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Unlocking the 5 Secrets to Scoring a 5 on the AP Physics 1 Exam

Jason Kuma
Jason Kuma

Writer | Coach | USC - Physics B.S & Business B.A. | Fremont, CA

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Are you struggling to score high on the AP Physics 1 exam? Fear not! With these five hacks, you’ll be well on your way to achieving that coveted 5.

Understanding the Challenge

The AP Physics 1 exam is not your average physics test. It is designed to be more difficult than your textbook problems.

Scoring a 5, however, is easier than you think. I know, because I’ve helped over 500 students score it. I’m condensing all of that learning here, so you can overcome these 5 challenges and get a 5.

Here’s a quick overview:

  1. Concept pairing
  2. Studying vs Practicing
  3. Time Management
  4. Maxing Time Based of Test Structure
  5. Pro Tip – This will help you get a 5 over anything else.

Concept Pairing

One of the main challenges is the testing of two concepts at once — what I like to call “concept pairing.” For example, a question will often test for momentum and kinetic energy simultaneously.

Here is an example of concept pairing from the 2016 AP practice exam:

Two identical blocks, 5 kg each, are connected to the opposite ends of a compressed spring. The blocks initially slide together on a frictionless surface with a velocity of 2 m/s to the right. The spring is then released. At some later instant, the left block is moving at 1 m/s to the left, and the other block is moving to the right. What is the speed of the center of mass of the system at that instant?

If you are thinking of using conservation of momentum, you’re on the right track. But notice what the question asks: do you know how to find the velocity of the center of mass to completely solve the problem? Most students wouldn’t.

Bottom line: Only practice tons of question that have involve multiple units/topics. Need help finding these question? Head over to Nerd-Notes UBQ, where you can sort 1000 AP Physics questions based on your exact criteria.

Studying vs. Practice

Here’s a guaranteed way to get a 5, that just works: Instead of reading through endless pages of Barrons/Princeton review, do some challenging practice problems.

Reading pages of “tricks and tips” is just productive procrastination. It doesn’t move the needle far.

Anecdotally, not a single one of my 500+ student read any crash course or even took notes. And they still got 5’s. Easily. All it really came down to was the number of questions they worked on.

Bottom line: Start doing questions ASAP. And not just any questions. Quality ones. AP ones. Challenging ones. Like the ones you can find for free on Nerd-Notes UBQ.

How can I practice?

If you’ve completed all the question on UBQ here are a few more free questions:

  1. College Board released FRQs (do as many of these as you can)
  2. Crack AP 30 Physics 1 Multiple Choice tests (note: these are relatively easy questions compared to the actual exam, but still worth doing)
  3. More practice tests with answers and explanations (note: fairly easy)
  4. Varsity Tutors AP Physics 1 practice tests

The best resource of all is your teacher or tutor. Teachers have access to AP specific material, so be sure to ask for it.

Lastly you can, you can join our Elite Physics Program for even more resources and support. Our AP Prep programs guarantees a 5, but there only 5 spots total! Feel free to join if its still available!

Managing Test Time

Okay, this one is common sense. But here’s how to really work on your time management.

Print out a full length practice test. Grab your phone and open up the stopwatch. As you go through the test lap the timer every 2 minutes and move on to the next question, regardless of if you completed it or not.

Now if you can’t solve a problem within 2 minutes, mark it wrong and take the time to understand why you were unable to solve it quickly enough. There is almost always a concept related issue. Students that score 5’s are able to solve each MCQ question in ~90 seconds.

It’s worth mentioning that you don’t need to answer every question to achieve a score of 5. Therefore, if you see a question you really cant answer, just move on and allocate that time on the next question.

Test Structure + Maximizing Points

As mentioned above, to get a 5, you only need ~75 percent. While you should attempt to complete every problem on the exam, it’s totally fine if you don’t. Remember to stay calm and collected, by taking deep breaths and working at a steady pace of 90 to 120 seconds per question.

Here are some reminders:

  1. You don’t need all the points. You just need 70/100 points for a 5. You can mess around with this AP Physics 1 Score calculator to play with the number of MCQ and FRQ questions you need to get right.
  2. Most information on this page pertains to MCQs. While FRQs are similar in concept here’s how you can master the FRQ section
  3. The best way to avoid time crunch is to study practice questions and become confident.


Pro Tip: There will ALWAYS be an equation.

Find yourself doing a conceptual problem? 90% of the time, there will be an equation (derived or given) to help you solve the question. The catch? Many students completely forget to do this!

The assumption is that “if there are no numbers, there must be no equation. So let’s just re-read this 10 times until something clicks.”

WRONG! Please don’t do that. You will not only waste time, but you’ll throw yourself in a circle of confusion as you read through each option and decide that either none of them make sense or all of them do.

Instead, do this:

  1. Read the problem once
  2. Figure out the law it’s demonstrating
  3. Write down the equation for that law
  4. Manipulate the variables

Example #1

Let’s take a look at this question from the 2016 Practice exam:

A solid metal bar is at rest on a horizontal frictionless surface. It is free to rotate about a vertical axis at the left end. The figures below show forces of different magnitudes that are exerted on the bar at different locations. In which case does the bar’s angular speed about the axis increase at the fastest rate? (Images not shown)

Notice: In section 3 above, we discussed that the MC problems usually “pair” concepts. In this question, the concept pair is Torque and rotational motion.

We can answer this question without even looking at the given options.

Firstly, the question touches upon the concept of torque. There are a few equations for torque, so let’s list them all: τ = Fr and τ = I⍺ ; from this, we can conclude: Fr = I⍺.

Immediately, we see that the F and r are directly proportional to . Therefore, we need to select the image with the greatest force (F) and biggest lever arm (r).

While this question might have been simple for many of you, you would be surprised at how many students would panic guess at this.

If given a much harder problem, could you apply this strategy?

5.2. Example #2

A person exerts an upward force on a box. The box may be moving upward, downward, or not at all while the person exerts the upward force. For which of the following motions of the box is the work done by the person on the box correctly indicated?

The motion of the box Work done by the person on the box
(a) No motionPositive
(b) Upward with decreasing speedNegative
(c) Downward with constant speedZero
(d) Downward with increasing speedNegative
Answer: (d)

What two concepts did you apply here? What formulas did you come up? While this could have been done conceptually, would you have been able to prove it via equations had it been an FRQ?

In the next article we will go over a few strategies to help you crush the FRQ portion of the AP Exam.

So, how can you put all of this together to score a 5 on the AP Physics 1 exam? By using the right strategies and practicing consistently, you can develop the skills and confidence you need to succeed. With dedication and hard work, you can join the small percentage of students who achieve a perfect score on this challenging exam.

Jason Kuma
Jason Kuma

Writer | Coach | USC - Physics B.S & Business B.A. | Fremont, CA

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Units in AP Physics 1

Unit 1 – Linear Kinematics

Unit 2 – Linear Forces

Unit 3 – Circular Motion

Unit 4 – Energy 

Unit 5 – Momentum 

Unit 6 – Torque 

Unit 7 – Oscillations 

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