AP Physics C (M & E/M) self-study?

Hey there!

I’m currently a junior and am taking AP Lang, AP Calc AB, AP Bio, AP Phys 1, and AP Comp Sci. I’m doing well, A’s in all classes, and have a special interest in physics, biology, and math. My school unfortunately offers only algebra-based physics courses (AP Physics 1 & 2). For this reason, I plan on self-studying AP Physics C both Mechanics and E/M, this summer.

Considering I have a year of physics (AP Phys 1) and a good level of calculus (AP Calc AB), is it doable? I will devote my entire summer to this (there’s nothing much I can do with lockdown anyway). I will also keep reviewing and practicing throughout my senior year in order to prepare for the AP exam. I will be taking AP Lit, AP Calc BC, AP Stats, and AP Chem my senior year.

Thanks in advance!

(I’m not well acquainted with college confidential and may have posted this question in the wrong place, sorry!)

Calc-based General Physics 1 is usually often as a co-requisite with Calc 2 (Calc 2 is more comprehensive than AP Calc BC but they are basically interchangeable). Is it doable? I guess so… since you’re self-studying you don’t have anything to lose. No grades will be reported because you’re self-study and you can always scrap the AP score it if it doesn’t go well. Won’t be easy (and fair warning that Calc-based Physics is a lot beefier than algebra-based Physics). But hey, if you love Physics it’s a good way to spend your time! Can’t hurt, right?

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You can’t think of anything more interesting to you than studying for a standardized exam over the summer?

It is hard for me to see the benefit in spending the summer doing this. Be clear that selective colleges will NOT impressed when you tell them that’s how you spent your summer. Depending on where you go to college you may already be bumping up against the max # of AP credits that can be transferred, and it may or may not be useful in terms of exemption from coursework.


I understand that it’s not the best way to spend my summer. I’m currently part of a research program that might extend into the summer. I will most likely split my time accordingly to self-study and work on my research project. And as bmprok said I don’t have much to lose, so I could spend some time on it and give the exam a shot!

I’ve spent a lot of time on extracurricular activities all throughout high school in hope of keeping junior year a bit more free, along with the following summer. But I agree that spending all my time during the summer was a bad idea. Thanks for the eye-opener!

In terms of the course itself, I’m currently enrolled in both Physics C courses and I have several friends taking Physics 1. If you’re already taking Calc, your background there (especially in terms of integration) will help eliminate some initial confusion in terms of formulas so that you can really understand them. However, of all the AP’s I’ve taken I’d definitely say Physics C would be a tough one to self-study for because (at least for me) I’ve found practice problems to be incredibly difficult to intuitively understand (some require formulas, assumptions, or derivations that seem to come from nowhere), so it’s hard to grasp what line of thinking you should be using without the guidance of an instructor.

So if you were to self-study for the test, you’d probably end up with a good understanding of fundamental physics-related concepts, but you might find yourself struggling with FRQs and application-based problems, especially since Physics C is not only concept heavy but skill heavy (and to a greater depth than Physics 1), which is hard to get in a year (let alone a summer).

If you have specific questions about course content though, I’d be happy to answer them!

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Thank you for the response! I think I’ll try it out and talk to my current physics teacher and ask him about it. I see where you’re going with learning concepts vs. actually practicing and applying what one learns to the AP questions. I’ll keep that in mind!

I have a question about course content, however. Does AP Phys 1 cover all of the physics concepts covered in AP Phys C, or only some? Looking at CollegeBoard’s course page, it looks like AP Phys 1 covers all concepts in AP Phys C: Mech and only covers some from E/M. I understand that AP Phys C also includes calculus, while AP Phys 1 is only algebra-based.

Great! As far as course content, it does seem (from what I’ve heard from my friends) that Physics C Mechanics does cover a lot of the same Physics 1 content just much earlier in the year (i.e. we covered kinetic/potential energy a few months before them). So I’d expect Physics C to move at a much faster pace and go more in-depth with calculus added in. In that way, Physics 1 would probably provide a really great foundation for the course!

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Great! Thanks for the information!

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Some of us actually enjoy math and science. I’ve spent untold hours teaching myself math and physics up through trying tensor calculus/advanced relativity (where I realized I hit my limit) because I find the fields fascinating.

OP, if it’s something you enjoy, and there aren’t better options, I think this is fine. I might not recommend actually skipping Physics 1/2 in college based on self-study, as there’s a lot to learn in an actual classroom, but you’ll have a leg up.

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@RichInPitt, my physics kid could - and did!- find ways to immerse herself in the aspects of physics that were most interesting to her over the summer. And yes, that background gave her a “leg up” when she came to those topics in class. But doing a workbook whose goal is teaching you how to prep for a standardized test? W/o being able to do the labs for it? The odds on doing it well enough to exempt you from doing a core class if it is a genuine interest are tiny- even if you do well on the actual AP.


Based on gblnc23’s response, I believe it’s best for me to self-study at least AP Phys C: Mech, because AP Phys 1 covers a lot of the concept, and APC: Mech only introduces a few more, along with calculus. I’ve taken a year of introductory physics and a year of calculus, and I feel like I can definitely give it a shot! My plan is to start/begin studying AP Phys C: Mech right now as I’m approaching the end of my AP Phys 1 class, and since I have a solid foundation in AP Calc AB, I can get used to applying calculus in physics. This way, I can get a headstart and put more focus on AP Phys C: E/M over the summer, and extend my study into my senior year if needed.

As RichInPitt said, I probably won’t skip these courses in college, but am only self-studying it out of pure interest, and of course, I will aim for a good AP score as well! Taking collegemom3717’s response into account, I can always drop my study if I feel overloaded/have other commitments/extracurriculars that are worth pursuing! Even if I don’t take the AP exam/don’t score well, I would’ve gained some valuable self-study experience and would’ve introduced myself to some really challenging material, helping me succeed later in college!

Thank you all for the great advice!

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