanding the concepts, the role of math, and the need for early and consistent preparation for the exam.

1.      Despite its reputation, many students found AP Physics 1 easy and enjoyable

“It’s a very fun class if you have a good teacher and if you like Physics it is a very good course. It’s challenging but still welcoming to beginners. The test is quite difficult, but if you go through Flipping Physics and old tests (you can find them on some *trustworthy websites*) you should be fine to at least get a 3 if not a 5” – AP Physics 1 Score: 5

“The class is pretty easy to be honest. It is just basic algebra and use of the formulas. However, our school did not seem to prepare us well enough as the test was mostly conceptual. I think the class itself is pretty manageable but to get a good AP exam score, a lot of self studying is necessary.” – AP Physics 1 Score: 3

With a great teacher this course should be pretty fun. After the course, if you did well and truly understood the concepts, you will be thinking about them every single day. It’s really useful stuff even for day-to-day life.” – AP Physics 1 Score: 4

“I took this as a 1 semester class in a Physics 1+2 combined course. Despite the quickness of pace this required, I still felt like it was generally a pretty easy class to stay on top of provided you set aside a little bit of time to work. That said, I think that especially if it is a single semester class, you should make sure you at least have a small background with physics.” – AP Physics 1 Score: 5

“It’s not as bad as people make it out to be, if I’m being frank. I don’t like physics, but I love algebra, and if you can just treat it like it’s math with words, it’s not too bad. … The multiple choice section is meh, the FRQs are what make or break you. Just know the content inside out, and know what they specifically look for in the FRQ section.” – AP Physics 1 Score: 4

2.      AP Physics 1 is all about the concepts

“This is an extremely concept-heavy class. You must be able to understand what every variable means, were it is derived from, and how to effectively manipulate equations in order to solve for specific variables. The labs are fun but stressful, and I would not recommend to Freshman, and I actively discourage Sophomores from taking this class, unless they have a solid background in other AP classes (3+).” – AP Physics 1 Score: 1

Hardest course I ever took in my life, i recommend trying AP Physics C rather than this, because this is all conceptual topics, which is usually much harder than math (according to my teachers and personal experience)” – AP Physics 1 Score: 3

“Physics gives you lots of freedom in the sense that a question can be solved in various ways. … Learn how to derive equations. Most physics equations are very situational, so it is important to know under what conditions you can use them. … be sure to practice with official multi choice and frq. Half of the difficulty in the exam is getting to know how points are awarded and the overall question formats” – AP Physics 1 Score: 5

Focus on the conceptual, not the math. I took the exam, only touching my calculator maybe twice the entire time.” – AP Physics 1 Score: 2

3.      It also requires some math and formulae (but students found them slightly less important)

“As long as you understand physics concepts, you should be good to go. Math isn’t nearly as important as it is on your teacher’s homework and tests! This isn’t a math class, after all, the most math you’ll use is basic trig. Try to see what directions the test makers want you to go in, and go for the answer using the concepts you should know very well.” – AP Physics 1 Score: 4

Understand the concepts and formulas, if you have to look up the formula on the reference table, you’re not at a good place. Answer the FRQs as best as possible with some type of physics knowledge, especially the paragraph response. … Just try to work through the problems and when in doubt use your formulas and see how variables change with other variables. Other than that, good luck.” – AP Physics 1 Score: 5

“Make sure you understand how to derive various equations and formulas. On my exam, one of the free response questions was literally just deriving something that we had practiced in class, so I knew how to do it. If we hadn’t gone over how to do it, though, I don’t think I would have been able to figure out how to do it.” – AP Physics 1 Score: 4

Understand each topic conceptually (really well lol) and be able to do some form of equation manipulation.” – AP Physics 1 Score: 5

Learn the concepts instead of the formulas. The formulas are given to you, but you’ll need to know when to use them.” – AP Physics 1 Score: 2

“Know what’s on the formula sheet so you don’t memorize what you don’t have to. Use key words, phrases, and formulas on the free response to get as many points as you can.” – AP Physics 1 Score: 5

4.      Opinions on self-studying for AP Physics 1 are divided

I recommend self studying throughout the school year with a textbook. Even if your teacher is decent there usually is not enough time to both learn everything and get ready for the ap exam by just relying on the class.” – AP Physics 1 Score: 5

“Really great subject to learn, but it’s also incredibly difficult to self-study. Come exam day you may feel confused and trashy about the test as a whole (I know I did). Thanks to the huge curve however, you’ll probably do alright. Good luck! :)” – AP Physics 1 Score: 4

