Posted in AP Advanced Placement, Curriculum, High School, Science

A Little Bit About Physics

Physics is often the “last” science a student takes in high school- if at all.  Let’s face it, it’s too much math for most people, because, well, physics is math!  

Navigating physics gave me fits for years until I read a recent post from SolarKat over on InstantCert.  For those who want to study physics, he shares some great advice and gave me permission to share it here with all of you.

“I would encourage a LOT of math. Physics, at its heart, is math. Plus, if your student decides he wants to go further with physics, he’s likely to need Calculus 1, Calculus 2, Multivariable Calculus, Differential Equations, Linear Algebra, and Statistics. Ideally Numerical Methods, too.”

Ok, wow!  That’s a lot to digest.  Let’s take it down a few levels and look at physics as a subject.  (In my case, I wanted this explained to me like I’m a 10-year-old so this might be a little too simple for some of you.) In short, “real scientists” tell you that physics must be calculus-based.  When asking more about the differences, this was the reply:

“in algebra-based physics, you let the partition of finite difference and summation goes to 0, you will get a calculus-based physics. Nothing else more than that.”


Huh?!  Ok, that’s not like I’m a 10-year-old.  So, after more digging, I’ve reduced physics into the absolute simplest terms that I could understand.  If you need more depth, the physics forum referenced above is excellent.  But, I think this says it all:

“To really understand physics, I think you have to understand calculus, but calculs largley came from physics so they are intertwined. Just about all physics equations are dervied with some help from calculus.”


There are essentially 2 types of introductory physics

Physics 1 (Mechanics)

Physics 2 (Electromagnetics)

Both types will fall into either

Algebra-based (non-science)

Calculus-based (science)

So, as you navigate the high school physics options and the college credit options, my recommendation is to take into consideration your teen’s long-term college and career goals.  If your student will major in any of the liberal arts or career fields (even pre-med) then algebra-based physics will meet their needs!  If your student is headed into any of the hard sciences, engineering, or math, then you’ll want to start them on the proper path (calculus-based) after they’ve studied calculus.

The MOST IMPORTANT takeaway I can offer you is to know which type of mathematical base is being used in the class before you sign up your teen, and choose based on their long-term study plans.

For your science major teen:  wait until after calculus 1 to begin the study of physics.

For your non-science major teen:  study physics anytime or after algebra 2.

AP Physics (Credit by Exam) 

  • AP Physics C: Electricity and Magnetism (Calculus-based)
    AP Physics C: Mechanics (Calculus-based)
    AP Physics 1: Algebra-Based (Mechanics) formerly called AP Physics B
    AP Physics 2: Algebra-Based (Electromagnetics) formerly called AP Physics B


Popular High School Physics Curriculum

  • Conceptual Physics (Algebra-based)
  • Saxon Physics (Algebra-based)
  • DIVE Physics (Algebra-based)
  • Exploration Education Physical Science Course (Algebra-based)
  • Novare Physical Science: A Mastery-Oriented Curriculum (Algebra-based)
  • Robinson Curriculum (Calculus-based)
  • A.C.E. Physical Science (Algebra-based)
  • BJU Press Physics (Algebra-based)
  • Apologia Advanced Physics (Algebra-based)


Free Physics Curriculum/Classes


College Credit Options for High School Students

  • AP exams:  anyone can take an AP exam.  Use your favorite algebra-based or calculus-based physics curriculum to prepare for the AP exam.  AP exams are worth advanced standing or college credit at most colleges.   2017 AP exam dates
  • Saylor Academy Physics 1 (Calculus-based)
  • Saylor Academy Physics II (Calculus-based)
    • Both of the Saylor courses offer a $25 college credit exam at the completion of the course.  The type of college credit awarded is ACE credit, and not well accepted by colleges, but is guaranteed transfer through their direct partner colleges or the Alternative Credit Project arrangement.
  • Straighterline General Physics 1 with Lab (Calculus-based)
    • Straighterline awards ACE credit for successful completion of the course.  ACE credit is not well accepted by colleges but is guaranteed transfer through their partnership agreements with 100 colleges or Alternative Credit Project.
  • Dual Enrollment:  contact your local community college to see if your teen is eligible for college enrollment as a high school student.
  • CLEP Exam:  only about 25% of the CLEP exam Natural Sciences contains algebra-based physics 1 & 2.  (another 25% chemistry, and 50% biology)  There is no CLEP exam specifically for physics.
  • DSST Exam:  50% of the DSST Physical Science exam contains algebra-based physics 1 & 2.  (the other 50% is chemistry).  There is no DSST exam specifically for physics.



2 thoughts on “A Little Bit About Physics

  1. Wow awesome blog you got here! I never realized there were so many plus sides to homeschooling! I’m actually about to go to college so this was really eye opening. Check out my major blog and follow me back? 🙂


Comments are closed.

%d bloggers like this: