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The Best AP Physics 1 Books for 2019

Article by Jane Newsom. Last Updated: Monday, Oct 15, 2018.

AP Physics 1 Overview

AP Physics 1 is equivalent to a 1 semester introductory level college physics course (algebra based), and lasts a full year. It uses inquiry-based investigation techniques and covers topics like kinematics, dynamics, energy, DC circuits, mechanical waves, and sound. There are no strict prerequisites, but students should have completed geometry and be enrolled in an algebra 2 course. 25% of the course is lab based, and some colleges require lab materials such as notebooks, reports, etc be presented in order to grant credit.

We’ll cover the course, exams, and our picks for the best AP Physics 1 books, Flashcards, and Review Guides for test year 2019 below, but if you just can’t wait, here’s the short list:

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Course Summary

A full Course Description for AP Physics 1 is available from collegeboard.org.

AP Physics 1 covers 6 “Big Ideas”, which include the main principles, theories, and processes used in the discipline:

  • Objects and systems have properties such as mass and charge, and systems may have internal structure.
  • Fields (e.g. electromagnetic) can be used to explain interactions.
  • Interactions between objects can be described by forces (e.g. gravitational).
  • Changes to systems can result from interactions between them.
  • Laws of conservation bound the changes caused from interaction between objects.
  • Waves can transfer energy and momentum from one place to another.

In addition to the big ideas listed above, the AP Physics course integrates 7 common science practices with the course content:

  • The student can use models and representations to solve problems and describe phenomena.
  • Students are able to appropriately use mathematics.
  • The student uses scientific questioning to guide investigations.
  • Students can design and implement data collection strategies to answer questions.
  • Students can analyze and evaluate scientific evidence.
  • Students understand and work with scientific theories.
  • The student can connect knowledge across domains and concepts.

With such a breadth of materials and ideas covered in the AP Physics 1 course, it’s critical that students have the resources they need to succeed.

Exam Summary

Students taking the AP Physics 1 Exam are responsible for demonstrating knowledge of the above mentioned concepts and themes. The student’s knowledge is assessed through a 3 hour exam containing questions in both multiple choice or free response format. The exam is broken up into 2 parts, each worth 50% of a final score between 1 and 5.

The AP Physics 1 exam allows for the use of a calculator (graphing or standard), and students are required to provide their own (see the collegeboard calculator policy).

Section 1: Multiple Choice

  • 1 hour 30 minutes long and covers multiple themes and topics
  • 50 questions (45 multiple choice and 5 with more than 1 correct answer)
  • Accounts for 50% of the final score

Points are awarded for each correct answer, and no points are subtracted for incorrect or unanswered questions.

Section 2: Free Response

  • 1 hour 30 minutes long
  • Contains 5 open ended questions
  • Accounts for 50% of the final score.

Questions in this section are either based on Experimental Design, Qualitative Translation, or Short Answers.

For exam dates, refer to The College Board AP Calendar.

Best AP Physics 1 Books

AP Physics 1 has several strong contenders for the best textbooks and review guides which we’ve ranked for you above. Continue on for detailed information on each one!

Cracking the AP Physics 1 Exam

Cracking the AP Physics 1 Exam
2019 Edition
by Princeton Review
Price:$13.99
(as of 17 Aug 19 10:20 GMT)

Pros: Comprehensive and complete review of exam and course.
Cons: Limited number of practice tests relative to other options.
Best For: Supplemental study aid for the duration of the course and leading up to the exam.
Our Rating: 5 / 5

Cracking the AP Physics 1 Exam is our top pick overall, and our #1 recommendation for students looking for a complete review of the course material. Princeton Review guides are generally quite excellent, and the AP Physics 1 book is no exception. The full list of features include:

  • 2 full length tests with complete answer keys.
  • Practice reviews at the end of each chapter.
  • Step by step walkthroughs of practice questions.
  • Access to online portal with additional resources.

The Cracking the AP Physics 1 Exam guide has some of the best coverage of the important content of the exam and course. With bonus material access through the online portal, this is an overall excellent value and our top recommendation.

5 Steps to a 5: AP Physics 1

5 Steps to a 5: AP Physics 1
2019 Edition
by Greg Jacobs
Price:$21.03
(as of 17 Aug 19 10:20 GMT)

Pros: Best online content of any book on this list.
Cons: Can be difficult to follow in a few spots.
Best For: Complimenting required course textbooks for study throughout the course.
Our Rating: 4.5 / 5

Another strong entry on our list of the top AP Physics 1 review guides in 5 Steps to a 5. It’s got some of the absolute top online content, which makes it a great choice. The full list of features for this book includes:

  • 3 full length practice tests (2 in book and 1 online).
  • Access to cross platform bonus material.
  • Hundreds of practice excercises and answers.
  • Proven test strategies for each section of the test.

