Are APs Physics C – E/M and Mechanics easy or hard? We reveal the AP Physics C 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 APs Physics C – E/M and Mechanics Easy Or Hard?

Electricity and Magnetism

AP Physics C – E/M is considered very hard, with class alumnae rating it 7.9/10 for overall difficulty (the most difficult out of the 28 large AP classes surveyed).

The pass rate is higher than other AP classes, with 70% graduating with a 3 or higher.

AP Physics C – E/M is a very small class (19,944 entries last year), and 95% would recommend the class.

Is AP Physics C - E/M Easy or Hard – Difficulty Rating

Mechanics

AP Physics C – Mechanics is considered very hard, with class alumnae rating it 7.2/10 for overall difficulty (the 3rd-most-difficult out of the 28 large AP classes surveyed).

The pass rate is higher than other AP classes, with 73% graduating with a 3 or higher.

AP Physics C – Mechanics is quite a small class (48,171 entries last year), and 97% would recommend the class.

Is AP Physics C - Mechanics Easy or Hard – Difficulty Rating

Although alumnae reviewers rated both AP Physics C courses hard, they found them manageable with a strong grasp of the underlying concepts and calculus required, and consistent practice for the exams.

You can see how the two AP Physics C classes compare to other classes for difficulty in the below chart:

AP Physics C difficulty

We’ve highlighted APs Physics C – E/M and Mechanics and related physics classes (Physics 1 and Physics 2) 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 AP Physics 1 and 2 here.

How Difficult Is AP Physics C – As Rated By Class Alumnae

AP Physics C – E/M is considered very hard, with class alumnae rating it 7.9/10 for overall difficulty, making it the most difficult out of the 28 large AP classes surveyed.

AP Physics C – Mechanics is also considered very hard, with class alumnae rating it 7.2/10 for overall difficulty, making it the 3rd-most-difficult out of the 28 large AP classes surveyed.

AP Physics C - E/M and Mechanics difficulty

What Are the AP Physics C – E/M and Mechanics Pass Rates 2021?

The AP Physics C – Electricity and Magnetism 2021 pass rate was higher than other AP classes, at 70%. An noteworthy 33% of candidates attained a 5, almost double the all-AP average. 14% of candidates passed with a 3, and 23% achieved a 4.

The AP Physics C – Mechanics 2021 pass rate was also higher than the all-AP average, at 73%. The highest percentage of candidates (29%) achieved a 4, with 21% passing with a 3, and 23% attaining a 5.

AP Physics C pass rate

AP Physics C Pass Rates / Score Distribution Over Time: 2021, 2020, 2019…

Electricity and Magnetism

The AP Physics C – Electricity and Magnetism score distribution did not vary significantly over the past 5 years of exams, with the exception of 2020, which saw an increased pass rate of 74%.

Mechanics

The AP Physics C – Mechanics score distribution has varied somewhat over the past 5 years of exams.

As with E/M, 2020 saw an increased pass rate, with an amazing 83% of students graduating with a 3 or more. 2021 had the lowest pass rate (73%), a drop of 10% from 2020.

Are APs Physics C – E/M and Mechanics Time Consuming To Study: As Rated By AP Physics C Alumnae

AP Physics C – E/M is rated as very time-intensive, and AP Physics C – Mechanics is rated as quite 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 C – E/M was 7.1/10 (vs the average across all AP classes of 5.3/10). The average rating for AP Physics C – Mechanics was 6.1/10.

Is AP Physics C Easy or Hard To Self-Study

AP Physics C – E/M is rated as very hard to self-study relative to other AP classes, and AP Physics C – Mechanics is rated as quite hard to self-study.

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 C – E/M was 7.7/10 (vs the average across all AP classes of 5.7/10). The average rating for AP Physics C – Mechanics was 6.6/10.

How Hard Are APs Physics C – E/M and Mechanics: 52 Real AP Physics C Alumnae Share Their Experiences

If you’re looking forward to taking one or both AP Physics C classes, 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.

An impressive 95% of Electricity and Magnetism alumnae and 97% of Mechanics alumnae would recommend the classes.

