Share the knowledge with friends!

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

Get the highest AP Physics 1 score. Skip Barrons and Princeton Review. Here's everything you need to know.

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.

1. Understanding the Challenge

The AP Physics 1 exam is not your average physics test. It is designed to be much more difficult than your usual textbook problems or in-class midterms. One of the main challenges is the testing of two concepts at once — a method called “concept pairing.” For example, a question will often test for momentum and kinetic energy simultaneously.

1.1. Concept Pairing

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?

Right off the bat, you should identify the use of the law of conservation of momentum. Let’s assume you can use this law to figure out the final velocity. The questions, however, is asking for the velocity of the center of mass.

A student that has practiced this concept beforehand will know the velocity of the center of mass is simply the sum of the momentum of both blocks divided by the sum of their masses.

Note that the 5 tips outlined in this article apply to both the multiple choice and free response questions on the exam.

2. Managing Your Time

The AP Physics 1 exam gives 90 minutes to answer 40 multiple-choice questions. This amounts to about 2.25 minutes per question. To solve a problem, you need 30 seconds to read and analyze the problem and 60 seconds to complete the calculation. Restarting after an incorrect answer is even more time-consuming.

To prevent time crunch, effective time management is crucial. You don’t need to answer every question to achieve a score of 5, so prioritize the questions on topics that you feel confident about.

When practicing with mock exams, I recommend spending no more than 90 seconds on a problem. This seems to be the sweet spot for all students. If you cannot solve a problem within 90 seconds, mark it wrong and take the time to understand why you were unable to solve it quickly enough.

3. Test Structure + Maximizing Points

To score a 5 on the exam, 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 seconds per question. Here are some tips:

  1. Understand that you don’t need all the points. To get a 5, you must get 70/100 points. If you only got half the MC questions right but got all 50 points on the FRQ, you will still get a 5. You can mess around with this AP Physics 1 Score calculator to play with the number.
  2. For the reasons above, do NOT to panic if you have around 8-12 unanswered multiple choice questions. You will get plenty of time during the FRQ sections to make up for it. Learn how to master the FRQ section here and maximize your score.
  3. The best way to avoid time crunch is to study practice.

4. Studying vs. Practice

The number one mistake students make when preparing for a test is overstudying concepts. As paradoxical as it might sound, it’s true. Instead of reading through endless pages of Barrons/Princeton review, do some practice problems.

We know what forces and kinematics are, so why read a crash course on them? “Tips and tricks” come from hours of problem solving. Practice 100 AP Physics 1 questions, per topic, and understand them completely. After this, I’m willing to bet you’ll will be able to score a 5.

4.1. How can I practice?

Did you know that there are plenty of resources available for AP Physics 1 practice? The College Board has released FRQs that you can use to practice. There are several online resources available, such as:

  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. They have access to more material AP specific material than you might know of, so be sure to ask them for help. Additionally, you can join our Elite Physics Program for even more resources and support.


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

5.1. 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

Founder, Writer, Physic B.S, Business B.A USC, Fremont CA

More About Me

Nerd-Notes is free for everyone!

Help me to keep Nerd-Notes alive. Use the button below to show your support!

More Related Content

Energy, Work, and Power

How to Crush the AP Physics 1 FRQs: Step-by-Step Strategies and Examples

Why Doing Well on the AP Physics 1 Exam is a Smart Investment

Linear Forces

Ace Your AP Physics 1 Exam: Top 10 Formulas You Need to Know

Elite Programs I Teach

Elite Tutoring for Physics

5 Weeks for a 5 on the AP Physics 1 Exam

Prepare for High School Physics

BTC Address


Thanks for reading nerd-notes.

Login or create a FREE account or to continue reading.

By continuing, you agree to the updated Terms of Sale, Terms of Use, and Privacy Policy.

We use site cookies to improve your experience. Cookies do not link to user data. By continuing to browse on this website, you accept the use of cookies.