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The Student News Site of Great Neck North High School

Guide Post

The Student News Site of Great Neck North High School

Guide Post

AP Physics C: A Look Into the Notorious “Monster” Class

AP Physics C is notoriously known for its difficult curriculum and impossible tests. However, what many people are unaware of are the fun times the class has to offer and the almost cult-like community that emerges through joint “trauma”. Here’s a look into AP Physics C!

Each year, a group of students can be seen flocked together, transpiring from class to class and frantically whispering unintelligible words. As other people pass by the crowd, they may hear a sudden cry of success or another cry of despair. Many may mistake these students for a cult when in reality, it is just the Advanced Placement (AP) Physics C, also known as APC, class studying for a possible pop quiz. 

Look! People still smile in APC (Credit: Joshua Rafaeil).

AP Physics C has long been known in North High history as the hardest class offered. It is a full-year course that requires students to have taken the Biology, Physics, and Chemistry Regents, to be enrolled in AP Calculus, and to have received a department recommendation. For the first half of the year, the primary emphasis is on classical electricity and magnetism in which the use of calculus in problem-solving and derivations increases as the course progresses. It is during this time that students feel is hardest due to the new transition they are experiencing as well as the considerable amount of work they need to do in and out of the classroom. Electricity and Magnetism also tends to be harder than Mechanics, which is taught in the second half of the year. As a result, AP Physics C teacher, Mr. Lawson, teaches this unit in the beginning when the seniors in the class are still motivated and have not become “second-semester seniors”. The class culminates with the taking of both the AP Physics C: Electricity and Magnetism exam and AP Physics C: Mechanics exam in May. 

Senior Joshua Rafaeil’s hair rising as a result of his contact with the Van de Graaff generator (Credit: Skyler Damaghi).

With a class that covers two AP curriculums in one year and is known to lower a student’s GPA, it takes a special group of students truly passionate about physics and confident in their knowledge to take the course. This year, there are a total of 16 students, a relatively small number in comparison to previous years. Only one person has dropped so far which is partly attributed to there not being any more space in the AP Environmental Science class during that period, but also the community that the class has built through fun activities and difficulty.

One memorable lab was the Van de Graaff generator lab which taught students key concepts in electrostatics, a major unit that comprises about 30% of the AP Physics C: Electricity and Magnetism Test. Students were seen experimenting with electrocution and their hair also rose as a result of electrostatic conduction.

Mr. Lawson demonstrating electrostatic induction with the Van de Graaff generator (Credit: Joshua Rafaeil).
Mr. Lawson demonstrating electrostatic induction with the Van de Graaff generator (Credit: Joshua Rafaeil).

When reminiscing on the Van de Graaff generator lab senior Adrian Shiu said, “I have had an electrostatic experience in [AP] Physics C. I was attracted to the class from the start and looking back, physics has become an integral part of my academic life.” 

Another memorable lab was an electrophorus lab in which students experimented with a foam cup, aluminum pie pan, small foil ball, styrofoam pad, and piece of wool. Not only did the class learn about polarization, but also enjoyed themselves and bonded with each other.

Although prospective students should approach the class with considerable caution, current students have had more of a positive experience.

Senior Cecilia Albin said, “I think the material we’re learning is very interesting and although it’s a difficult class, it’s not as bad as what other people made it sound. If you put in the effort, you can succeed.”

Junior Ashley Liu expresses similar sentiments; however, she warns, “This is by far the hardest class I’ve ever taken. Do not slack off, even though it seems like the class is taught in a different language. Every day I live in debilitating fear that a pop quiz will be given.”

Diagram of how AP Physics C students carried out the electrophorus lab (Credit:

Mr. Lawson, who has been teaching the course for years now, offers insight into some trends he has observed from students transitioning into the AP Physics C class.

Mr. Lawson said, “The biggest thing [that students struggle with] is that you can get a student very good in math; however, being good at math will only help the student succeed to an extent. Sometimes “regular” math doesn’t translate to physics math.”

In general, the material is challenging. It takes a special person to be able to imagine three-dimensional figures and picture the scenario of each problem in their mind’s eye. For students who believe they can accomplish these feats, Mr. Lawson offers advice.

Mr. Lawson said, “[Students should be] comfortable with making mistakes. This course tends to attract serious students but it is also important to have fun.”

Ultimately, AP Physics C is not designed only for “smart students.” It is for students who are truly passionate about the physical sciences, are willing to put in the work to succeed, and are looking to build an unbreakable community.

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About the Contributor
Lillian Wu, Associate Editor
Lillian Wu is one of Guide Post’s associate editors. She enjoys writing, playing Go, looking at brain teasers, and is an officer for the Pre-Med Club. She is also part of the swim, winter track, and spring track teams. In addition to writing for Guide Post, Lillian enjoys volunteering in her free time and learning new things. Whether at school or home, you can find her daydreaming and thinking about life.

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