Is AP Physics 2 Hard? A Complete 2022 Guide

AP Physics 2 is an interesting course where students can earn college credit. See if you should take AP Physics 2.

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by Ellery Weil

Published April 22, 2022

Edited by Tyler Epps
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Is AP Physics 2 Hard? A Complete 2022 Guide
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If you're a high school student planning your AP courses, you might be considering AP Physics 2 — especially if you're interested in STEM. For students who want to learn about the intersection of math and science, AP Physics 2 can be a fascinating class to take and potentially earn college credit.

But is AP Physics 2 hard? Read on to determine whether you should take AP Physics 2 in high school.

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What Does AP Physics 2 Cover?

AP Physics 2 is a full-year, algebra-based physics course. One year of AP Physics 2 is considered to be roughly equivalent to one semester of college-level physics. While most of the course is taught in a traditional lecture-style setting, the College Board requires that at least 25% of your AP Physics 2 classroom time be devoted to labs and lab work.

The class is broken up into seven different units. Students are expected to follow a series of defined scientific practices within each unit. The seven different units are as follows:

What Determines the Difficulty of AP Physics 2? 3 Key Factors

When deciding whether or not to take AP Physics 2, there are a few factors to keep in mind when trying to figure out how hard the class might be. These include the AP exam pass rate, the course material, and your skills and interests.

The Pass Rate

AP exams are offered toward the end of the academic year. Exams are scored on a scale of 1-5, with 5 being the highest. Generally, any score of 3 or higher is considered a passing grade.

Before you enroll in the class, it may be a good idea to see what the pass rate is and what proportion of students get a perfect score of 5. This is one way to try and determine the course's difficulty.

AP Physics 2 Exam Pass Rates
AP Class/Exam Pass Rate (3 or Higher) Perfect Score (5)
AP Physics 2 65.3% 15.4%
All Other AP Classes 64.2% 16.8%

Source: College Board, May 2021

The AP Physics 2 exam has a roughly average pass rate and perfect score rate compared to other AP exams. However, factors like your interest level in the subject and the teacher quality at your school are also important in determining the difficulty.

The Course Material

For many students, the difficulty of the courses they take is determined by the course material. Courses that cover a broader variety of material over a short period of time can often be more challenging than courses with a narrower focus or a slower pace.

AP Physics 2 has seven distinct units and covers many scientific principles and best practices students must master. Some students may find the scope of this course challenging.

Your Subject Skills

Other factors influencing a course's difficulty are personal, including your subject-specific skills. Students who are skilled in math and physics, such as those who enjoyed AP Physics 1, may find AP Physics 2 one of their easier AP courses.

However, students who are not particularly interested in physics or learners who struggled to pass AP Physics 1 may encounter difficulties in AP Physics 2.

When Should You Take AP Physics 2?

Students typically take AP Physics 2 late in their high school career — usually during their junior year, at the earliest. Because AP Physics 2 is the second of a series of two courses, you cannot take it without prior AP course credit.

Students must have passed AP Physics 1 before enrolling in AP Physics 2. Students should also be certain they have room in their schedule for another AP class, as the work can be demanding.

AP Physics 2 Exam: What You Need to Know

When looking at the AP Physics 2 exam, there are a few factors beyond the pass rate to consider. These include the exam structure, how the exam is scored, and what score you'll need for college credit.

AP Physics 2, May 2021
Exam Score Number of Students Percentage of Students
5 2,884 15.4%
4 3,351 17.9%
3 6,003 32.0%
2 5,065 27.0%
1 1,433 7.6%

Source: College Board

How Is the AP Physics 2 Exam Structured?

The AP Physics 2 exam is divided into two sections, each taking 90 minutes. Section 1 is multiple choice and contains 50 questions, while Section 2 is free-response and contains only four questions, each on a different topic.

Multiple-choice questions are filled in on a scantron sheet, while the free-response section requires students to write out original answers.

How Is the AP Physics 2 Exam Scored?

The exam is scored on a scale of 1-5, as mentioned above. However, different questions on the exam are worth a different amount. Each multiple-choice question in Section 1 is worth 1% of your total score.

In Section 2, the short-answer questions are worth different amounts. Two of the questions, one on experimental design and another on qualitative/quantitative translation, are worth 13.64% each. Two other questions — the short-paragraph and short-answer questions — are each worth 11.36%.

How the AP Physics 2 Exam is Scored
Section 1 50%
Multiple-choice Questions 50%
Section 2 50%
Experimental Design Question 13.64%
Qualitative/Quantitative Translation Question 13.64%
Paragraph Argument Short Answer Question 11.36%
Short Answer Question 11.36%

Source: College Board

AP Physics 2: What Score Do I Need for College Credit?

While a score of 3 is generally considered a passing grade, many colleges only grant credit for scores of 4 or above (or grant different amounts of credit for different scores). Each school sets its own policy. You can check online to see your college's policy regarding AP Physics 2 exam scores and what score you'll need to receive college credit.

Should I Take AP Physics 2?

Deciding whether or not to take AP Physics 2 is a personal decision. Only you know how many AP classes you feel comfortable fitting into your schedule, how well you did in the prerequisite AP Physics 1, and how interested in and confident you are when it comes to physics.

If you're not sure whether you should take AP Physics 2, consider speaking to students from your school who have already taken it. They can tell you what the teacher and other aspects of the course are like.

Frequently Asked Questions About AP Physics 2

Is AP Physics 2 worth it?

Determining whether or not AP Physics 2 is worth it is a personal decision. If you have room in your schedule, an interest in math and the sciences, and/or did well in AP Physics 1, then it's likely that AP Physics 2 will be worth it for you.

However, if you are not interested in physics, have a schedule that is already crowded with other AP classes, and/or did not enjoy or get a good grade in AP Physics 1, AP Physics 2 may not be worth it.

What's the difference between AP Physics 1, 2, and C?

AP Physics 1 and AP Physics 2 are both full-year, algebra-based, college-level physics courses. AP Physics 1 is a prerequisite to AP Physics 2, meaning you must pass AP Physics 1 before enrolling in AP Physics 2.

AP Physics C is a set of two single-semester, more specialized physics courses -- one in mechanics and one in electricity and magnetism. Like the full-year AP Physics 1 and 2 courses, each AP Physics C course is considered equivalent to a semester of college-level physics.

Do you have to take AP Physics 1 before you take AP Physics 2?

Because AP Physics 1 is a prerequisite to AP Physics 2, you must pass it before enrolling in AP Physics 2. In AP Physics 1, you will learn important background skills and information about physics, math, and science that you will use in AP Physics 2.

AP Physics 1 is considered equivalent to the first semester of a college-level physics course, while AP Physics 2 is equivalent to the second semester of college-level physics.

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