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20 April 2016

Reviewing for the AP Physics 1 exam - three general approaches

Several folks have asked about reviewing -- "tapering" -- for the AP Physics 1 exam in two weeks.  Should we be doing anything different for Physics 1 than we did for Physics B?

First, my general notes about the leadup to the AP Physics exams:

* The last two weeks are the time to do LESS work, not more.  Remember, most of your students are taking other AP exams, and the teachers in those courses are pushing hard.  You'll get more out of your students if you assign, say, one free response problem per night, or maybe three multiple choice with justification required.

* On that note, it doesn't take much to remind your students of concepts you've discussed earlier in the year.  Sure, it's frustrating for half your class to say that the bigger force must be in the direction of movement, especially since you went over and over and over that issue back in October.  But this time, most of your students just need the brief reminder that comes from screwing up (again).  Make sure they have the chance to make all the canonical mistakes one last time before the exam.

* Don't teach your students to game the test!  This means don't try to predict what topics will be on the free response, don't attempt to find patterns in answer choices or in past free response rubrics.  Students who show a solid knowledge of physics will do well; those without solid physics knowledge cannot do better with One Weird Trick.

* Generally, folks are better off knowing how to do a few things well then how to do everything kinda okay.  Especially with students who are unlikely to earn 5s, help them truly master a few topics.

Those of you who were in the trenches for AP Physics B remember the enormous breadth of the course.  Especially for my top students, the last two weeks were all about quick reminders of seemingly hundreds of topics.  Some of the techniques I used for this broad review are still applicable.  

1. I still use fundamentals quizzes extensively 

These are quizzes where answers are straight-up, memorized facts.  I still do the 4-minute drill.  Start with basic recall... all the work you did this year means that your students probably have perfectly good problem solving skills.*  So be sure they know the facts from which they can solve problems.

* And if they don't, not much you can do about it now -- problem solving is an art form that is learned over months.

That said, the facts that I've asked students to learn are a bit more complicated now.  In the old days, I was often asking for recall of equations, or of problem solving techniques.  Now, my questions are a bit more conceptual.  Not "write the three kinematics equations," but "when are the kinematics equations valid?"  Not, "write the work-energy theorem," but "when no external forces act on a system, what quantity is conserved?"  If you'd like some sample fundamentals quizzes, email me; if you'd like the whole lot of these that I used this year, come to my summer institutes, and you can have a ginormous CD-ROM.

2. In class, I'm still doing creative lab work.

In Physics B, the last weeks were spent working problem after problem.  But since the topics in Physics 1 are so limited, and since deep understanding of physical situations is so prized, I've changed that approach.

We've been doing released AP 1 and AP B problems for homework each night.  In class, though, we've not just "gone over" the problems... we've set up the situations in lab.  So far we've performed the experiment suggested by each of the 2015 released AP 1 free response questions.  

This approach has sort of replaced my "exam corrections".  Instead of asking pointed questions about the mistakes my students made on these problems, we're actually doing the experiment, and then I've followed up with a problem in laboratory format.  Again, if you'd like a set of these laboratory-format AP 1 questions, email me, or come to my summer institutes.

3. And I use these cool simulations

Take a look at this post, where I discuss Taft School's simulation labs in preparation for the AP Physics 1 exam.  As regular readers know, simulations do not replace or replicate real experimentation.  However, at this point in the year when students should be more than comfortable with laboratory investigations, playing with good simulations (like the ones at the linked site) can be useful and fun.  Best of all, they can be done at home OR in class.  

These Taft simulations are perfectly set up for AP 1.  They truly simulate experiments that can in principle be performed.  They allow for students to control multiple variables.  You can use them to quantitatively verify quick calculational predictions; you can use them to predict qualitative trends and answer "what happens if" questions; or you can use them to make full-on experimental graphs which can be linearized, and the slope used to measure a quantity.  How versatile.

Do you have a different approach to AP review?  

Please post in the comments.  The best physics teachers adapt multiple approaches learned from others, and make the combinations of approaches their own.  You can read probably 30 different approaches of mine to exam review on this blog.  Let's hear other thoughts, too...


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