The majority of the reviews focus on course enjoyment and difficulty, the underlying concepts and calculus required, and the importance of practice for and thorough knowledge of the exam.

1.      Students found both AP Physics C courses tricky but enjoyable

“[E/M] was such an interesting, albeit difficult, course! I personally found it more confusing than mechanics since it had a lot of aspects that were difficult to grasp, especially induction and magnetism rip. It definitely takes work to understand the content, but I think anyone’s capable if they’re willing to sit down and take the effort!” – AP Physics C – E/M Score: 5

“Definitely takes a lot of time to understand and practice the material well for the exam. It’s a challenge if you’re looking for one, and it’s a pretty fun and rewarding class with content that isn’t comparable to any other normal high school course.” – AP Physics C – E/M Score: 4

“I found E&M a little easier than Mech, maybe since I got used to basic physical concepts. However I routinely found that I had absolutely no comprehension of a concept for a good 3-4 days after it was introduced, after which everything made sense.” – AP Physics C – E/M Score: 5

“The material is hard to grasp at first, but once it clicks, it really clicks.” – AP Physics C – E/M Score: 5

“This was a really really fun and interesting class! It definitely is one of the most difficult courses i’ve taken though – it really does take a lot of focus and work, but it’s well worth the effort once stuff finally clicks. Definitely work through past mc and frqs, since the timing was a struggle for the mc and sometimes the frqs can be curveballs.” – AP Physics C – Mechanics Score: 5

“The credit for this course was super valuable for me for college. Not too bad if you get the hang of thinking in a physics mindset. AP test MC section is rushed and difficult though.” – AP Physics C – Mechanics Score: 5

2.      Both AP Physics C classes require a lot of calculus!

“There’s MUCH more calculus in E&M than there is in Mech, so the math can probably be a pretty large struggle for some who aren’t used to it; buuuut, the thing is, after you do a lot of problems, they start to become almost formulaic, and you become fluent in the style of math it requires … [and] you can focus more on the problem-solving and concept application.” – AP Physics C – E/M Score: 5

“Make sure you have a thorough understanding of calculus as you will be required to derive formulas on the exam from general laws involving integrals/derivatives.” – AP Physics C – E/M Score: 5

“It’s a math-based class revolving around complex problem-solving, whereas Physics 1&2 are more concept-based classes revolving around demonstrating understanding of individual principles; that’s why colleges more readily give credit for Physics C than 1&2 for STEM majors, because you get much more training in both the math aspect and the complex problem-solving aspects of STEM.” – AP Physics C – Mechanics Score: 5

“Try to get really familiar with the formula sheet. Do a lot of practice FRQs to get used to the style. The calculus involved is fairly basic so don’t worry about that too much.” – AP Physics C – Mechanics Score: 5

“You have to understand how the calculus relates to the concepts and how it could be manipulated” – AP Physics C – Mechanics Score: 4

3.      Both classes are conceptual – and there’s a focus on problem solving

The concepts were certainly more abstract [in E/M] than Mech, because most electromagnetic phenomena aren’t really tangible, and it’s harder to do labs to demonstrate them; however, it’s still doable material. Honestly, I think the problems in E&M were often a little bit easier in terms of complexity than Mech–I’d guess this is because the math in E&M is assumed to be harder than in Mech, so there’s fewer of the complex multi-step types of problems … important E&M concepts that happen to have more complicated mathematical formulas that are often a little more difficult for students to plug-and-chug their way through.” – AP Physics C – E/M Score: 5

“Be ready to apply several different physics principles simultaneously to complex, multi-step problems. Many problems look extremely confusing to people at first glance, but if you take a moment to dissect some of the problems and break them down into several smaller component problems, they’re really not bad at all–people just seem to struggle with combining different areas of physics for some reason.” – AP Physics C – Mechanics Score: 5

“Note, mechanics is less definition heavy in a sense, lots of problem solving on the other hand.” – AP Physics C – Mechanics Score: 5

