Why Take Physics in High School?
Taking physics in high school fulfills a portion of the New Jersey Department of Education graduation requirements in the lab science section.
Taking this class is a great way to ensure you 1. have all your course requirements to get into college and 2. are prepared for taking a college placement science exam.
So what’s the difference between the different Physics classes - Honors Physics, AP Physics 1, AP Physics 2, and AP Physics C?
The AP Program used to offer three physics classes: AP Physics 1, AP Physics 2, AP Physics C: Mechanics and AP Physics C: Electricity and Magnetism.
Honors Physics - an introductory course in algebra-based high school physics designed to provide students a basic understanding of physics principles in the areas of mechanics, work and energy, electricity and magnetism, semiconductors, waves, optics, and modern physics.
AP Physics 1 - AP Physics 1 is an algebra-based, introductory, college-level physics course. It explores Newtonian mechanics (including rotational motion), work, energy, power, mechanical waves and sound, and circuits – in other words, fundamental physics concepts. AP Physics 1 was designed to be a first-year physics course which you can take without prior physics experience. The AP program recommends that students have at least taken geometry and are concurrently taking Algebra II while taking this course. If you’re not that far along in math yet, consider taking a different science class until you’re caught up, as math is very important in physics.
AP Physics 2 - AP Physics 2 is also an algebra-based, college-level physics course. However, it delves into some more advanced topics than Physics 1. Physics 2 explores fluid statics and dynamics, thermodynamics with kinetic theory, PV diagrams and probability, electrostatics, electrical circuits with capacitors, magnetic fields, electromagnetism, physical and geometric optics, and quantum, atomic, and nuclear physics. AP Physics 2 was designed to be a second-year physics course. This means it could come after AP Physics 1 or any first-year physics course. Much of its content is similar to the old AP Physics B course.
AP Physics C Mechanics - AP Physics C Mechanics covers kinematics, Newton’s laws, work, energy, power, linear momentum, circular motion and rotation, oscillations and gravitation. As you can see, these are many of the same concepts explored in AP Physics 1. However, this course goes into more depth than Physics 1 and uses calculus, making it much more challenging. AP recommends Physics C (along with AP Calculus AB or Calculus BC) for students aiming for engineering or physical science majors in college.
AP Physics C Electricity & Magnetism - AP Physics C Electricity and Magnetism covers electrostatics, conductors, capacitors, dielectrics, electric circuits, magnetic fields, and electromagnetism. Notice there is some overlap with the Physics 2 curriculum, though again, Physics C will be more difficult since it incorporates calculus.
Aim to take AP Physics C if you are a future engineer or natural sciences major – but take it alongside or after taking calculus. If your school doesn’t offer Physics C, take AP Physics 2 or honors physics if you can. Taking AP Physics 1 and Physics 2 is plenty if you aren’t going to study natural sciences or engineering, but want to take challenging science courses in high school.
If you’re considering college engineering but aren’t sure if it’s right for you, taking AP Physics C could be a good way to find out if you are up to the challenge and enjoy the topics you would continue to explore in college.