AP Physics 1 Exam: 2021 Results
The following data reflect the 136,238 students worldwide who took either the paper or the digital AP Physics 1 Exam prior to June 12.
AP Physics 1 Score Distributions, 2019 vs. 2021
The following table enables comparisons of student performance in 2021 to student performance on the comparable full-length exam prior to the covid-19 pandemic.
Out of these 136,238 students, 4 answered every multiple-choice question correctly and received perfect scores on all 5 free-response questions by every college professor and AP teacher who scored their work.
It’s also important to honor the work of students who did not qualify for a score of 3+, but who nonetheless developed basic understandings and skills in the course. As a reminder, the most recent research on students who achieve a score of 2 in AP Physics 1 found that they proceed to earn significantly higher grades when taking the course in college than students with the same high school GPA, SAT score, race, and gender. And these outcomes are stronger for AP Physics 1 students who receive a 2 than they are for students receiving 2s in most other AP subjects.
The May 5 In-School Paper Exam
The largest exam date for AP Physics 1 was May 5, so the following information is specific to the exam version administered on that date.
Students scored slightly higher on the multiple-choice section than on the free-response questions.
- Course Units:
- AP Physics 1 students generally scored similarly across all units, with slightly stronger performance overall on Unit 1, Kinematics, followed by Unit 7, Torque and Rotational Motion.
- Science Practices:
- AP Physics 1 students’ strongest skills were Science Practice 4, Experimental Methods, and Science Practice 5, Data Analysis.
- The most challenging skill for AP Physics students was generally Science Practice 2, Mathematical Routines.
- AP Physics 1 students generally performed best on Question 2, Experimental Design. An impressive 25% of AP Physics 1 students earned 10–12 points out of 12 possible.
- By far the most challenging question on this year’s exam was Question 1; ~3% of students earned all 7 of 7 points possible.
The Digital Exams
To support student access, different testing modes—paper and digital—were essential. To protect exam security, many different exam versions were necessary. Accordingly, to provide students with similar opportunities for success regardless of which version they took, each version of the exam had to be analyzed separately by psychometricians to identify its unique difficulty level so that standards for scores of 3, 4, and 5 could then be separately identified for each exam version. Analyses focused on:
- Differences in the testing mode (paper or digital). For sections of the exam that proved easier to take digitally, the digital versions require more points for each AP score. For sections of the exam that proved easier to take on paper, the paper exam requires more points for each AP score.
- Differences in the difficulty of specific questions. When exam questions prove easier, more points are required for each AP score, and when exam questions prove more difficult, fewer points are required on one version than another.
- The net result for this year’s AP Physics 1 Exams is that out of 80 points possible, some of the digital versions were slightly easier than the paper versions and some of the digital versions were slightly more difficult than the paper versions. Accordingly:
- Students taking one of the slightly easier digital versions needed to earn 1–3 more points to earn a score of 3+, depending on their version, than students who took the paper exam on May 5.
- Students taking one of the slightly more difficult digital versions needed to earn 1–5 fewer points to earn a score of 3+, depending on their version, than students who took the paper exam on May 5.