5 Ways to Get the Most Out of AP Physics
Advanced Placement (AP) Physics is a rigorous, college level class for high school students that is broken down into four course options.
AP Physics 1 and AP Physics 2 emphasize logic and reasoning. While AP Physics C: Electricity and Magnetism and AP Physics C: Mechanics dive into more challenging math concepts. However, all four AP Physics courses have an exam in May where students who score a 5 can earn college credit.
While a large part of any AP class is getting ready for the test in May, your grade in the class is just as important as how you score on the exam. A bad grade in an AP class can cause your GPA and class rank to plummet and ruin your chances at getting into your dream school.
But how do you build the skills to be a successful AP Physics student?
Here are 5 tips for acing your AP Physics class and earning a top score on the test in May!
1. Annotate the Problems
Every strong reader knows that the key to understanding what you’re reading is annotating. Active reading through annotations helps your brain process information. But annotating is not just for books. You can apply active reading strategies, such as annotating, to physics problems.
The goal of annotating a physics problem is to get as much information from the problem as possible. You want to identify quantifiers and quantities, and notice keywords that help you infer value or how to interpret motion.
The more information you gather from the problem through your annotations, the easier it will be for you to solve the equation.
2. Know Your Equations
Knowledge of foundational equations is crucial since calculations and equations are an integral part of AP Physics. On the AP Physics exams in May, you’ll be given a formula sheet. However, you shouldn’t rely on the formula sheet.
Instead, read the problem, annotate and identify variables, and pick the equation that best fits the problem.
For example, for a 1D motion problem, there are 3 main choices for equations. One may identify from the problem: x and x0 for position, v0 for initial velocity, and t for time. The problem itself asks for the value of a for acceleration. Only one of the 1D motion equations will have all four variables, x, x0, v0, t, and a, which can be used to solve for the unknown variable a.
For any given problem, narrow down the choice of formulas depending on a topic/keyword, and then pick the correct equation to use after identifying the variables.
3. Always Set Up Directions
Many AP Physics problems deal with quantities involving multiple directions. It is important from the beginning to declare a direction to be positive, so that when it is time to calculate, there will be no confusion on whether to add or subtract a quantity.
- A freefall problem may be much simpler to set “down” as a positive direction, since the entire motion will only go down and not up.
- An inclined plane problem will have to use a rotated axis, since the motion will always be parallel to the direction of the incline.
- Torque/rotational motion problems, which use clockwise (CW) and counter-clockwise(CCW) as directions, but it may be more intuitive to set one direction to be positive and the other negative to go through the problem.
If you explicitly define directions before the start of the problem, then, it’ll be easier to assign positives and negatives, keep calculations consistent, and minimize mistakes.
4. Pay Attention to Units
Imagine you’re doing a calculation. You plug the numbers into your calculator, expecting the correct solution, but end up with the wrong answer.
What happened? You may have solved for the wrong unit.
Different quantities have different units, and you can use those units to identify the quantities as different variables. But if you’re not paying attention, you might end up solving for the wrong unit. For example, you don’t want to solve for length when you need to be solving for force.
Paying attention to units makes your calculations more precise and helps you see any flaws in your calculations. This will ensure that you choose the correct equation and get the right answer.
5. Try to Visualize
Having a visual representation of an equation helps in making the equation concrete. And it’s a great way to let your paper do the thinking for you. This is especially useful when solving problems that deal with motion. There are many underlying principles that drive motion that are not always visually apparent.
One common example of non-intuitive directions that should be visualized are in circular motion problems. It is very easy to miss that the direction of the acceleration (centripetal acceleration in this case) is always toward the center of the circle, while the tangential velocity is tangent or in the direction of the circle.
Through a visual representation, you will be able to identify motion and pick an equation that will help you solve for an unknown variable.
AP Physics is definitely a challenging course, but with the right support you can set yourself up to get an A in the class and a 5 on the test! Click here to check out our AP Physics prep program.
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