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

Ace the AP Physics 1 FRQs with these expert strategies and examples.

Are you a high school student preparing to take the AP Physics 1 exam? If so, you may be wondering how to ace the free-response questions (FRQs), which make up 50% of your score. Don’t worry, with our step-by-step guide, you can learn proven strategies and solve examples to boost your exam scores.

1. Statistics Show Where Students Struggle

According to the College Board, students struggle the most with questions that require qualitative-quantitative translation, experimental design, and data analysis. In fact, on the 2021 AP Physics 1 exam, the average score for these types of questions was only 2.06 out of 5.

Additionally, a survey of high school physics students found that 61% of students struggle with applying concepts to new situations. To avoid falling into these statistics, you need to focus on these areas and practice as much as possible.

1.1 Other areas of struggle

  • In 2021, the average score for the AP Physics 1 exam was 2.55 out of 5.
  • On the 2021 exam, the most commonly missed FRQ was question 3
  • According to a survey of high school physics students, 42% of students struggle with free-body diagrams
  • After teaching students for the last 7 years, the most common point of confusion has to do with angular momentum. Kinematics is a close second.
  • Most student’s miss out on “easy points” since they don’t relaize they need to show “fundamental” steps in their working. Avoid this by seeing the scoring rubric college board provides for each year’s FRQ set.

2. Practice

Look no further than the official FRQs and answer keys posted on College board’s site. Practice all of these, using the strategies below. Be sure to work with a teacher or tutor to quickly and fully understand points of confusion.

Click here to view all past FRQs and solutions

Note* College board updated the AP Physics curriculum in 2021. Electrostatics, waves, and circuits are no longer included. Skip those questions if you come across them.

3. Key Strategies to Ace the FRQs

To help you prepare for the AP Physics 1 FRQs, here are some key strategies you can follow:

(1) Read the Question Carefully

Make sure you understand what the question is asking. Mass, velocity, momentum of object X, Y or both?

College board LOVES to throw in unnecessary jargon to confuse students. Avoid this by skim-reading. Underline only the key information in the question, such specific conditions or constraints. Is friction negligible, is the system open or closed?…etc.

(2) Start Immediately

A common mistake is re-reading the entire problem. It is not worth the time. Read what they are asking you to find, identify which concept to use, and start making equations.

(3) Use a Clear and Organized Method

When solving the problem, use a clear and organized method to show your work. This will make it easier for the grader to follow your thought process and give you partial credit if you make a mistake.

(4) Timing is key

There’s no point in understanding how to solve a problem if you can’t solve it quick enough.

There are 5 FRQs and, on average, a total of 20 parts altogether. Given you only get 90 minutes. A general rule of thumb is to take no longer than 3 minutes to solve each part.

The ONLY way to achieve this speed is to have practiced many questions. And (2) practice timing yourself, to get the feel for time. Before taking the exam, you should know what 3 minutes “feels like.” This will allow you to keep a steady pace during the exam.

(5) Equations — your best friend

Imagine a lawyer presenting their case with no evidence. No one would believe them.

Now imagine making claims on your FRQs without evidence. No grader would be persuaded to give you points.

Your evidence is your equations. Be good at deriving questions that you can use to make claims with. Here’s an example: the velocity of a block sliding down a friction of a ramp is proportional to the square root of the height it’s released from, according to {your derived formula} v = (2gh)1/2.

(6) Check Your Units

This should be obvious. If you have extra time, quickly preform unit analysis to make sure you didn’t miss a square root or an entire number.

Have your calculator set to degrees. Make sure you

(7) Use Common Sense

If something is “missing,” it’s likely that it is right in front of you. In other words it is implied in the problem. College board loves to do this to test how well you know relationships between variables.

For example, a car moving at constant speed implies, no acceleration OR a centripetal acceleration. It could also mean that there’s no net force. And it could also mean that there is no change in momentum, and thus no impulse.

These are hints staring right at you. Get good at looking for these and you will solve problems with much more ease.

The AP Physics 1 FRQs can be challenging, but with the right strategies and practice, you can ace them and boost your exam score. Remember to read the question carefully, use a clear and organized method, and check for implied variables. Also, consider the statistics and focus on areas where other students tend to struggle. By doing so, you’ll be well on your way to crushing the AP Physics 1 FRQs. Good luck!

Jason Kuma
Jason Kuma

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

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