Is AP Physics C: Electricity and Magnetism Hard? A Complete 2022 Guide

The AP Physics C: Electricity and Magnetism class is a half-year course that provides the opportunity to earn college credit. Learn more about the course.

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by Ellery Weil

Published June 6, 2022

Edited by Tyler Epps
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Is AP Physics C: Electricity and Magnetism Hard? A Complete 2022 Guide
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If you're a high school student considering if you should take AP Physics C: Electricity and Magnetism, you may be wondering about what the class will be like. Moreover, you'll want to know how difficult it is and see if it can fit into your schedule. Read on to learn more about AP Physics C: E&M and find out if you should enroll in it.

What Does AP Physics C: Electricity and Magnetism Cover?

AP Physics C: Electricity and Magnetism is a college-level physics course offered to high school students. Along with AP Physics C: Mechanics, it's one of two half-year physics courses offered by the College Board's AP program. AP Physics: E&M is a calculus-based course and is meant to be the equivalent to a one-semester college introductory physics course.

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Students in AP Physics C: E&M study five different units over the course of half an academic year, with some additional time for review and exam prep. The units are as follows:

What Determines the Difficulty of AP Physics C: Electricity and Magnetism? 3 Key Factors

As you're trying to figure out the difficulty of AP Physics: E&M, there are three key factors to bear in mind. These include the AP exam pass rate, the amount of course material and what it covers, and your personal physics skills.

The Pass Rate

As with all AP classes, one important factor in figuring out how difficult the course is comes from looking at the pass rate of the AP exam.

Looking at the percentage of students that received a passing score of three or higher and the percentage that received a perfect score of five can help determine how difficult most students find the course material and subsequent exam.

AP Physics C: E&M Exam Pass Rates
AP Class/Exam Pass Rate (3 or Higher) Perfect Score (5)
AP Physics C: E&M 69.5% 32.6%
All Other AP Classes 64.2% 16.8%

Source: College Board

In AP Physics C: E&M, the pass rate and the perfect score rate are higher than the average of all AP classes, suggesting many students taking the exam are well prepared for it.

AP classes like AP Physics C: E&M have stricter prerequisites than other AP classes. This means that the more difficult exams tend to have better-prepared students taking them, which can lead to higher pass rates. Additionally, how difficult you personally find the class will depend on a variety of factors, including teacher quality at your school and your academic strengths.

The Course Material

The amount of material a course covers, and how much time is given to each topic, can be an important part of its difficulty level. Courses that cover more material in less time can be some of the most difficult AP classes.

As a half-year course, AP Physics C: E&M covers less material than many classes, but in a shorter amount of time, which may impact how difficult you find the course.

Your Subject Skills

As with any AP class, your personal subject skills will also impact how difficult you find AP Physics C: E&M. As a calculus-based course, students with strong math skills and an advanced math background may have an easier time with the course than others.

Further, as an advanced physics course, how difficult you find the course may be determined through your experience with previous physics courses, both AP and otherwise.

When Should You Take AP Physics C: Electricity and Magnetism?

As one of the most advanced and specialized AP Physics courses of the four offered by the College Board, students generally should consider taking AP Physics C: E&M relatively far along in their high school career, such as junior or senior year.

This is especially true as students are strongly encouraged to take calculus at the same time as AP Physics C: E&M. Depending on how many AP courses you are planning to take in a given semester, you should also consider your schedule before you enroll in AP Physics C: E&M.

What You Need to Know About the AP Physics C: Electricity and Magnetism Exam

The AP Physics C: E&M exam lasts an hour and a half, and the chart below provides the score distribution as of May 2021. The most common score on the exam is a perfect score of five.

AP Physics C: Electricity and Magnetism
Exam Score Number of Students Percentage of Students
5 6,666 32.6%
4 4,735 23.1%
3 2,826 13.8%
2 3,683 18.0%
1 2,561 12.5%

Source: College Board

How Is the AP Physics C: Electricity and Magnetism Exam Structured?

The AP Physics C: E&M exam is a 90-minute exam broken into two 45-minute sections. Section 1 consists of 35 multiple-choice questions and Section 2 consists of three free-response questions. One of the free-response questions will have a practical or lab-based component, while the other two will be strictly pen-and-paper.

In between the two sections, students will have a short break. Students are allowed a graphing calculator throughout the entire exam.

How Is the AP Physics C: Electricity and Magnetism Exam Scored?

As with all AP exams, the AP Physics C: E&M exam is scored from 1-5, with five being the highest score. The two sections of the exam are weighted equally, as seen below, with both sections being worth 50% of your total exam score.

Moreover, each of the three free-response questions, including the lab based question, are weighted equally, at 16.667% of your total score per question, for a total of 50% for the section.

How the AP Physics C: E&M Exam is Scored
Section 1 50%
Multiple-Choice Questions 50%
Section 2 50%
Free-response Questions 50%

Source: College Board

AP Physics C: Electricity and Magnetism — What Score Do I Need for College Credit?

As with all AP courses, you will likely need a passing score of three or higher on the AP exam to be eligible for college credit. However, whether or not your college will give you credit for a score of three depends on their policy.

Many colleges only award credit for scores of four or higher, or partial credit for some scores. Check online to see what your school's credit policy is for AP Physics C: E&M.

Should I Take AP Physics C: Electricity and Magnetism?

Whether or not you should take AP Physics C: E&M is ultimately up to you. Along with the pass rate and the course content there are personal factors to consider as well.

These can include your class schedule, your personal interest in physics, and the quality of the teaching at your high school.

If you're unsure whether or not to take AP Physics C: E&M, consider asking for advice from someone who took the class at your school. They will have specific information about what the class will be like in your school and with your teacher.

Frequently Asked Questions About AP Physics C: Electricity and Magnetism

Is AP Physics C: Electricity and Magnetism worth it?

Whether or not AP Physics C: E&M is worth it depends a lot on your personal circumstances. For students with a strong physics background and an interest in math, particularly calculus, AP Physics C: E&M is likely worth it.

This is especially true for those who want to study physics in college. However, for students who are not particularly interested in physics or calculus, particularly those who already have a busy course schedule with other AP classes, AP Physics C: E&M may not be worth it.

What are the recommended prerequisites for AP Physics C: Electricity and Magnetism?

The College Board recommends that students take calculus at the same time as AP Physics E&M, as the course is calculus-based.

Beyond that, there are no required prerequisites to enrolling in the course. However, you may have an easier time in the course if you've already taken at least one other physics course, even if it was not an AP physics course, before you enroll in AP Physics C: E&M.

How long is AP Physics C: Electricity and Magnetism?

AP Physics C: E&M is a half-year course, offered over the course of one academic semester. Some schools offer AP Physics C: E&M as a combined course along with AP Physics C: Mechanics as two half-year courses taken together over the course of a full academic year.

If you decide to enroll in the full-year, double-course program, remember that you will be taking two separate AP exams for the two courses.

Is AP Physics C: Electricity and Magnetism harder than AP Physics C: Mechanics?

AP Physics C: E&M is in many ways similar to AP Physics C: Mechanics, and both are often considered difficult. They are both half-year college level physics courses with an accompanying exam.

The two courses have similar score distributions on their AP exams, which indicates that many students find the two classes to be roughly the same in terms of difficulty.

However, if you choose to take them both, which course you will personally find more difficult depends on many factors, including some that will be unique to you.

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