AP Physics 1+2 vs AP Physics C

AP Physics 1+2 vs C: What’s the difference?

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What are AP Physics 1+2 and AP Physics C?

AP Physics 1+2 and AP Physics C are the two sets of AP physics exams offered by the College Board.

  • AP Physics 1+2 cover algebra-based physics. The two courses cover topics in mechanics, electricity and magnetism, thermodynamics, and nuclear physics.
  • AP Physics C covers calculus-based physics. The two separate components cover mechanics and electricity & magnetism.

Key Differences:

One key difference between the AP Physics 1+2 sequence and AP Physics C is the mathematical background. AP Physics 1+2 are algebra based, requiring only knowledge in Algebra II or Precalculus . AP Physics C requires calculus, with topics in AP Physics C: Mechanics using derivatives and integrals from single variable calculus (such as AP Calculus AB or BC). AP Physics C: Electricity & Magnetism uses many concepts that are taught in a multivariable calculus course. While multivariable calculus is not necessary for AP Physics C, a strong mathematical background is definitely helpful.

The second key difference is the depth of knowledge. AP Physics 1+2 cover more topics while AP Physics C focuses on two key areas: mechanics and electricity & magnetism. AP Physics 1+2 provide an introduction to the big ideas in the field of physics, while AP Physics C starts teaching students the details they’ll need if they want to continue with physics or engineering in college.

Which course and exam should you take?

Students who are planning on pursuing physics, math, or engineering in college should try to take the AP Physics C: Mechanics and AP Physics C: Electricity & Magnetism AP exams in high school. These courses are equivalent to the first and/or second physics courses offered in college to STEM majors.

It is recommended, however, that AP Physics C be the second Physics course high school students take. Thus, a student who plans to take AP Physics C their junior or senior year might want to take AP Physics 1 and/or 2 in the first two years of high school to help prepare themselves for AP Physics C. Some schools might even require a physics course before letting students take AP Physics C, so be sure to plan ahead!

Students not pursuing STEM in college can still benefit from taking AP Physics 1+2, or C in high school. Taking and succeeding in AP courses helps with college admissions and good exam scores can allow students to test out of physics requirements in college.

How to Prepare:

Students preparing for an AP exam should take an accompanying AP course to prepare for the exam.

  • AP Courses at your school: Many schools offer AP courses during the school year and these are a great way to take AP courses prepare for the exam.
  • AP Courses outside your school: Fitting AP courses into a high school schedule can be difficult! Many schools have restrictions on how many AP courses a student can take or have a lot of prerequisites before a student can take an AP course.

Areteem offers online AP courses, both in the summer and during the school year. Click here for more information about upcoming offerings!

In addition to a full course, many options for review are available before the exam each Spring:

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