What We Are About: A Message from the Development Committee

The AP Physics Development Committee recognizes that curriculum, course content, and assessment of scholastic achievement play complementary roles in shaping education at all levels. The committee believes that assessment should support and encourage the following broad instructional goals:

1. Physics knowledge — Basic knowledge of the discipline of physics, including phenomenology, theories and techniques, concepts and general principles

2. Problem solving — Ability to ask physical questions and to obtain solutions to physical questions by use of qualitative and quantitative reasoning and by experimental investigation

3. Student attributes — Fostering of important student attributes, including appreciation of the physical world and the discipline of physics, curiosity, creativity, and reasoned skepticism

4. Connections — Understanding connections of physics to other disciplines and to societal issues

The first three of these goals are appropriate for the AP and introductory-level college physics courses that should, in addition, provide a background for the attainment of the fourth goal.

The AP Physics Exams have always emphasized achievement of the first two goals. Over the years, the definitions of basic knowledge of the discipline and problem solving have evolved. The AP Physics courses have reflected changes in college courses, consistent with our primary charge. We have increased our emphasis on physical intuition, experimental investigation, and creativity. We include more openended questions in order to assess students’ ability to explain their understanding of physical concepts. We structure questions that stress the use of mathematics to illuminate the physical situation rather than to show manipulative abilities.

The committee is dedicated to developing exams that can be graded fairly and consistently and that are free of ethnic, gender, economic, or other bias. We operate under practical constraints of testing methods, allotted time and large numbers of students at widely spread geographical locations. In spite of these constraints, the committee strives to design exams that promote excellent and appropriate instruction in physics.

I. Newtonian Mechanics (35%)

A. Kinematics (including vectors, vector algebra, components of vectors, coordinate systems, displacement, velocity, and acceleration) (7%)
1. Motion in one dimension
2. Motion in two dimensions, including projectile motion
B. Newton’s laws of motion
1. Static equilibrium (first law)
2. Dynamics of a single particle (second law)
3. Systems of two or more objects (third law)
C. Work, energy, power
1. Work and work–energy theorem
2. Forces and potential energy
3. Conservation of energy
4. Power
D. Systems of particles, linear momentum
1. Center of mass
2. Impulse and momentum
3. Conservation of linear momentum, collisions
E. Circular motion and rotation
1. Uniform circular motion
2. Torque and rotational statics
3. Rotational kinematics and dynamics
4. Angular momentum and its conservation
F. Oscillations and gravitation
1. Simple harmonic motion (dynamics and energy relationships)
2. Mass on a spring
3. Pendulum and other oscillations
4. Newton’s law of gravity
5. Orbits of planets and satellites
a. Circular
b. General

II. Fluid Mechanics and Thermal Physics (15%)

A. Fluid Mechanics
1. Hydrostatic pressure
2. Buoyancy
3. Fluid flow continuity
4. Bernoulli’s equation
B. Temperature and heat
1. Mechanical equivalent of heat
2. Heat transfer and thermal expansion
C. Kinetic theory and thermodynamics
1. Ideal gases
a. Kinetic model
b. Ideal gas law
2. Laws of thermodynamics
a. First law (including processes on pV diagrams)
b. Second law (including heat engines)

III. Electricity and Magnetism (25%)

A. Electrostatics
1. Charge and Coulomb’s law
2. Electric field and electric potential (including point charges)
3. Gauss’s law
4. Fields and potentials of other charge distributions
B. Conductors, capacitors, dielectrics
1. Electrostatics with conductors
2. Capacitors
a. Capacitance
b. Parallel plate
c. Spherical and cylindrical
3. Dielectrics
C. Electric circuits
1. Current, resistance, power
2. Steady-state direct current circuits with batteries and resistors only
3. Capacitors in circuits
a. Steady state
b. Transients in rc circuits
D. Magnetic Fields
1. Forces on moving charges in magnetic fields
2. Forces on current-carrying wires in magnetic fields
3. Fields of long current-carrying wires
4. Biot–Savart law and Ampere’s law
E. Electromagnetism
1. Electromagnetic induction (including Faraday’s law and Lenz’s law)
2. Inductance (including lr and lc circuits)
3. Maxwell’s equations

IV. Waves and Optics(15%)

A. Wave motion (including sound)
1. Traveling waves
2. Wave propagation
3. Standing waves
4. Superposition
B. Physical optics
1. Interference and diffraction
2. Dispersion of light and the electromagnetic spectrum
C. Geometric optics
1. Reflection and refraction
2. Mirrors
3. Lenses

V. Atomic and Nuclear Physics(10%)

A. Atomic physics and quantum effects
1. Photons, the photoelectric effect, Compton scattering, x-rays
2. Atomic energy levels
3. Wave-particle duality
B. Nuclear physics
1. Nuclear reactions (including conservation of mass number and charge)
2. Mass–energy equivalence