Physics Bowl Exam

By Eric Eng

By Eric Eng

A medical student reading a book

Physics Bowl Exam

The Physics Bowl is a physics exam that 10,000 highschool students take each year to show their physics knowledge. The PhysicsBowl tests first-year and second-year physics students. The test allows students to compete with classmates as well as other schools in their division while giving teachers data and providing students with tangible test scores and the ability for awards.

AdmissionSight works to get you into the top schools of your choice, using various consultation methods, including assisting with Academic Guidance, because winning awards can put you over the edge when it comes to admissions, something you can achieve with the PhysicsBowl.

Young woman looking serious while studying.

The PhysicsBowl allows students to test their knowledge in a 40 question exam for 45 minutes administered by teachers or proctors. The PhysicsBowl gives students a chance to demonstrate their physics knowledge while learning more about physics through the exam. It is a contest where there will be difficult and unknown questions.

Since there are difficult questions, the average score is around 40 to 50%, it is important to know that going into the exam, it will be difficult but it’s an opportunity to put physics knowledge and what’s been taught to the test while also being exposed to new physics.

There is no harm in taking a test that doesn’t affect grades, but if done well can be great for experience and to display your talents to college admissions counsellors through your Common Application exactly how you go above and beyond, and take tests for knowledge sake. The PhysicsBowl was founded to help further physics in education.

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If you’d like to learn more about the PhysicsBowl, how to take the exam and why you should take the exam, as well as what the Physics Bowl can do to prove you are impressive for your college application, continue reading.

The Origins of the PhysicsBowl

The American Association of Physics Teachers along with the American Chemical Society and the National Science Teachers Association initially put a physics exam into motion in 1980. Tim Ingoldsby was a staff physicist for the American Association of Physics Teachers, and BiIll Arnold was the HIgh School Division Director of the National Science Teachers Association, the two came together to form a proposal and guidelines for a national physics exam. The goals of the physics exam outlined in the proposal were:

  • To provider high school teachers with an affordable examination to permit them to compare the achievement of their physics students with students across the United States
  • The mathematics in the physics exams would not exceed what was normally taught in high school in geometry and algebra one
  • The exam would be limited to five alternative multiple-choice questions
  • Students were allowed to use calculators but the exam questions should be formulated to minimize the need for calculators

To read more about the development of the PhysicsBowl, the committee members and history, visit this page.

How the Physics Bowl Works

Every year, around 10,000 high school students take a 40 question multiple-choice exam for 45 minutes administered by their school. The exam is given during a period of time allotted by the PhysicsBowl, and question topics are physics questions covered during a normal high school physics course.

Any student K through 12 can technically take the PhysicsBowl exam if you are on a faster track to taking the PhysicsBowl and you aren’t in high school yet, check out the Pre High School Consultation to see what path is a good fit for you when it comes to taking the exam and more. It’s never too early to start preparing, for high school, college, or the Physics Bowl.

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The basic rules of the exam are 40 questions in 45 minutes. There is no penalty for wrong answers. Calculators are allowed without programming, constant and equation sheets are provided and ties are broken from the end of the exam, there is a reward for answering the harder questions correctly. Remember, admissions counsellors are looking for standardized testing, whether that’s SAT, AP or a subject test like this one, the PhysicsBowl isn’t as high stakes as the SAT, and you can take it twice, so why not?

There are two divisions for test-taking.

Division I is for students in their first-year physics course.

  • A first course can be any course from conceptual physics to AP physics, its the student’s first exposure
  • For Division I exams, topics will be from AP curriculum or conceptual course physics which covers topics such as phases of the Moon, which isn’t covered in AP physics
  • A student who finished one year of physics and isn’t enrolled in a second physics course is eligible to take the Division I exam

Division II is for students in their second year of physics.

  • The Division II exam is for students taking at least a second course in physics
  • This course can also be taken by any student who wants a challenge
  • The questions in Division II are more difficult than Division I because of the depth and experience

Divisions have 15 regions across the country that have been established by the PhysicsBowl to let schools in each region compete against each other. Read more about specific divisions and regions here.

PhysicsBowl questions can be broad and can be from conceptual physics to modern physics to AP physics questions. The PhysicsBowl is a contest so it is meant to be challenging, there is no possible way schools will have covered all topics on the test, but the questions are in the real of high school physics. Since the PhysicsBowl is a contest, it opens up more doors for other science and math competition opportunities, and according to admissions counsellors, winning regional or national competitions is what separates good applicants with great ones.

(If you have any questions about AP Physics or AP exams and classes in general, AdmissionSight covers all you need to know about AP exams and classes and how they are beneficial and affect you in the long run here.)

The PhysicsBowl normally occurs during the month of April to ensure students have their results before school lets out. There is a range of dates as to when the test can be given, and continue reading to find out more specifics on the test as well as what the proctoring requirements are.

Proctoring the PhysicBowl

The PhysicsBowl is a proctored exam that competitors will take at their local school.  There is availability for homeschooled students to take the exam, they can contact nearby high schools, community colleges, or universities to ask if they are able to take the PhysicsBowl there.

