Blog: AP Physics C

AP Physics C was my Grade 12 Physics course and by far the most challenging course I've ever taken (and "probably one of the most demanding high school physics programs in North America"). Rather than a conventional high school course, AP Physics took it up several notches, all thanks to our teacher, Mr. van Bemmel, nicknamed "vB".

Unlike other high school courses where the teacher would be interacting often with the class, occasionally going over questions or picking someone to give an answer, AP Physics was taught through a series of university-style lectures. Although the course covered everything in the regular curriculum, the level was that of first and second-year physics. I was expected to know first-year calculus going into the course (which had been previously covered in Grade 11) as the lectures frequently explained concepts and proofs using integration and differential equations.

In addition, the course included units in celestial mechanics, space science, and astrophysics. To cover everything in five short months, a new topic was introduced almost every day, with at least one test every week. Each test consisted of only four questions, but they required an acute understanding of the current section and the ability to apply that knowledge to complex, multi-step problems, even being as abstract as proofs.


There were five labs to complete and a final summative project, all of which required extensive learning beyond what was taught in class. Due to their complexity, AP Physics took up two periods (~3 hours): one solely dedicated for lectures, and another for lab work. Despite this, we were often staying after school to squeeze in another hour or two to work. We were given slightly less than a month to complete each lab, which included data collection, analysis, and the formal lab report.

I have a repo on Github which contains several Matlab scripts that were used for analyzing and graphing data, and two C++ simulations. Our lab group also decided to use LaTeX rather than MS Word to format lab reports. A default lab template is available in the repo along with an example of a lab report (some parts redacted to hide from younger years).


The final project was a fitting finish to such a crazy course: we built a fully functioning wind tunnel, equipped with sensors and digital displays that could accurately measure and output the lift and drag forces on an airfoil. The wind tunnel was connected to a computer and controlled using a Java GUI. It required months of planning and designing, which was all packaged into a prospectus prior to construction. The prospectus outlined the design of each section of the tunnel, all the electronic components such as the DC motor and the force sensors, and the software components. It also included 3D models of the necessary parts for the frame, and explained the theory of the wind flow and the airfoils.

The final Java GUI (source + compiled binary), along with the Arduino protocol and testing code, are available in the same repo.

Overall, the course was more than just learning physics; the complete change in style and workload was something that I would inevitably experience in university, and I believe being able to get a taste of it during the comfort of high school will definitely prepare me for the future. For more information about the course, visit my teacher's website.

If you are a TOPS student and questioning whether to take this course, here's some advice:

  • This course is a physics course that deals with first-year calculus. If you don't plan on enrolling in a technical program in university, the course content may not be very useful, and you might be better off taking biology or chemistry instead.
  • This course can provide a glimpse at a university course. As vB would say,
  • This course will take up a lot of your time.
  • If you are worried about marks, there is a multiplier applied to your mark at the end of term. Historically, it's been 1.2x, which means a 83% will be boosted to 99.6% going into the final.
  • If you remain undecided, I would recommend to enroll anyways. While you can't transfer into the course, you do have the choice to transfer out two months into the course (on the last day of October).