Is AP Physics C: Mechanics Hard? A Complete 2022 Guide

AP Physics C: Mechanics is an advanced course where you can earn college credit. See if you should enroll in it this year.

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by Ellery Weil

Published June 17, 2022

Edited by Tyler Epps
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Is AP Physics C: Mechanics Hard? A Complete 2022 Guide
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AP Physics C: Mechanics is one of four AP Physics courses offered by the College Board, and one of two that are only a half-year long. AP Physics C: Mechanics is intended to be equivalent to a semester of college-level physics.

If you're wondering whether or not to take the course, you may want to know how difficult it is. A few different factors determine how hard you'll find AP Physics C: Mechanics.

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What Does AP Physics C: Mechanics Cover?

AP Physics C: Mechanics is a specialized physics course which provides an introduction to calculus-based physics and relevant scientific methods and concepts.

In addition to the traditional, classroom-based aspects of the course, you will also have a hands-on lab-based component. The AP Physics C: Mechanics exam also includes a lab-based portion. The material is divided into seven units, with some time left at the end of the course for review. The seven units are as follows:

What Determines the Difficulty of AP Physics C: Mechanics? 3 Key Factors

If you're trying to figure out how difficult you'll find AP Physics C: Mechanics, there are a few key factors to keep in mind, such as the exam pass rate, the course material, and your subject skills.

The Pass Rate

One way to gauge the difficulty of any given AP class is the pass rate on the AP exam. AP exams are scored from 1-5, with anything above a 3 being considered a passing score. By looking at AP Physics C: Mechanics' AP exam pass rate compared to the average across all AP classes, you can get some idea of how difficult students tend to find the exam.

AP Physics C: Mechanics Exam Pass Rates
AP Class/Exam Pass Rate (3 or Higher) Perfect Score (5)
AP Physics C: Mechanics 73.5% 23.5%
All Other AP Classes 64.2% 16.8%

Source: College Board

AP Physics C: Mechanics has a higher-than-average pass rate and perfect score rate. However, AP exam pass rates are not a sure-fire measure of course difficulty.

Some AP exams, like AP Physics C: Mechanics, have higher pass-rates because the students who take it have prior experience and preparation in the sciences and are willing to challenge themselves. Furthermore, other aspects of how difficult you find the course, like the quality of your teacher, will be specific to you and your school.

The Course Material

The amount and type of material an AP course covers, as well as how much time you have to learn each new topic, can impact how difficult you find the course.

The AP Physics C: Mechanics course covers seven distinct units. Because it is only a half-year course, that means some students may find that each topic moves fairly quickly, which can be challenging.

Your Subject Skills

One personal factor that may determine how difficult you find AP Physics C: Mechanics is your own subject skills. AP Physics C: Mechanics is a calculus-based science course.

Students with a strong math background who enjoy higher-level math, are doing well in calculus, and who have taken and enjoyed previous physics courses will likely find the course easier than those who struggle with math and science.

When Should You Take AP Physics C: Mechanics?

Students generally take AP Physics C: Mechanics relatively late in their high school careers — junior or senior year. This is in part because a knowledge of calculus is necessary for AP Physics C: Mechanics, and most high schools do not offer calculus to freshmen or sophomores.

When you are deciding when to take AP Physics C: Mechanics, you should also keep in mind your personal course load and schedule. Be sure you have time to give the course the attention it requires, which will depend in part on how many other AP classes you're taking and your commitments outside of the classroom.

AP Physics C: Mechanics Exam: What You Need to Know

The table below shows the score distribution on the AP Physics C: Mechanics exam. The exam is 90 minutes long, and divided into multiple sections. The most common score is a 4.

AP Physics C: Mechanics
Exam Score Number of Students Percentage of Students
5 11,468 23.5%
4 13,980 28.6%
3 10,412 21.3%
2 7,279 14.9%
1 5,664 11.6%

Source: College Board

How Is the AP Physics C: Mechanics Exam Structured?

The 90-minute AP Physics C: Mechanics exam is broken into two 45-minute sections. Section 1 contains 35 multiple choice questions, while Section 2 features three free-response questions.

One of the questions on the free response section will be lab-based, or practical, while the other two will be traditional pen-and-paper questions. There will be a short break between the two sections, and you will be allowed a calculator throughout the test (standard four-function, scientific, or graphing calculators only).

How Is the AP Physics C: Mechanics Exam Scored?

The AP Physics C: Mechanics exam is scored 1-5, with 5 being the highest score. Sections 1 and 2 are each worth 50% of your total score, with each multiple choice question in Section 1 worth an equal amount. In Section 2, each of the three free-response questions are weighted equally, at 16.67% each.

How the AP Physics C: Mechanics Exam is Scored
Section 1 50%
Multiple-choice Questions 50%
Section 2 50%
Free-Response Question #1 16.67%
Free-Response Question #2 16.67%
Free-Response Lab-Based Question 16.67%

Source: College Board

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

To earn college credit from AP Physics C: Mechanics, you will need a score of 3 or higher on your AP exam. However, different colleges have different policies regarding AP exam credit.

Some will only give credit for scores of 4 or higher, or will award more credit for higher AP exam scores. Check online to see what your school's AP exam credit policy is for AP Physics C: Mechanics.

Should I Take AP Physics C: Mechanics?

Only you can decide whether or not you should take AP Physics C: Mechanics. As you're making your decision, remember to consider not only the factors discussed above but also your personal schedule, what subjects you're most interested in, and how AP Physics C: Mechanics will impact your plans.

If you want to learn more about the class before enrolling, consider asking a student at your school who has already taken the course for advice. They will be able to answer questions specific for your school and weigh in on teacher quality.

Frequently Asked Questions About AP Physics C: Mechanics

Is AP Physics C: Mechanics worth it?

Whether or not AP Physics C: Mechanics is worth it to take is something only you can decide. For students who are interested in math and science, and who have already taken and enjoyed a physics and/or calculus-based course, it is highly likely that they will find AP Physics C: Mechanics worth it.

However, for students who do not have an interest in math, physics, or STEM more generally, or who have struggled in previous physics courses, it is less likely that they will find AP Physics C: mechanics worth it.

Can you take AP Physics C: Mechanics without taking AP Physics 1?

According to the College Board, you do not need to have taken AP Physics 1 in order to take AP Physics C: Mechanics. The two courses are very different from each other, especially since AP Physics 1 is algebra-based while AP Physics C: Mechanics is calculus-based, so they will involve very different math skills.

However, students may find it helpful to have taken a previous physics course before they enroll in AP Physics C: Mechanics.

What are the recommended prerequisites for AP Physics C: Mechanics?

Officially speaking, there is only one prerequisite for AP Physics C: Mechanics. The College Board requires AP Physics C: Mechanics students to either be taking a calculus class concurrently with AP Physics C: Mechanics or to have taken a calculus course prior to enrolling in AP Physics C: Mechanics.

However, while it is not an official prerequisite, students may find it helpful to have taken advanced algebra and/or a physics class before enrolling in AP Physics C: Mechanics.

How long is AP Physics C: Mechanics?

AP Physics C: Mechanics is a half-year course which lasts for one semester of the academic year. However, some schools will offer AP Physics C: Mechanics as a combined course with AP Physics C: Electricity and Magnetism, another half-year AP physics course.

If your school offers the two courses together this way, you may not be able to take AP Physics C: Mechanics on its own for a single semester. Instead, you would take the course alongside AP Physics C: E&M for a total of a full academic year, with two separate AP exams for the two half-year courses.

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