How Will the AP Physics B Exam Change in May 2015?

In May 2015, the Advanced Placement (AP) Physics B exam will undergo some change. Reviewing the breakdown of these changes below will help students to ensure readiness for the new exam when it premieres. 

The need for change 

The National Research Council (NRC) recently determined that the AP Physics B course covered too wide a breadth of material – so wide that students were not developing a deep enough understanding of concepts. To improve exploration of such materials, and to expand the scope of knowledge covered, the NRC made a recommendation that AP Physics B be divided into a two-year course, effectively doubling its length.

Content is now divided across two years, the first of which is the equivalent of a first college semester of algebra-based physics. The class will cover: Newtonian mechanics; work, energy, and power; electronic circuits; and mechanical waves and sound, with an emphasis in inquiry labs and physics state standards. The second course will serve as a second semester college-equivalent course and will cover fluid mechanics, thermodynamics, electricity and magnetism, optics, and atomic and nuclear physics. 

Splitting the course into two separate entities will provide for more hands-on learning, as well as a greater overall understanding of the curriculum. These are some great tips on how to ace your AP courses.

Changes in learning objectives

When the AP Physics B course becomes two courses, the learning objectives will also change to reflect the new organization. These objectives will now fall under seven categories, which outline the framework of introductory physics. 

The learning objectives are presented as a checklist that provide exactly what a student is responsible for knowing and demonstrating in order to receive college credit. The learning objectives also define what will be on the exam; questions that do not match up with one or more objectives will not be on either test. Each objective is associated with both knowledge of physics and basic foundational science principles. 

Course vs. test

While the AP Physics course is recommended to be taught as two courses, each lasting the duration of one year, each school is responsible for setting their own AP schedule. Students who do not take AP courses are still eligible to take AP exams. This means that the exam can be taken, no matter how you have prepared for it. 

While it is recommended that students and teachers follow the approved exam schedule, a student has the opportunity to try their hand at the test under any circumstances. To be more prepared for the exam, it is recommended that students take Physics over two years, on the same lines as the AP Physics course. Here are 3 questions to ask yourself before taking an AP course.

The test 

The AP Physics exam will be offered in two exams: one for AP Physics 1 and the other for AP Physics 2. Each exam requires three hours, and both can be taken in one year. Like the previous exam, the two will require students to complete both multiple choice and free response questions. 

Questions on the new tests will assess how well students understand physics conceptually, which means test takers will be required to demonstrate understanding by applying science practices. This involves more writing in free response sections, though the tests will contain fewer of these questions. The free response questions will focus heavily on qualitative and quantitative explanations, reasoning, and justification of answers given. 

The changed tests will also include a question focusing on experimental design. This question will require students to demonstrate a full range of knowledge in order to explain the various steps of an experiment. Also, while the old test emphasized the use of mathematics to solve problems, the new test will be more cumulative in its approach, asking students to rely on a breadth of knowledge involving math, reasoning, knowledge of the scientific method, and so on. These are 3 common mistakes to avoid on AP exams.

Test format

The former AP Physics B exam involved 70 multiple-choice questions over a 90-minute time period and six or seven free response questions over a 90-minute time period. Now, the AP Physics 1 exam will have 50 multiple-choice questions over 90 minutes and five free response questions over 90 minutes. One free response question will deal with experimental design, another will deal with qualitative/quantitative translation, and the remaining three will take the style of short answer.

The AP Physics 2 exam will follow the same format, but will limit the number of free response questions to four, cutting out the third short answer question. 

While these changes may seem significant, they will ultimately leave students better prepared for college physics. Working with AP Physics B tutors can be of great help in this process as well. By spreading the acquisition of knowledge over two years, students will be more knowledgeable, prepared, and confident in their abilities to perform advanced physics.