AAPT.org - American Association of Physics Teachers

Frequently Asked Questions

Before the contest

Taking the contest

After the contest

Before the contest

Taking the contest

After the contest

  • What is the PhysicsBowl?
  • The PhysicsBowl is a competition for high school students and schools. Every year in April, students and schools compete by answering 40 multiple choice questions from topics taken in high school physics.

  • What kind of questions appear on this exam?
  • The questions on the PhysicsBowl are taken from high school physics. This is a broad answer as high school students take everything from conceptual physics to AP Physics B/C and even modern physics. As this is a contest, it is NOT expected that any one person/school will cover all of the topics on the test.

  • When does the contest take place?
  • Traditionally, the PhysicsBowl takes place during the month of April. In order to have results at a time when schools are still in session, the date has been moving toward the start of the month. Also, because schools often have a Spring Break in the month of April, the contest has a range of dates during which it can be taken. There is a cut-off date for scantron sheets to be received for scoring however... typically 6 days after the last day the contest can be administered.

  • Who can take this exam?
  • Any high school student can take the contest, but anyone in K-12 could potentially take the contest.

  • What is the "team" competition?
  • The team competition is done by school. The top 5 scores from a school in a particular region/division are added together to give the team score. All schools within the region/division are compared and prizes are awarded to the top 2 team scores. A school can compete with fewer than 5 students comprising the team (although this will decrease the probability of winning) and a school can compete with a team in both Division 01 and Division 02.

  • What are the awards associated with the contest?
  • The awards change from year-to-year, but there are awards given each year to the top 2 students in each region/division and also to each of the top 2 schools in each region/division.

  • How do I register my students for this contest?
  • The application form can be accessed through the following link (go to "To Enter"): Registration information
  • We have more than one instructor giving the contest... do we need more than one teacher code?
  • NO... in fact, this year there will be a change in that ONLY teacher code will be required for a school to compete, so it is imperative that only 1 teacher code be used per school.

  • What are my options for giving the contest?
  • Currently, the PhysicsBowl can be given in one of two options...
    • PDF $20.00 for 5 copies ($4 per student)
      You can order a .PDF of the exam. Here, the cost is $20.00 for 5 students (cost includes shipping and handling) and the packet includes the scantron sheets. When you receive the password to download the exam, you will need to make a copy for each student.

    • WebAssign ($4 per student)
      The cost here is $4.00 per student. You do not need to be using WebAssign with your classes in order to use this option. The exam is 100% online (along with equation and constant sheets)

  • I'm using WebAssign to adminster the contest... where are the passwords for the exams?
  • The passwords will be on the instruction sheet that you receive from AAPT. Should you lose that instruction sheet, please contact someone on the Contact People page to receive the passwords.

  • What is the difference between the 2 divisions?
    • Division 01
      Division 01 is reserved for students taking their first course in physics.
      A first course in physics can be varied... anything from conceptual physics through AP Physics can be a student's first exposure.
      On this contest, some topics will be from the AP curriculum, while other questions could be taken from a conceptual course (e.g., on phases of the Moon) not covered in an AP course.
      A student having completed a year of physics but not enrolled in a second physics course (e.g., as a junior, a student takes Honors Physics and then takes no physics as a senior) is eligible to compete in Division 01

    • Division 02
      Division 02 is for students taking a second (or more) course in physics or for any student wishing a challenge. The questions on this part of the contest generally are tougher than those encountered in Division 01 because of both depth and breadth.

