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10 June 2014

"Honors Physics" as an obsolete concept -- determining readiness for AP Physics 1 and 2

Vidhya writes in:

I was hoping that you would be able to provide some insight to a question I have about teaching the new AP Physics 1 course.  In my school students have previously taken Honors Physics before AP Physics. However, with the changes in the AP course, some feel that the information offered will be redundant and are thinking of just waiting until we offer AP Physics 2 the following year. In Honors Physics we cover Newtonian Mechanics – no electricity or rotational motion. Instead, I am seeing a lot of students who have never taken a physics course signing up for AP Physics 1.

In your opinion, is it better for students to have physics experience before taking Physics 1? Will students who are coming from Honors Physics where many of the topics are covered already be bored in Physics1? 

Hi, Vidhya!  This is one of the more common questions I've been asked about the redesigned AP courses.

Unlike Physics B, Physics 1 is in fact intended as a first year course.  Top students who have had a truly rigorous honors course are likely better off in AP Physics 2.  Topic coverage isn't what's important in that decision... it's purely the rigor of the honors course.  

Try giving some of these students the practice AP Physics 1 exam.  If they can't do it, then they really should do the AP Physics 1 course, because they'll be lost in physics 2.  If they can do fine on the non-rotational non-electricity questions, they should move into physics 2, where they will likely excel.

I'd suggest that an "Honors Physics" course is now essentially obsolete.  A student who is qualified for an honors course can do AP Physics 1 just fine as a first year course.  Then that student can go into physics 2. Many schools are replacing their honors physics - AP Physics B sequence by just AP Physics 1 - AP Physics 2.

Good luck!



  1. Following along this line -- Is it wise that a student take AP Physics 1 as their first physics course? Thanks!

    1. Aagh! I just see this comment now... Yes, it is absolutely wise. AP Physics 1 is intended by the College Board as a first-year course.

      Now, some students may not be ready for AP 1 in their first exposure to physics. Some college-bound students will benefit from taking a general-level course first, something like a New York Regents-style class. However, anyone who is beyond this basic level should try AP Physics 1. It is exactly equivalent to what "honors" classes have been -- or at least should have been -- in the past.