Physics Placement

Incoming students who are interested in taking an introductory physics course have three options:

  • Students considering majoring in Physics, Astrophysics, or Astronomy will normally take PHYS 005 (Spacetime and Quanta) in the fall semester.
  • Students primarily interested in other majors can begin one of two parallel sequences, both calculus-based:
  • PHYS 003/004 (standard introductory physics, mostly for engineers, chemists, mathematicians) or
  • PHYS 003L/004L (emphasis on physics for life science, mostly for pre-med, biologists, biochemists, etc.)

Students should consult with their advisor or the Department Chair during orientation if they have any questions about course selection.

Any student wishing to receive AP credit for PHYS 003/003L (mechanics) or PHYS 004/004L (electricity & magnetism) for work done prior to Swarthmore or placement out of either course should take the departmental placement exam for the relevant course(s) during orientation.

The exam is meant to test your competence in the material, as if you were getting ready to take the subsequent course.  This means that you should study for the exam.  There will be a formula sheet attached to the exam with essential equations.  You may use a dedicated calculator, but no other devices (e.g. phones) are permitted.

Students with a score of 5 on the Mechanics C AP exam or score of 6 or 7 on the IB exam and a satisfactory grade on the mechanics placement exam will receive one AP credit for PHYS 003/003L. Students with a score of 5 on the Electromagnetism C AP exam or score of 6 or 7 on the IB exam and a satisfactory grade on the electricity and magnetism placement exam will receive one AP credit for PHYS 004/004L.

Students who do not have the AP or IB scores mentioned above but who have a strong high school preparation can still receive advanced placement in the PHYS 003(L)/004(L) sequence (e.g. fulfillment of a prerequisite for other courses) by taking the placement exam, but they will not receive AP credit for the Swarthmore physics course(s) they place out of. Since our sequence is calculus-based, we do not grant credit for taking the algebra-based AP Physics 1 or 2 exam.