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What makes the AP Physics exam so difficult?

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Jason Kuma

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

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Are you a high school student preparing to take the AP Physics exam? If so, you may be wondering why this exam is so difficult. Let’s take a closer look at some statistics and factors that make this exam challenging.

Exam Performance Statistics

According to the College Board, the average score for the AP Physics 1 exam in 2021 was 2.55 out of 5. Additionally, only 12.3% of students who took the exam received a score of 4 or 5. These statistics highlight the difficulty of this exam and the importance of preparing adequately.

Concept Pairing in MC Questions

One of the main challenges of the AP Physics 1 exam is concept pairing in multiple-choice (MC) questions.

These questions test for two concepts at once, such as momentum and kinetic energy, or forces and kinematics.

A common concept pair is momentum and center of mass. This appeared as question one on the 2021 AP Physics 1 exam and, according to the College Board, only 33.6% of students earned full credit on this question.

Difficult Free-Response Questions

The free-response questions (FRQs) are another aspect of the AP Physics exam that can be challenging. These questions require you to apply your knowledge of physics to real-world situations and can involve multiple steps to solve.

According to the College Board, the average score for the FRQs on the 2021 Exam was only 1.55 out of 5. This statistic highlights the importance of practicing FRQs and understanding how to apply your knowledge effectively.

Here are 5 steps you can take to crush the FRQ section of the AP Physics Exam.

Limited Time

You only have 90 minutes to answer 50 tricky MCQs and another 90 minutes to solve long FRQs.

According to the College Board, only 47.5% of students completed all questions on the 2021 Exam. This statistic highlights the importance of practicing rapid calculations by hand and developing strong problem-solving skills.

How to Prepare for the AP Physics Exam

Now that we’ve looked at the statistics and factors that make the AP Physics exam difficult, let’s discuss how you can prepare for it. Here are some tips:

  1. Practice with Concept Pairing

To prepare for the MC questions, you need to practice applying multiple concepts at once. Look for practice problems that involve pairing different concepts and work through them until you can apply both concepts correctly.

  1. Focus on Understanding Concepts

Rather than memorizing formulas, focus on understanding the underlying concepts of physics. This will help you apply your knowledge to real-world situations and solve problems more effectively.

  1. Practice FRQs

To prepare for the FRQs, practice solving problems that involve multiple steps. Make sure to read the question carefully, identify the relevant concepts, and apply them correctly. Work on improving your problem-solving skills and time management.


The AP Physics 1 exam is a difficult but manageable challenge. By understanding the statistics and factors that make this exam challenging, and by following the tips we’ve outlined, you can increase your chances of success.

Remember to practice with concept pairing, focus on understanding concepts, and practice solving FRQs. With these strategies, you’ll be well on your way to acing the AP Physics exam.

Picture of 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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