Between the strong printed material and the stellar online features, you really can’t go wrong with this guide. It didn’t quite take the top spot on our list, but if you enjoy other works in the 5 Steps to a 5 family, this one won’t steer you wrong.

AP Physics 1 Essentials

AP Physics 1 Essentials
2nd Edition
by Dan Fullerton
Price:$5.49
(as of 17 Aug 19 10:20 GMT)

Pros: Tons of examples with detailed explanations.
Cons: No online content, or actual full length exams.
Best For: Last minute review and cramming leading up to the exam..
Our Rating: 4.0 / 5

AP Physics 1 Essentials is a fantastic review guide for students who have a good handle on the material and want to practice problems like they would on the exam. It’s somewhat abbreviated, which is a plus for students short on time. Features include:

  • Over 600 questions with full solutions and worked out answers.
  • Covers all major topics in the AP Physics exam and course.
  • Over 90 exam-style questions to help you prepare for the exam.

This book is a little different than some of the others on this list, but overall it’s highly recommended due to the sheer number of practice problems and answers. It’s best suited for those looking to round out their studying leading up to the exam. If you’re looking for a more comprehensive aide to use throughout the year, one of the other guides on this list may be better suited.

Barron’s AP Physics 1

Barron's AP Physics 1
1st Edition
by Rideout & Wolf
Price:$11.77
(as of 17 Aug 19 10:20 GMT)

Pros: Good quality practice tests.
Cons: Less detail and depth than some guides.
Best For: Supplemental course material, year-long.
Our Rating: 4.0 / 5

Barron’s AP Physics 1 guide rounds out our list of top AP Physics 1 books. It’s got great practice tests, and an overall good review of the course and exam material. Features include:

  • 3 full length practice tests (2 in book and 1 online).
  • Diagnostic tests help you prioritize studying.
  • Practice questions covering all sections of the exam and course.
  • Tips for all exam sections.

It’s not our top pick for students looking for supplemental study materials, but it’s a decent quality guide that won’t disappoint fans of other Barron’s books.

Best AP Physics 1 Flashcards

In addition to the excellent books mentioned above, AP Physics 1 students will see significant benefits in prepping for the exam using flashcards. Our top picks for Best AP Physics 1 Flashcards are outlined below.

AP Physics Exam Flashcard Study System

AP Physics Exam Flashcard Study System
1st Edition
by AP Exam Secrets
Price:$43.99
(as of 17 Aug 19 10:20 GMT)

Pros: Comprehensive and well organized.
Cons: Some of the cards are relatively simplistic.
Our Rating: 4.0 / 5

Whether to go with AP Physics 1 flashcards is a question best left to each individual student. The cards can serve as an excellent compliment to other last minute review materials and example problems. Obviously, they aren’t as in-depth as a full on study guide, but for the right user they can be helpful.

There’s little need to memorize any of the course contents, but if you treat the cards as review questions, they can serve you well.

Wrapping Up

AP Physics 1 isn’t the most popular AP level science course, but it is an excellent option for students looking to get a leg up. Since each student’s needs can be different and vary over time, we’ve tried to lay out all the pros and cons of each book and given it our own rating.

Our comprehensive list of top AP Physics 1 books are outlined above. Which one is right for you will depend heavily on your specific circumstances. To recap our list of recommendations:

Top Overall RecommendationCracking the AP Physics 1 Exam
Top Pick For Course SupplementCracking the AP Physics 1 Exam
Top Pick For Last Minute PrepAP Physics 1 Essentials
Top Pick For FlashcardsAP Physics Exam Flashcard Study System

Cracking the AP Physics 1 Exam by Princeton Review is our top overall pick and top pick for students who aren’t time constrained. It has a wealth of great information and it’s laid out in a logical and easy to consume way.

AP Physics 1 Essentials is our top pick for students facing more of a time crunch. It cuts out a lot of the fluff, and focuses more on example problems. It won’t help you go from 0 to 60 without a good understanding of the course material, but it will help you hone your exam techniques.

Whatever your circumstance, supplemental study and review materials are a key part of ensuring success on the exam. We’ve listed some of the best AP Physics 1 resources available. Good luck, and study hard!

Sources and Further Reading

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