“If you’re good in math and science classes, the content is not THAT hard and it’s a doable course. I recommend taking the course, but do not try to self study especially if you are already a busy student. I self studied for it and I actually could easily do the frqs and practice tests. When I got out of the exam I thought I bombed it with a 5 but then got 3 afterwards. Make sure that you understand the concepts.” – AP Physics 1 Score: 3

5.      On the downside, a small minority of students disliked AP Physics 1

“I didn’t enjoy this class at all because the material just wasn’t interesting to me. … I would recommend taking it only if you know you like physics.” – AP Physics 1 Score: 4

6.      AP Physics 2 is a different experience to Physics 1

‘More computation based, make sure you know how to use your calculator.” – AP Physics 2 Score: 5

“I personally found this course more interesting than AP Physics 1. Make sure you practice using the formulas and recognizing which formula to use!” – AP Physics 2 Score: 5

What Does It Take To Succeed: The AP Physics 1 Exam

What is AP Physics 1? Course Outline & Requirements

According to College Board:

“AP Physics 1 is an algebra-based, introductory college-level physics course. Students cultivate their understanding of physics through inquiry-based investigations”.

Prerequisites for AP Physics 1 are a completed Geometry course, and concurrent Algebra II (or equivalent) course. AP Physics 1 includes basic use of trigonometric functions.

There is a lab requirement for AP Physics 1: “25% of instructional time [to] be spent in hands-on laboratory work”.

You will develop skills in:

  • Using representations and models to solve scientific problems
  • Using mathematics
  • Engaging in scientific questioning
  • Planning and implementing data collection strategies
  • Performing data analysis and evaluating evidence
  • Working with scientific arguments and theories

The exam consists of one 3-hour exam, with 50% (90 minutes) of multiple-choice questions (MCQs) and 50% (90 minutes) of free-response questions.

For more details, see: College Board’s AP Physics 1 course page.

Examiners’ Reviews: Takeaways From AP Physics 1 Test Assessors

College Board released the following official comments about the 2021 exam results:

  • “Students scored slightly higher on the multiple-choice section than on the free-response questions.”
  • “AP Physics 1 students generally scored similarly across all units, with slightly stronger performance overall on Unit 1, Kinematics, followed by Unit 7, Torque and Rotational Motion.”
  • “AP Physics 1 students’ strongest skills were Science Practice 4, Experimental Methods, and Science Practice 5, Data Analysis.”
  • “The most challenging skill for AP Physics students was generally Science Practice 2, Mathematical Routines.”

For best results, you may therefore want to consider investing a little extra study time in Science Practice 2 “Mathematical Routines”.

For more details, see: College Board’s AP Physics 1 2021 exam results page.

What Does It Take To Succeed: The AP Physics 2 Exam

What is AP Physics 2? Course Outline & Requirements

According to College Board:

“AP Physics 2 is an algebra-based, introductory college-level physics course. Students cultivate their understanding of physics through inquiry-based investigations”.

Prerequisites for AP Physics 2 are: completion of AP Physics 1 (or a comparable introductory physics course) and prior or concurrent taking of a pre-calculus course.

There is a lab requirement for AP Physics 2: “25% of instructional time [to] be spent in hands-on laboratory work”.

You will develop skills in:

  • Using representations and models to solve scientific problems
  • Using mathematics
  • Engaging in scientific questioning
  • Planning and implementing data collection strategies
  • Performing data analysis and evaluating evidence
  • Working with scientific arguments and theories

The exam consists of one 3-hour exam, with 50% (90 minutes) of multiple-choice questions (MCQs) and 50% (90 minutes) of free-response questions.

For more details, see: College Board’s AP Physics 2 course page.

Examiners’ Reviews: Takeaways From AP Physics 2 Test Assessors

College Board released the following official comments about the 2021 exam results:

  • “Students scored significantly higher on the multiple-choice section than on the free-response questions.”
  • “AP Physics 2 students demonstrated strongest mastery of Unit 1, Fluids. 15% of students answered every question about this unit correctly. Unit 6, Geometric and Physical Optics, was the next strongest unit.”
  • “AP Physics 2 students scored least well on questions about Unit 3, Electric Force, Field, and Potential. 2% of students answered every question about this unit correctly; 14% of students answered 20% or fewer of these questions accurately.”
  • “AP Physics 2 students’ strongest skills were demonstrated on questions related to Science Practice 5, Data Analysis, followed by Science Practice 6, Argumentation, and 7, Making Connections.”

For best results, you may therefore want to consider investing a little extra study time in Unit 3 “Electric Force, Field, and Potential.

For more details, see: College Board’s AP Physics 2 2021 exam results page.

How To (Self) Study APs Physics 1 and 2: Advice From Class Alumnae

Early and consistent preparation is the key to success

Practice from the very beginning, read your textbook to gain surface level insight on the topic before you learn it in class (so you don’t get lost during lectures), then practice, practice, practice to get a stronger foundation. Also, make sure you understand concepts basic problem solving strategies from the beginning like dimensional analysis, and estimation. … Did I mention practice problems?” – AP Physics 1 Score: 5

“Do not take this class lightly in any way. Be prepared to spend countless hours studying and cramming. MAKE SURE you do NOT fall behind at all EVER. Some schools (including my own) taught both AP Physics 1 and AP Physics 2 together as a two period course everyday, meaning that you go through the topics at alarming rate; if you fall even once, it’s very hard to recover. Since nearly everything is connected, you have to be excellent at each topic or else it’s like a domino effect and once you fail one test, you’ll likely end up doing poorly on the next test, and the chain continues. Please do all the research you can before/while taking the course.” – AP Physics 1 Score: 3

“Do a lot of practice tests/problems, even months before the AP test.” – AP Physics 1 Score: 5

“Study for this exam FAR in advance. It has one of the hardest curves of any AP Exam, and is very unforgiving. Make sure to review past exams and ensure that you know exactly how to do every problem. Conceptual understanding is critical—you must understand every topic deeply.” – AP Physics 1 Score: 3

“In order to get a 5 on the AP exam you need to practice all sorts of problems, since the exam is rather unpredictable compared to other exams.” – AP Physics 1 Score: 4

“Definitely do practice tests and focus on understanding why each concept is applicable in different situations. Don’t only read about what the concept is, but rather understand how to use it to explain why something happens.” – AP Physics 1 Score: 5

Time management is an important factor in the exam – so practice for it!

“You will get almost nowhere if you’re slow. You need to practice, practice, practice the same problems until you can get them in 2 minutes flat.” – AP Physics 2 Score: 5

Time management on the exam was a huge problem for me; I spent too long on some questions and I felt like I didn’t have enough time. Give yourself a lot of time to study in advance and make sure that your understanding of the concepts is solid so that you’re certain of your answers.” – AP Physics 1 Score: 4

“Practice the exam like you practice walking. Although the content can be easy to get an understanding of, the exam is not. I had a 98% in my class and yet ended up with a 3 on the exam. I clearly knew the content, but I did not know the exam. It wasn’t the teachers fault either since one of the students managed to get a 5. So, PRACTICE.” – AP Physics 1 Score: 3

Make the most of the resources available – they’ll really help you master the material

“Just do Khan Academy and a review book. If you get stuck on something just keep working on it until it clicks which it usually does. Not a hard course if you just put in a little effort.” – AP Physics 2 Score: 4

“Take advantage of the entire textbook, and make sure you understand everything before moving on” – AP Physics 1 Score: 5

Practice problems are the key! Princeton review is good for mc prep, 5 steps is good for FRQ prep” – AP Physics 1 Score: 5

“Use the hell out of online resources and STUDY WITH FRIENDS!!!!!!!!! every single thing is covered on the exam so don’t skimp on any unit.” – AP Physics 1 Score: 3

“Make a study sheet for each unit, the Giancoli textbook is rlly good and 5 steps was also good. FRQ will probably have 1 energy question, and at least 1 dynamics/angular question.” – AP Physics 1 Score: 4

“Make sure to completely understand each unit, especially in the beginning- they all build off one another! Use review books, ask for help from friends or from the discord server, google it, do whatever it takes so that you get the concepts.” – AP Physics 1 Score: 4

Best books and test prep resources for AP Physics 1 and 2

The most popular textbook for test prep and review for AP Physics 1 is 5 Steps to a 5, used by 47% of students. It has an average rating of 4.7/5.0 from reviewers on Amazon.com.

The most popular textbooks for test prep and review for AP Physics 2 are 5 Steps to a 5 and Princeton Review, each used by 44% of students. They have an average rating of 4.5/5.0 and 4.8/5.0 respectively from reviewers on Amazon.com.

Best AP Physics 1 and 2 Textbooks for Prep & Review

Other popular AP Physics 1 test prep / review books and resources include:

Other popular AP Physics 2 test prep / review books and resources include:

Where next?

Find out how APs Physics 1 and 2 compare to other classes: click here for an overview of all AP Classes ranked by difficulty, from easiest to hardest.

Or check out how other physics courses are rated with our analysis of Are AP Physics C – E/M and Mechanics Hard?

Wishing you every success in the class!


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