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Experimental Design FRQs on AP Physics

FRQ guide for

Understanding the Experimental Design Questions on the AP Physics Exam

This blog post is relevant for students of both AP Physics 1 and AP Physics C. Despite the difference in exam duration and the detail required in responses, the fundamental approach to experimental design questions remains consistent. By following the tips outlined below and practicing regularly, students can develop strong skills in experimental design, crucial for success in both exams. Find our exclusive Experimental Design FRQ Guide at the bottom of the page!

The AP Physics 1 exam consists of two main sections: multiple choice and free response. The free-response section, which comes second, contains five distinct types of questions, one of which focuses on experimental design.

Free Response Section Breakdown:

1. Experimental Design (1 question):

- Purpose: Assesses students' ability to design and describe a scientific investigation, analyze authentic laboratory data, and identify patterns or explain phenomena.

- Typical Time Allocation: 25 minutes.

- Appearance: This question appears in both the AP Physics 1 and AP Physics C exams. While the Physics C exam is shorter (1.5 hours), the experimental design questions are generally less elaborate and can often be completed in under 15 minutes. However, the style and expectations remain very similar across both exams.

2. Qualitative/Quantitative Translation (1 question):

- Purpose: Assesses students' ability to translate between quantitative and qualitative justification and reasoning.

3. Short Answer: Paragraph Argument (1 question):

- Purpose: Assesses students' ability to create a paragraph-length response that contains a coherent argument about a physics phenomenon using the information presented in the question, leading to a logical conclusion.

4. Short Answer (2 questions):

- Purpose: Focuses on practices and learning objectives not covered by the other question types.

Key Tips for Tackling the Experimental Design Question:

1. Understand the Requirements:

- Carefully read the prompt to understand what is being asked. Identify the variables, hypothesis, and the experimental method you need to describe.

- Pay attention to any specific instructions regarding data analysis, patterns, or phenomena that need to be explained.

2. Design a Clear and Logical Experiment:

- Outline the steps of your experiment in a logical order. Make sure to include all necessary details such as the equipment needed, the procedure, and the data collection methods.

- Be precise and concise in your description. Clarity is crucial.

3. Analyze Data and Identify Patterns:

- If the question provides data, analyze it thoroughly. Look for trends, patterns, or anomalies.

- Explain how the data supports or refutes the hypothesis.

4. Draw Conclusions:

- Based on your analysis, draw a conclusion that ties back to the hypothesis and the experimental data.

- Be prepared to explain any discrepancies or unexpected results.

5. Practice:

- Regularly practice with past AP Physics exam questions. This will help you become familiar with the format and the type of thinking required.

Tips for bringing Clarity and Precision while answering the EDFRQs:

1. Procedure Documentation

- Write a clear and concise procedure.

- Use numbered steps to make the sequence easy to follow.

2. Diagram Labeling

- If a diagram is needed, label each part and piece of equipment clearly.

3. Variable Identification

- Clearly identify which variables can be measured with each piece of equipment.

4. Naming Variables

- Use the full name of the variable (e.g., "time") rather than just its symbol (e.g., "t") when writing the procedure.

5. Differentiate Calculated vs. Measured Values

- Do not confuse directly measured variables with those calculated from measurements (e.g., velocity can be calculated as distance/time or measured directly with a speedometer).

6. Data Analysis

- Graphing Variables: Describe how you will graph the variables and what information you expect to obtain, such as the slope or the area under the curve (AUC).

- Interpreting Graphs: Explain the physical meaning of the graph's features, such as the intercept.

- Dealing with Uncertainty: Acknowledge that every measuring device has inherent uncertainty and discuss how this might affect the results. For example, measuring distance with a meter stick and considering its precision.

Common Equipment and Their Variable Equivalents


Measuring Equipment


Stopwatch or timer


Meter stick for shorter distances, measuring tape for longer distances






Photogate, speedometer, or motion detector


Force probe or spring scale

These tips can help ensure your experimental design is clear, precise, and easy to follow, leading to more reliable and accurate results.

Designing experiments in AP Physics requires a blend of theoretical knowledge and practical skills. By following these steps, you can create robust experiments that yield valuable insights into physical phenomena.

While concentrated self-study can be sufficient to achieve a score of 5 on the AP Physics exam, having a mentor can significantly ease the process. A skilled tutor can save you time, make learning more efficient and lasting, and make the entire experience more enjoyable. Consider reaching out to Rajat Sir for AP Physics tutoring. With his expertise and passion for the subject, he can guide you through the complexities of experimental design and help you achieve your academic goals.

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