  • For which region do my students register?
  • The contest is broken down into geographical regions, except for specialized and magnet schools of science, mathematics, and technology which compete in their own region. The list of regions is as follows (note the changes in red from 2013):
  • 01 Specialized Schools of Science, Mathematics, and Technology (NCSSSMST members, e.g.)
  • 02 Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, Vermont
  • 03 New York, Ontario, Quebec, Newfoundland and Labrador, Prince Edward Island, New Brunswick, Nova Scotia
  • 04 New Jersey, Pennsylvania
  • 05 Delaware, District of Columbia, Maryland, North Carolina, Virginia, West Virginia
  • 06 Florida, Georgia, South Carolina, Puerto Rico, Virgin Islands
  • 07 Indiana, Kentucky, Michigan, Ohio
  • 08 Illinois, Iowa, Wisconsin
  • 09 Arizona, Minnesota, Nebraska, Nevada, New Mexico, North Dakota, South Dakota, Utah, Wyoming
  • 10 Alabama, Arkansas, Colorado, Kansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, Oklahoma, Tennessee
  • 11 Texas
  • 12 California with zip codes <= 92500
  • 13 California with zip codes >= 92500
  • 14 Alaska, Alberta, British Columbia, Hawaii, Idaho, Manitoba, Mexico, Montana, Northwest Territories, Nunavut, Saskatchewan, Oregon, Washington, Asia, Europe, and Others

  • Can our school compete in both Divisions?
  • Yes... A school can compete in both Division 01 and 02 in the same year.

  • I have limited time and a lot of students... what are my options?
  • The best model for giving the PhysicsBowl is to have all students take the contest at the same time. If this can be done... please do so. In many instances, that may not be feasible (not enough computers, no time for all students to meet)....

    So, it is left to the instructors to administer the contest in the best way that they can, but it should only be given in course of a single school day.

    Exam security is always an issue for a contest... so upon students completing the exam, please remember to collect all materials from them until such time that the official solutions are released on the website.

  • This is a contest....
  • Please keep in mind that this is a contest... it is expected that the average score is somewhere between 40 - 50 %. It may be helpful to your students to alert them that some questions will be beyond the scope of what they may have covered... but that there is no penalty in guessing!

  • What are the rules?
    • 45 minutes
    • 40 questions - NO penalty for wrong answers
    • calculators are usable... as long as they are non-programmable or have all programs removed before competition
    • equation sheet and constants are provided
    • Ties are broken by starting at the END of the exam and moving forward... so there is a reward for answering the more difficult questions correctly.

  • I've administered the contest... now what?
  • Immediately after administering the exam... please collect all of the materials from students until after the solutions are released on this website.

    For those giving the exam with the scantron sheet... please check that all information is completed correctly...
    this means that region, division, name, teacher code, teacher name, and CEEB code are all correctly entered... not having correct codes entered will result in the score of that student being disqualified.

    When all exams are collected... send the scantrons to the address provided (to EAT, Inc.) on the instructions sheet by the date required. Please send them in a single, flat envelope... bending the envelope bends the scantrons making it difficult for them to be run through the machine for proper scoring.

  • I'm not sure about one of the questions. Can I challenge it?
  • We try very hard to make sure that questions are clear, but sometimes what is clear to one reader means something very different to another reader. So, we do accept challenges to questions. For example, when the word "CURRENT" appeared a few years ago, it was pointed out that some states teach both conventional and electron current and therefore the question was confusing...

    That being said, please wait to challenge any questions until after the official solutions are published, approximately one week after the contest is officially over. Challenges are to be received at michaelfaleski@delta.edu
  • How do I find out about the results?
  • Starting in 2010, all results will be available to instructors through the AAPT website. This should improve the rate at which instructors receive results (some email weeks later with no results having arrived despite them being sent), increase the communication with instructors, and increase the chance of catching mistakes/errors (which occur!). An email with instructions on how to access your results will be sent when results are available.
    Also, one can check this website to find the overall results.

  • I am missing student scores... why is that?
  • Missing students occur because when the vast amount of data is analyzed... students with improperly filled out forms will not show up with your school's data. The most common reasons for this is improperly filled out CEEB code, teacher code, region, or division. Improper filling of the scantron (or online) results in disqualification of the student's score for both individual and/or team awards. Again, because of the vast amount of data, some scores that appear on the school report with a score of zero will be because of an improper Division or Region and the software automatically sets a student's score in this instance to zero.