The Basics
Both AP Physics C courses are calculusbased, college introductorylevel courses. Since these physics courses rely on an understanding of calculus, it is important for students to have previously taken a calculus course, preferably AP Calculus AB or BC.*
AP Physics C (Mechanics) is comparable to the first semester of the two semester introductory physics sequence which most colleges require of their science and engineering track students. AP Physics C (Electricity & Magnetism) is comparable to the second course in this sequence and builds upon the material learned in Mechanics.
In Mechanics, students will learn about kinematics, dynamics, energy, momentum, rotation, gravitation, and oscillation. In Electricity & Magnetism, students will build upon the subjects covered in Mechanics and expand into topics, such as forces exerted on charged particles, electric and magnetic fields, electric circuits and their components, and the nature of electromagnetic radiation. Both courses are taught through inquirybased investigation and lab work.
*Note: Students can take AP Calc. and AP Physics C simultaneously; however, taking the courses at the same time can leave a student feeling behind in AP Physics C courses since they jump directly into material with the idea that students are already familiar with calculus.
The Exam
Both AP Physics C exams follow the same format. However, in 2021 the paper and digital versions of the AP Physics C Mechanics and AP Physics C Electricity & Magnetism exams will differ slightly.
Paper

Multiple choice: 35 questions in 45 minutes. [50% of score]

Questions are either discrete or presented in sets where students will be given data to interpret.


Free Response: 3 questions in 45 minutes. [50% of score]

One of the questions will include an experimental or lab based component.

All questions will address the 7 science practices: visual representations, question and method, representing data and phenomena, data analysis, theoretical relationships, mathematical routines, and argumentation.

Digital

Multiple Choice: 35 questions in 45 minutes. [50% of score]

Questions are either discrete or presented in sets where students will be given data to interpret.


Multiple Choice: 35 questions in 45 minutes. [50% of score]

Questions are either discrete or presented in sets where students will be given data to interpret.

The Statistics**
AP Physics C (Mechanics)

57,131 students took the Mechanics exam in 2019.

Of those students who took the exam, 81.8% scored a 3 or higher.

The mean score was a 3.76.

37.7% scored a 5 (41.6% in 2020).
AP Physics C (Electricity & Magnetism)

25,342 students took the Electricity and Magnetism exam in 2019.

Of those students who took the exam, 73% scored a 3 or higher.

The mean score was a 3.6.

37.6% of students scored a 5 (40.4% in 2020).
While these are fantastic scoring percentages, it is important to remember that both AP Physics C courses are, by definition, very difficult. The AP Physics C course exams are typically taken by highly prepared students. Students who choose to take these courses are likely advanced in Math and will have taken at least one Physics course previously.
**All statistics are sourced from College Board 2019 & 2020 score distributions
Additional Course Facts

Both AP Physics C courses are likely to be taken in your senior year. Not all schools will offer both classes, so make sure to check in with your teachers and guidance counselor for course listings. Most schools are far more likely to offer Mechanics.

Some colleges will accept a passing AP score as college credit, which can decrease college costs. Some colleges will require proof of your lab work, so hold on to those notes!

College Board is introducing some changes to most AP Exams in 2021, so make sure you’re looking at the new formats (and whether your test is paper or digital) when you’re practicing!
Why should you take these courses?
The benefits of an intensive science course will be obvious to any student intending to pursue careers in science and engineering. Physics can lead to careers as fascinating and wide ranging as astrophysics, optics, and quantum computing. But even if you don’t intend on majoring in physics specifically, the rigor with which these courses teach you how to think like a scientist will give you a leg up in any scientific path you choose (and quite a few Humanities, too).
Note: Some schools also offer AP Physics 1 and 2 (which are algebrabased and discussed in our post: Course Tour—AP Physics 1 v. AP Physics 2 ).
If you do decide to take Physics 1, 2, or C, as always, we are here to help with any and all of your physics needs.