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AP Physics B – Mechanics

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Physics is the science that attempts to describe how nature works using the language of mathematics. It is often considered the most fundamental of all the natural sciences and its theories attempt to describe the behavior of the smallest building blocks of matter, light, the Universe, and everything in between. According to the College Board web site, “the Physics B course provides a foundation in physics for students in the life sciences, pre-medicine, and some applied sciences, as well as other fields not directly related to science.”

More than ever, our society relies on technology and without physics none of the technological advances we take for granted would be possible. Many of the technologies that that are continually transforming the world can be directly traced back to important physics research and discoveries. For example, in 1947, research on the physics of semiconductors enabled the first transistor to be developed. This seemingly simple device is the key component in all of our electronic systems, including computers, and it is now considered one of the most important inventions in human history.

You’ll learn about these things and much more in AP Physics B, a specific advanced placement science course that is divided into nine different sections: Newtonian Mechanics, Electricity and Magnetism, Fluid Mechanics and Thermal Physics, Waves and Optics, and Atomic and Nuclear Physics. The course is equivalent to a one-year college course that includes a laboratory component. The course is also not calculus based and only involves algebra and basic trigonometry to solve various physics problems. It is supposed to be equivalent to an introductory college course in physics.

What about the exam?

Unlike the SAT, the AP exams are authentic tests. That means that it is impossible to “game” the tests or memorize strategies that will help you ace it. You have to actually know your physics in order to get a high score on the physics test. One of the worst things you can do is cram before the test. Instead, study with classmates or friends well in advance, ask your teacher lots of questions, and make sure you answer all of the multiple-choice.

The exam is administered in two sections, a 70 question multiple choice section and a 6 to 8 question free-response section. Each section must be completed within a 90 minute time limit. You cannot use a calculator for the multiple choice section, but the free response section permits the use of a calculator, as well as, a list of common formulas. Each section is worth fifty percent of the final score. Over all, the exam tests your knowledge in five target categories. A table with the breakdown of the topics is provided below:

Topic

Percent

Newtonian Mechanics

35%

Fluid Mechanics and Thermal Physics

15%

Electricity and Magnetism

25%

Waves and Optics

15%

Atomic and Nuclear Physics

10

What is the difference between Physics B and Physics C?
There are a few AP Physics courses to choose from. For a complete comparison chart of the topics in Physics B and Physics C click here.

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