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I heard a good joke the other day. “A student walks into an AP Physics Exam, turns in a manuscript and says, ‘Well, I worked really hard on this,’ and believes that he should receive passing marks because of it.”

That is courageous. Or crazy. Maybe a little bit of both!

The fact that a 17 year old student created such a cohesive and well-versed text should not be overlooked. The expansive knowledge of the conceptual issues pertaining to thermodynamics and physics and how they developed demands our attention.

However, and unfortunately for this student, the reality of the situation is that conceptual understanding is NOT enough to pass an AP Physics Exam. CollegeBoard provides an online manual regarding the exam and within it states, “This framework focuses on the big ideas in an introductory college-level physics sequence and provides students with enduring, conceptual understandings of foundational physics principles. This approach enables students to spend less time on mathematical routines and more time engaged in inquiry-based learning of essential concepts, and it will help them develop the critical
thinking and reasoning skills necessary to engage in the science practices used throughout their study of algebra-based AP Physics and subsequent course work in science disciplines” (page 13, or 20/242). While it is absolutely necessary to display an understanding of the concepts, the exam also tests the mathematical capabilities of the student. Physics requires a rigorous mathematical understanding of the the concepts, because the mathematical “tool belt” allows the user to prove why the concepts are true (or false).

Another problem present within the manuscript is the lack of information regarding most of the topics that are actually covered on the exam. These include, according to CollegeBoard on page 5 (technically page 12/242), approximately 17 different topics covered between AP Physics 1 and 2. This means that most of the manuscript was created enveloping less than a quarter of those topics. The author does discuss some of the “bridges” between work, (conservation of) energy, kinematics, and thermodynamics, but this is not enough to persuade me that there is a full understanding about all of the topics covered in the exam.

While the student has displayed a vast knowledge of the history and essential facts of matter about thermodynamics, I do not believe this would suffice as a substitute for completing the AP Physics Exam. That being said, I don’t think a student who could create such a manuscript would attempt this. I think that student would likely be taking his or her academic career a bit more seriously.

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