4.      Understanding the grading curve was really helpful for students

“In any case, the curve is really generous if you look at the score distributions for both parts of Physics C, so don’t worry too much about making little errors in the meticulous computations, as long as you can show you understand the bigger picture and how to apply electrical and magnetic equations and concepts.” – AP Physics C – E/M Score: 5

“The curve on this exam makes it a piece of cake if you at least vaguely understand the concepts. Seriously, in past years the cutoff for a 5 has been something like a 50% raw score. The formula sheet is extremely helpful, know it front and back (but don’t memorize it – it’s provided on the test). Overall the course is pretty interesting, would recommend to anyone interested in physics.” – AP Physics C – E/M Score: 5

5.      If you’re self-studying, having a tutor helps

“I self-studied this class and I would have struggled a ton with the math without having already taken Calc BC.” – AP Physics C – E/M Score: 5

“Our class’s teacher was very very capable. Students who did their work for the class would do well on the exam. Suggestions for if you don’t have a great teacher, may want a tutor or such services that could work with you on some more personal level.” – AP Physics C – E/M Score: 5

What Does It Take To Succeed: The AP Physics C – E/M Exam

What is AP Physics C – Electricity and Magnetism? Course Outline & Requirements

According to College Board:

“AP Physics C: Electricity and Magnetism is a calculus-based, college-level physics course, especially appropriate for students planning to specialize or major in physical science or engineering.”

Both AP Physics C courses are half-year courses equivalent to a semester-long introductory calculus-based college course. E/M follows on from Mechanics.

Prerequisites for AP Physics C – E/M are a prior or concurrent course in calculus.

There is a lab requirement for AP Physics C – E/M: “students should spend a minimum of 25% of instructional time engaged in hands-on laboratory work”.

You will develop skills in:

  • Analyzing representations of physical situations and quantitative data
  • Determining scientific questions and methods
  • Creating models of physical situations
  • Determining theoretical relationships
  • Solving problems using mathematical relationships
  • Developing explanations and scientific arguments

The exam consists of one 1 hour 30 minute exam, with 50% (45 minutes) of multiple-choice questions (MCQs) and 50% (45 minutes) of free-response questions.

For more details, see: College Board’s AP Physics C – E/M course page.

Examiners’ Reviews: Takeaways From AP Physics C – Electricity and Magnetism Test Assessors

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

Multiple choice section

  • “AP Physics C: Electricity and Magnetism students demonstrated strongest mastery of Unit 3, Electric Currents. 18% of students earned virtually all possible points related to this unit.”
  • “The most challenging unit was Unit 4, Magnetic Fields; 10% of students answered no questions about this unit correctly2.”
  • “AP Physics C: Electricity and Magnetism students’ strongest skills were demonstrated on questions related to Science Practice 1, Visual Representations; 14% of students answered all of these questions correctly. Students were nearly as strong on questions related to Science Practice 6, Mathematical Routines.”
  • “The most challenging questions related to Skill Category 5, Theoretical Relationships; 7% of students answered none of these questions correctly.”

Free response section

  • “AP Physics C: Electricity and Magnetism students generally scored best on Question 2, Experimental Design, Kinematics, earning slightly more points on it than on Question 1, RC Circuits.”
  • “Question 3, Electromagnetic Induction, was generally the most challenging component of this year’s exam for students.”

For best results, you may therefore want to consider investing a little extra study time on Unit 4 “Magnetic Fields”, skill 5 “Theoretical Relationships”, and Unit 5 “Electromagnetism”.

For more details, see: College Board’s AP Physics C – E/M 2021 exam results page.

What Does It Take To Succeed: The AP Physics C – Mechanics Exam

What is AP Physics C – Mechanics? Course Outline & Requirements

According to College Board:

“AP Physics C: Mechanics is a calculus-based, college-level physics course. It covers kinematics; Newton’s laws of motion; work, energy, and power; systems of particles and linear momentum; circular motion and rotation; oscillations; and gravitation.”

Both AP Physics C courses are half-year courses equivalent to a semester-long introductory calculus-based college course. E/M follows on from Mechanics.

