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AP Physics B & C

  1. Aug 6, 2009 #1

    I believe that I have asked a question to this similar before but I was unable to find it.

    I am going into my senior year of high school and I have the choice to take AP Physics B or C. I am currently signed up to take AP C, but I have been wondering lately if that's the best choice since I have not taken an calculus courses yet, but I will be taking Pre-AP Pre-Calc next year (since I missed my chance to take algebra in 8th grade when I had the chance I'm stuck with pre-calc, which I deeply regret right now).

    So I have been thinking whether AP C is the right choice for me, or should I go with AP B instead? I am an aspiring physicist/ engineer and I need to know if taking AP B will hold me back from my goal.

    Thanks for any input you will be providing.

    Edit: I am also a late bloomer into physics, I have always been more focused into the astronomical fields of science when I was younger. It wasn't until a year or two ago that I realized that physics truly caught my fascination, is it too late for me to become a successful physicist due to my late blooming?
    Last edited: Aug 6, 2009
  2. jcsd
  3. Aug 6, 2009 #2
    Since I have never taken a course covering AP Physics C material (my high school only offered Physics B), I don't know about the level of problems that will be assigned. However, the actual calculus on the Physics C exams (which I took) is not too difficult for the most part, and many people who have a decent Physics B teacher and some motivation can definitely handle the Physics C exams with some self-study.

    Because you have not taken precalc yet, I think the Physics C course might be a bit over your head, regardless of whether the actual course will or will not be more difficult than the AP exam. If you really want to take the Physics C exam, I think your best option is to take Physics B and study calculus on your own during the school year (ideally, study for precalc now). To be honest though, taking Physics B will definitely not hold you back (many schools probably don't offer it).

    I am not a physicist, but it's never too late, I think.
  4. Aug 6, 2009 #3
    Are you kidding? Like the majority of students, I switched degree programs and therefore didn't declare my physics major until my second term of undergrad. Furthermore, back in the day (15+ years ago)... my high school didn't even offer AP physics... in any form. In fact, AP credit was then considered most useful if taken to cover general education credit -- not to "advance" you in your field. Note, this view is also still held pretty widely by university professors... who'd worry that even in a very good high school course, you'd miss a lot of content. (In my experience, many of those who skip courses in the introductory sequence also drop out of the major... though I unfortunately haven't kept track of the statistics.) To that regard, I don't see which course of study -- B versus C -- matters. Either will give you heads up on a fair amount of content if you still enter in the beginning of a physics course of study.
  5. Aug 6, 2009 #4
    Thank you snipez90 for your advice on what to do, and thank you physics girl phd for boosting my confidence!

    Thank you both, so it looks like I should take AP B and then take both exams, and not worry about not making it into the field.

    Thank you both very much!

  6. Aug 6, 2009 #5


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    The AP Phys B and C usually have the same timeslots during test day. This year AP Physics B and C: Mechanics did. You can only sit in and take 1 out of the 2 tests if they happen to be on the same exact time slot. So I'd rethink about that.

    Most of the students taking C from my school have little to no idea about calculus during the beginning of the year (they have the class as co-requisite), maybe very elementary differentiation, but that's it. So the lack of calculus shouldn't stop you from taking Physics C.

    Anyways, I thought I'd drop in my two cents.
  7. Aug 6, 2009 #6


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    Having finished calculus BC last year, I'm currently self studying AP physics C (finishing mech) and from my experience, already knowing calculus really does help. I have a friend who took a physics course at a local community college (which was the equivalent of physics C) while taking calculus AB, and I'm understanding the material a lot faster and on a deeper level than he did. Knowing calculus doesn't just help with the math preparation, it's also a sort of mental preparation; Physics C is a lot harder than calculus BC.
  8. Aug 6, 2009 #7
    I took Physics C this past year and the use of calculus was very bare. Simple differentiation that can easily be learned in an afternoon and solidified after dinner was used in the first part, mechanics. The second part, electromagnetism, required much more calculus, however.

    If you have not taken calculus, you will struggle either a little or a lot depending on how rigorous the course is in electromagnetism. In calculus AB and BC, you do integration midway through first semester (I don't actually know, since I started self studying long before getting to calculus, but I'm going from what I remember my friends did homework wise) and if you are taking it at the same time as Physics C, then you will be able to do electromagnetism.

    Also, with physics C, you will lose the spoon feeding usually found in high school math and science courses. I may be wrong since I took my course at Stanford's EPGY, but the problems, especially on the final, were challenging and often required work and concepts from 3 or 4 chapters to achieve full credit, which is very different from all other courses I've taken.

    I have to honestly say, even though you have yet to take pre-calculus, if you really love
    physics, go for Physics C. You WILL struggle through it and you WILL spend exorbitant amounts of time on it since you will have to go far ahead in your pre-calculus as well as calculus studies, but you will do better both in those courses and develop an independence that is invaluable later on in college. I would also recommend stacking the class with a tutor and a subscription to a site such as cramster.com where you can find detailed solutions to many textbooks and their problems (though your school might use an older version which is often the case) as well as ask for help on their answers board, which is fast and the answers are quality.

    You will definitely have a hard time catching up (not so much if you study well for the next month or so before school begins), but you will learn more then your classmates and the satisfaction you will get from a year of rigorous, worthwhile study is priceless.

    As for Physics B, which most of my classmates took, it struck me as far too general to be of any use and the mathematics were watered down, if not missing altogether. In mechanics, derivatives and their uses were not explained, theorems and such often were not proven, and when they did optics and electromagnetism, I do not think I heard Maxwell's name mentioned even once, which means they cut out all but the most basic mathematics. The teacher even tried to cram in some "modern physics" at the end and I couldn't help but laugh at how ridiculously oversimplified the material was. If you're going to take a physics course to learn, do not take physics B because your mind will forever be poisoned with oversimplification.
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