2019 Physics Olympics Team Banner

Did you know?

The Olympiad is a nine-day international competition among pre-university students from more than 60 nations. — AAPT.ORG

For Students

Past Exams

Team Qualification

There are several rounds of exams.

  1. The F=ma exam is a 75-minute exam with 25 multiple choice questions focusing on mechanics. Two versions of the exam are given, the F=ma A and F=ma B.
  2. Approximately 400 students will be invited to take the USA Physics Olympiad (USAPhO) exam, based on their scores in the F=ma exam. The USAPhO is a 3 hour free response exam where students are required to justify their answers. The exam is divided into two parts of 90 minutes each.
  3. Approximately 20 students will be invited to be a part of the U.S. Physics Team, based on their USAPhO and F=ma scores, and attend a ten day training camp at the University of Maryland. At the end of the camp, five will be selected to represent the team at the International Physics Olympiad.


Frequently Asked Questions

Q: What is the scope of the F=ma exam?
A: The F=ma exam focuses on mechanics, including kinematics, statics, Newton’s laws, momentum and energy, oscillations, orbital mechanics, fluids, and elementary data analysis. All problems can be solved without the use of calculus, though some may have shorter calculus-based solutions.

Q: How should I start preparing for the F=ma exam?
A: The best way to practice problem-solving is to try the past exams linked above. There you will also find the solutions. Most of the concepts needed to solve the problems will be introduced in algebra-based high-school physics courses. We also encourage you to work with some friends and form a physics study group. Even though this is a competition, working in teams allows you to build a broader knowledge and skill base.

Q: What is the scope of the USAPhO exam?
A: The USAPhO exam covers all topics in introductory physics, including mechanics, electromagnetism, thermodynamics, relativity, nuclear, atomic, and particle physics, waves, optics, and data analysis. Problems may require the use of calculus. 

Q: How should I start preparing for the USAPhO exam?
A: As with the F=ma exam, try the past exams linked above and check your solutions. And of course, work with friends! Most of the concepts needed will be introduced in a good calculus-based introductory physics textbook.

Q: Can I take both F=ma exams?
A: Yes, as long as you meet the citizenship or permanent resident criterion.

Q: How do the two F=ma exams differ?
A: The F=ma A and F=ma B are designed to cover the same topics and have the same difficulty, but will have completely different questions.

Q: How do I qualify for the USAPhO exam?
A: You will qualify for the USAPhO if your F=ma exceeds the cutoff score. If you take both F=ma exams, you will qualify if either exceeds the cutoff.

Q: What are the criteria for awarding medals or honorable mentions for the USAPhO exam?
A: Similar to the International Physics Olympiad, nominally the top 10-12% scorers in USAPhO will receive gold medals, the next 14-16% receive silver medals, the next 19-21% receive bronze medals and the next 24%-26% will receive honorable mentions. The exact cut-off will vary from year to year.

Q: How should I write my solutions for the USAPhO exam?
A: You should structure your solutions linearly and logically, explaining what equations you start with, showing how you combine them, incorporating diagrams or sketches if necessary, and ideally boxing your final result. If you are using pencil, make sure to write darkly and sharply enough so that your work will be legible after scanning. You do not have to justify standard results with full sentences or to show every step of the algebra. However, a more detailed solution will make it easier to grant partial credit if you make a mistake.

Q: What if I have additional questions not covered here?
A: If your questions are not addressed either here or by the competition rules, email programs@aapt.org with "US Physics Team" in the subject line.

Contact Information

For more details and information about the U.S. Physics Team, please contact AAPT's Programs department at 301-209-3340 or programs@aapt.org