Prerequisites for AP Physics C – Mechanics are a prior or concurrent course in calculus.

There is a lab requirement for AP Physics C – Mechanics: “students should spend a minimum of 25% of instructional time engaged in hands-on laboratory work”.

You will develop skills in:

  • Analyzing representations of physical situations and quantitative data from graphs
  • Determining scientific questions and methods
  • Creating models of physical situations
  • Determining theoretical relationships
  • Solving problems using mathematical relationships
  • Developing explanations and scientific arguments

The exam consists of one 1 hour 30 minute exam, with 50% (45 minutes) of multiple-choice questions (MCQs) and 50% (45 minutes) of free-response questions.

For more details, see: College Board’s AP Physics C – Mechanics course page.

Examiners’ Reviews: Takeaways From AP Physics C – Mechanics Test Assessors

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

Multiple choice section

  • “AP Physics C: Mechanics students demonstrated strongest mastery of Unit 1, Kinematics, and least mastery of Units 5–7.”
  • “AP Physics C: Mechanics students’ strongest skills were demonstrated on questions related to Science Practice 1, Visual Representations; 12% of students answered all of these questions correctly.”
  • “The most challenging questions required Skill Category 4, Mathematical Routines; 1% of students answered all of these questions correctly.”

Free response section

  • “AP Physics C: Mechanics students demonstrated very strong knowledge and skills on Question 1, Experimental Design, Kinematics. 25% of students earned 12–15 points out of 15 possible.”
  • “By far the most challenging question on this year’s exam was Question 2, Rotation. About 2% of students earned 12–15 points out of 15 possible.”

For best results, you may therefore want to consider investing a little extra study time on Units 5-7, which are, respectively, “Rotation”, “Oscillations” and “Gravitation”. You also want to focus on skill 4 “Mathematical Routines”.

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

How To (Self) Study APs Physics C – E/M and Mechanics: Advice From Class Alumnae

Success in AP Physics C often comes down to practice and dedication!

Doing Practice problems is the best studying method. There is no other studying method. Same applies for Mechanics.” – AP Physics C – E/M Score: 4

Practice with as many quizzes as possible.” – AP Physics C – E/M Score: 5

Past practice exams helped me get the score I need since my school accepts 4’s and higher for equivalent courses” – AP Physics C – E/M Score: 4

“Do the homework. Don’t catch senioritis like I did.” – AP Physics C – E/M Score: 4

“Do practice problems, both multiple choice and free response, and take mock exams.” – AP Physics C – Mechanics Score: 5

“Do lots of FRQ practice using the CollegeBoard website FRQs” – AP Physics C – Mechanics Score: 5

Finding resources that clicked really helped AP Physics C students

“Use Yale courses online on YouTube-has a very solid physics e/m course with a prof that is extraordinarily knowledgeable in his field. Do practice consistently and understand concepts as they continuously come back.” – AP Physics C – E/M Score: 5

“I struggled with this class for quite a long time, but then once I started using the 5 Steps to a 5 book (which I bought 3 weeks before the exam), I really understood the material to a much higher level and came to love this class.” – AP Physics 1 Score: 5

“1. Unless you’ve sat and struggled with the problem for at least like 10 minutes, don’t google solution. 2. Do every problem in your textbook, I recommend HRK.” – AP Physics C – Mechanics Score: 5

“My teacher rushed through the course because it was set up as Physics C Mech for semester 1 and Physics C E&M for semester 2. I couldn’t understand much just using the lesson notes, so I had to turn to Dan Fullerton’s videos as an additional resources. This helped a lot.” – AP Physics C – Mechanics Score: 5

Best books and test prep resources for AP Physics C

The majority of AP Physics C test prep books cover both Electricity & Magnetism and Mechanics.

The most popular textbook for test prep and review for AP Physics C is Princeton Review, used by 60% of Electricity and Magnetism students and 64% of Mechanics students. It has an average rating of 4.7/5.0 from reviewers on Amazon.com.

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

Where next?

Find out how AP Physics C – E/M and Mechanics 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 1 and 2 Hard?

Wishing you every success in the class!


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