Calculators

Calculators are not permitted on the multiple-choice section of the AP Physics Exams.

The purpose of the multiple-choice sections is to assess the breadth of students' knowledge and understanding of the basic concepts of physics. The multiple-choice questions emphasize conceptual understanding and qualitative applications. However, many physical definitions and principles are quantitative by nature and can therefore be expressed as equations. The knowledge of these basic definitions and principles, expressed as equations, is a part of the content of physics that should be learned by physics students and will continue to be assessed in the multiple-choice sections. However, any numeric calculations using these equations required in the multiple-choice sections will be kept simple. Also, in some questions the answer choices differ by several orders of magnitude so that the questions can be answered by estimation. Students should be encouraged to develop their skills not only in estimating answers but also in recognizing answers that are physically unreasonable or unlikely.

Calculators are allowed on the free-response section of the AP Physics Exams.

Calculators acceptable for AP Calculus are acceptable for AP Physics. In addition, nongraphing scientific calculators without typewriter-style (QWERTY) keyboards may be used on the AP Physics Exams (see the Calculator Policy section for either Calculus AB or Calculus BC for the list of acceptable calculators). Students are not required to erase their calculator memories before and after the examination. Calculators may not be shared with other students.

The free-response sections emphasize solving in-depth problems where knowledge of which principles to apply and how to apply them is the most important aspect of the solution to these problems. Regardless of the type of calculator allowed, the examinations have been and will continue to be designed and graded to minimize the necessity of doing lengthy calculations. Except for some fundamental constants, most numerical values are selected so that calculations with them are simple and can be done quickly. When free-response problems involve calculations, most of the points awarded in the grading of the solution are given for setting up the solution correctly rather than for actually carrying out the computation.

Tables

Table of Information

For the Physics B and Physics C: Mechanics and Physics C: Electricity and Magnetism exams, the Table of Information are printed near the front cover of the multiple-choice section and on the insert provided with the free-response section. The tables are identical for both exams except for one convention as noted.

Equation Tables

The equation tables for each examination are printed only on the insert provided with the free-response section. The lists of equations may NOT be used when taking the multiple-choice sections. In general, the equations for each year's exam will be printed and distributed with the Course Description or made available online at least a year in advance so that students can get used to using them throughout the year. However, since the equations will be provided with the exams, students are NOT allowed to bring their own copies to the examination room.

One of the purposes of providing these equations is to make the free-response sections equitable for those students who do not have access to equations stored in their calculators. The availability of these equations means that in the scoring of the free-response sections, little or no credit will be awarded for simply writing down correct equations or for ambiguous answers unsupported by explanations or logical development.

Summing Up

The purpose of minimizing numerical calculations in both sections of the examinations and providing equations with the free-response section is to place greater emphasis on the understanding and application of fundamental physical principles and concepts. For solving problems, a sophisticated programmable or graphing calculator, or the availability of stored equations, is no substitute for a thorough grasp of the physics involved.