Buy that special someone an AP Physics prep book, now with 180 five-minute quizzes aligned with the exam: 5 Steps to a 5 AP Physics 1

Visit Burrito Girl's handmade ceramics shop, The Muddy Rabbit: Yarn bowls, tea sets, dinner ware...

07 September 2011

Supplement Review: The AP Prep Book for Walker Fourth Edition

Every summer at my AP Summer Institutes I'm asked, "Which is the best textbook?"  And I answer, "None of them is good, none of them is terrible, and they're all essentially the same."

Publishers know this.  One way they try to differentiate themselves in the marketplace is through supplementary materials.  The online resources are usually a boondoggle -- you don't need to pay for physics materials online.

But I'm seeing increasingly strong AP-specific supplements.  Publishers seem to be getting the message that you can't just hire a hack freelance writer with a physics degree to write good test questions for a college-level physics course.  Nor can you hire a random physics professor, nor a graduate student.  AP readers and exam authors are the experts who should be tapped.

Cutnell and Johnson jumped the gun years ago by getting Hugh Henderson, an AP reader and former member of the test development committee, to write their AP supplement.  (Note that this is a 2003 edition... the newer edition does not have Hugh's name on it, and I have not read it.)  Hugh included three AP physics B tests; I still use questions from these on my in-class tests.

This year, Serway got into the good-AP-supplement business.  They hired a long list of very strong AP readers, including exam leader Shelly Strand and former exam leader Bill Pappas.  (I won't review Serway's material because I contributed numerous free response items.)

The book that has caught my eye is the supplement to the James S. Walker text from Pearson, pictured at the top of the post.  It's written by Connie Wells, a former member of the AP development committee, my table leader at the AP reading in 2001, and an all-around expert physics teacher.

My first, raw test of an AP prep book is to leaf through and look at topics.  A depressing majority can be immediately defenestrated because they include improper topics, like calorimetry, rotational dynamics, or relativity.  Others can be burned at the stake for including multiple choice questions that obviously require calculators.  Connie's book passes this first test.  She includes review of rotational kinematics and dynamics, because she seems to be tasked to parallel the chapters in the Walker text; however, she is crystal clear that these topics are NOT COVERED on the AP physics B syllabus.  

Every problem that I looked at was right on-level for AP.  She included some simple calculations in the multiple choice, sure, but the majority of her questions require serious conceptual application -- just like on the real AP exam.  Solutions (not just answers) are included.  

I was most pleased that I found laboratory-based free response questions.  Connie was on the development committee while AP was still transitioning from the days of "shut up and calculate" to the current emphasis on verbal expression of conceptual understanding.  She was the primary author of perhaps my all-time favorite AP physics B question, the one about the platinum resistor.  (I can't post it here because I can't find a legit copy online; but look up 2001 problem 5.)  Sure enough, Connie's book includes questions testing lab skills and concepts, including graphical analysis of experimental data.  

I could not recommend this supplement more highly for teachers of AP or honors-level physics.  In my new Honors Physics I course, which is intended to anticipate the College Board's future AP Physics I course, I need to create a whole host of tests and quizzes with new multiple choice items.  Connie's book will be one of my go-to sources.


  1. Are there any good prep books for AP Physics C: Mechanics? or is the market too small? (Hmm, 32,000 took that exam last year, compared to 67,000 for Physics B, so the market is about half the size, which still should be big enough.)

    This year I'm teaching 2 students out of Matter and Interactions, but it would be good to know if there were a short-form book that they could review just before the exam.

    for what I'm planning for the course.)

  2. Hi Greg, I was also wondering if you know any good books for ap phyiscs c? also do you think ap c students would benefit from during selected ap physics b frqs, like your all time favorite 2001 #5??

  3. Ah, now TWO comments asking about physics C stuff. I forgot about the first -- apologies, Gas Station. I'll make this the topic of my next post, which will be as soon as I can get caught up in time for the weekend's debate tournament.