The proctors don’t have to be teachers, they just cannot be a relative of any of the students taking the exam.  Proctors have to have at least a 2-year degree, the degree can be unrelated to physics. All students from one proctoring centre or school should take the exam at the same time.

Team Competition

The team competition is completed by the school. The top five scorers from a school in a particular region or division are added together to create the team score. All schools from the region or division are compared and prizes are given to the top two team scores. A school can compete with fewer than 5 students comprising the team, which gives them a smaller chance at winning, and schools can compete with a team in both Divisions I and Division II.

How to Register

To register for the PhysicsBowl, use this link for Online Registration.


The awards vary each year, but as stated in the Team Competition section, awards are given to the top two schools in each region or division, as well as the top two students in each region or division

Test Specifics

There is an equation sheet provided to students taking the test. The equation sheet doesn’t include every single formula that could be helpful during the exam, it includes basic equations.

To view a recent example of what an equation sheet looks like, here is the 2019 equation sheet. 

Along with the equation sheet, there are some constants that are provided.

The constants on the sheet included are used in the construction of the exam.  “For all questions related to gravity, use g = 10 m/s2” This list doesn’t include every constant you may need, but common constants.

To see what a constant sheet can look like, and to get a sense of what to expect, here is the 2019 constant sheet.

How to Prep

The best way to prep for the Physics Bowl is to take practice exams. The American Association of Physics Teachers keeps various past PhysicsBowl exams on the website with solutions to allow for practice. It is a great chance to test the exam before you take it to not only see if you want to participate but also to score yourself and study more.

While practicing, it is a good idea to sit down with the test, the accurate calculator, the equation and constant sheet for a timed 45 minutes, to experience the real thing as well as to ensure you feel comfortable for when it comes time to take the test.

Writing on the board using chalk.

Here is where you can reach the printable exams, as well as here is the WebAssign practice exams. It is important to know if taking the WebAssign practice exams, once the actual exam dates begin, the practice exams on WebAssign are no longer available.

It’s important to prepare for any sort of test, whether that is the SAT or AP tests, Preparation for these types of tests including the Physics Bowl requires a plan as to where you want to go with them. In order to get into Harvard, you need high scores for each. It’s a good idea to speak with us at AdmissionSight to take either the Academic and Extracurricular Evaluation to make sure you’re on the right path or to take part in the Private Consulting Program if you’re very serious about making it into a certain school

 Example Questions

Here are some various example questions from the Division I exam for the Physics Bowl, some of which include equations or constants:

8.) A candle, a converging lens and a white screen are placed in a line with the lens between the candle and the screen. A distance of 72 cm separates the candle and screen. As the lens is moved to all points between the candle and the screen, only one focused image of the candle can be made on the screen. What is the focal length of the converging lens?

(A) 12 cm (B) 18 cm (C) 24 cm (D) 36 cm (E) It cannot be determined without knowing the location of the lens when the focused image is produced.

35.) In a mixture of hydrogen, oxygen, and nitrogen gases at room temperature, the molecules having the greatest average speed are those of (A) Hydrogen (B) Oxygen (C) Nitrogen (D) All have the same speed (E) It depends upon the composition of the mixture

Here are some various example questions from the Division III exam, some of which include equations or constants:

44.) Consider a traveling wave on a string of length L, mass M, and tension T. A standing wave is set up. Which of the following is true?

(A) The wave velocity depends on M, L, T. (B) The wavelength of the wave is proportional to the frequency. (C) The velocity of a given particle in the string is equal to the wave velocity. (D) The wavelength is proportional to T. (E) The frequency depends upon L.

49.) A lump of clay whose rest mass is 4.0 kg is traveling at three-fifths of the speed of light when it collides head-on with an identical lump going in the opposite direction at the same speed. If the two lumps stick together and no energy is radiated away, what is the mass of the composite lump?

(A) 4.0 kg (B) 6.4 kg (C) 8.0 kg (D) 10.0 kg (E) 13.3 kg

Check out the solutions and how to solve the problems here.

If these questions are some of which you can answer, it may be a good indication that you should take the PhysicsBowl.

Other Options for Physics Competitions or Awards from the American Association of Physics Teachers

The American Association of Physics Teachers has various resources for various types of scholarships, awards, projects, mentoring, faculty workshops, grants and more. Check all of those opportunities and listings here.

Some other competitions the American Association of Physics Teachers holds include:

AdmissionSight provides a great resource listing various math and science competitions as well as research competitions, for those who are potentially conducting physics research in their classes.

In Conclusion

The Physics Bowl is an accessible way to prove your physics knowledge in under an hour, (it is suggested you study beforehand) while opening doors for awards and even a physics career. Not only does the PhysicsBowl benefit current students, but future students as well because of the teaching data teachers receive once the PhysicsBowl is completed. The PhysicsBowl is a great way for physics to be improved throughout schools, and to test whether or not physics is your strong suit. Visit the PhysicsBowl website here for more information.

If you want to begin preparing for the PhysicsBowl, other exams, your path to studying physics in college or more, contact us to see how we can help your specific hopes, plans and endeavors.


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