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New and Recent Changes to the AP Physics Exam

How the new Advanced Placement (AP®) Physics exam can provide better results for students and teachers

Effective 2014 for the upcoming 2015 AP exams, The College Board has changed the direction of the AP Physics B exam. Instead of one exam being offered, the course has been split into two separate courses and thus exams: AP Physics 1 and AP Physics 2, both Algebra-Based. Many teachers and students are wondering how the new AP Physics exam is going to affect the way the material is taught and learned. Teachers who have been teaching the old AP Physics B course for years and have already established teaching methods and lesson plans dedicated to educating students for the AP Physics B exam. Luckily, the rationale to moving forward with this change is in favor of the students learning the subject as the intention is to achieve a deeper and clearer understanding of the Physics concepts.

So what are the major changes in AP Physics 1 and 2?

The AP Physics B course has essentially been split down the middle, where the concepts covered in the old course are logically split between both Physics 1 and 2. Similarly arranged to how physics is taught in a college/university setting, AP Physics 1 covers all the Newtonian Mechanics concepts, work and energy, waves and sound, and an introduction into electrical circuits. The newest concepts that will be introduced include rotational dynamics and angular momentum, which were a part of the AP Physics C course, but omitted from Physics B.

AP Physics 2 is equivalent to a second semester’s Physics course in college and it covers electricity and magnetism, physical and geometric optics, fluid mechanics, thermodynamics, and atomic and nuclear physics. The big overall changes include:

  • Organized concepts under seven "big ideas" that articulate the foundational principles of introductory physics.
  • Focus on a series of learning objectives that clarify what students should know and be able to do to qualify for college credit and placement. Each learning objective combines specific physics content knowledge with one of seven foundational science practices.
  • A focus on scientific inquiry and reasoning through the application of physics knowledge on real events. Experiment development and application is huge in this new Physics update.

How will students benefit from these changes?

Each course has been redesigned to be taught over the course of a full year in order for both teachers and students to achieve a deeper level of understanding of the material. Part of this deeper level of understanding comes from implementation of science practices. Allowing the students to apply their physics knowledge learned in class through experimentation and inquiry helps in reinforcing the concepts they just learned. This not only prepares them for the AP exam, but also for college in the event that they are required to take the course again.

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