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How to Prepare for the F=ma Physics Contest

What is the F=ma Contest


The F=ma is a physics contest organized by the Association of Physics Teachers (AAPT). The F=ma exam consists of 25 multiple-choice questions related to classical mechanics, and tests skills on how to apply fundamental principles to real-world scenarios. There is no negative marking, so remember to put an answer for every question. 

The top 400 students approximately on the F=ma are invited to take the USA Physics Olympiad (USAPhO). The cut-off is usually between 14-18 for the USAPhO.

There are two exams "F=ma A" and "F=ma B". Students may take both F=ma A & B exams, but they must meet or exceed the cutoff score for both exams to move on to the USAPhO exam. There is no benefit for students to take both exams.

They exams are typically held in February 2023. The problems can be solved without the use of calculus, although knowing basic calculus can help you find quicker solution for some problems.

Who can take the F=ma


Students taking the F=ma exam must be either U.S. Citizens, U.S. Permanent Residents (Green Card holders), or currently attending a U.S. school.


Where can you take the F=ma

Both the F=ma and USAPhO exams must be proctored. Parents or relatives of students are not acceptable proctors. It is expected that competitors will take the exam at their local school, though they may take the exam elsewhere if needed.
Homeschooled students should contact nearby high schools, community colleges, or universities to ask if they can take the exam there. Parents or relatives of homeschooled students are not acceptable proctors.

How to score high on the F=ma


So, how can you score well on the F=ma? Here are four key things to focus on:


  1. Understanding all the content: The exams asks questions only on mechanics, so you need to understand all the topics in mechanics and learn how to apply them to complex scenarios.

  2. Solving the problems accurately: You need to simulate test conditions to learn how to avoid common mistakes like calculation errors, silly mistakes, misreading the questions, etc 

  3. Working quickly: You need to finish 25 problems in 75 minutes, and you need to learn good time management so you can attempt most of the questions without getting stuck.

How to prepare for the F=ma contest


Resources: Fundamentals

If you are new to competition physics and taking the F=ma for the first or second time, you need to ensure that you have a good understanding of the fundamental mechanics concepts. You can use the following resources to get started:

1. Physics Fundamentals Videos: A good collection of videos that cover the most important fundamentals of physics

2. AP Physics 1 Course by Khan Academy: These videos teach the AP Physics 1 material and provides a solid foundation in the fundamentals of physics.

3. OpenStax book on Mechanics  (Free Online Textbook) This free online textbook covers the most important topics in mechanics and will be a great resource if you prefer onilne books.

4. Physics: Principles with Applications by Douglas Giancoli

This book provides understanding of the basic concepts of physics in all its aspects, the text uses interesting applications to biology, medicine, architecture, and digital technology to show you how useful physics is to your everyday life and in your future profession.

5. Physics, Volume 1 by Robert Resnick, David Halliday, Kenneth S. Krane

This book was written for the full year or three term Calculus-based University Physics course for science and engineering majors and is considered one of the best books for physics enthusiasts.

6. Physics Mechanics by Brian Lee and William Shi of Everaise Academy

This book was adapted from a series of handouts used during the 2020 session of Everaise Academy's Physics Mechanics course. Equipped with an introduction to calculus and containing a vast array of hand-selected and originally-written problems accompanied by fully motivated solutions, this challenging and conceptually rich book is both approachable for beginners and apt for experts. Topics include momentum and collisions, oscillations, orbital mechanics, fluid dynamics, and fictitious forces.

7. Open Yale Course on Mechanics: This course provides a thorough introduction to the principles and methods of physics for students who have good preparation in physics and mathematics. Emphasis is placed on problem solving and quantitative reasoning. This course covers Newtonian mechanics, special relativity, gravitation, thermodynamics, and waves. 


8. MIT Courseware on Classical Mechanics: An amazing course which covers all the topics in mechanics but some parts could be advanced as it is a college level course. 

9. MIT Physics I Course Videos on Classical Mechanics: These Physics lectures by Walter Lewin are some of the most interesting videos on mechanics and are fun to watch.

10. AP Physics 1 Videos by FlippingPhysics: These videos teach the AP Physics 1 material in a fun way.

11. A 25 minute review video of F=ma: A quick review of the concepts needed for F=ma.

Resources: Advanced

12. Introduction to Classical Mechanics: With Problems and Solutions by David Morin  

This textbook covers all the standard introductory topics in classical mechanics, including Newton's laws, oscillations, energy, momentum, angular momentum, planetary motion, and special relativity. It also explores more advanced topics, such as normal modes, the Lagrangian method, gyroscopic motion, fictitious forces, 4-vectors, and general relativity.

13. Problems and Solutions in Introductory Mechanics by David Morin  

This problem book is ideal for high-school and college students in search of practice problems with detailed solutions. All of the standard introductory topics in mechanics are covered: kinematics, Newton’s laws, energy, momentum, angular momentum, oscillations, gravity, and fictitious forces.The introduction to each chapter provides an overview of the relevant concepts. Students can then warm up with a series of multiple-choice questions before diving into the free-response problems which constitute the bulk of the book.  

14. An Introduction to Mechanics by Daniel Kleppner and Robert Kolenkow

This classic text has introduced students to the principles of mechanics.  

15. Handouts and resources from PhysOly Many useful handouts and mocks


Step 4: Practice Contests & Mocks

In order to practice speed and accuracy, it's important to take full F = ma tests. 

List of Mock Contests

1. Official F=ma from 2023 with solutions: Use this tests with a 75 minute timer to simulate test taking situations. 

2. Official F=ma from 2022 and official solutions: Use this tests with a 75 minute timer to simulate test taking situations. 

3. Official F=ma and USAPhO from 2008-2022 with solutions: Use these tests with a 75 minute timer to simulate test taking situations. 

4. Official F=ma and USAPhO from 2007-2021 with solutions: Use these tests with a 75 minute timer to simulate test taking situations. 

5. Book with official F=ma tests and solutions from 2011-2019: This book contains detailed solutions to many F=ma tests.

6. User Created F=ma Mock Contest 2024: A good mock contest

7. User Created F=ma Mock Contest 2022: A good mock contest with solutions

8. User Created F=ma Mock Contest 2021: A good mock contest with solutions

9. User Created F=ma Mock Contest 2020: A good mock contest with solutions

10. User Created F=ma Mock Contest 2019: A good mock contest with solutions

11. User Created F=ma Mock Contest 2018: A good mock contest with solutions

12. Video Solutions for 2012-2016 F=ma tests: These videos explain the solution to the contest problems from 2012-2016.

Paid Classes


If you are looking for paid Physics classes, here is a list of the most popular classes.

AlphaStar Academy Physics Courses​

AlphaStar Academy offers extensive training programs for gifted students towards national and international Math and Science competitions such as MathCounts, American Mathematics Competitions, USA Math Olympiads, USA Computing Olympiads, F=ma, and USA Physics Olympiads.

Art of Problem Solving F=ma Problem Series

PhysicsWOOT is an online training program in Olympiad-level physics and problem solving. PhysicsWOOT is modeled after WOOT (Worldwide Online Olympiad Training), the math Olympiad preparation course that we’ve been teaching at AoPS since 2005.

Art of Problem Solving PhysicsWOOT

PhysicsWOOT is an online training program in Olympiad-level physics and problem solving. PhysicsWOOT is modeled after WOOT (Worldwide Online Olympiad Training), the math Olympiad preparation course that we’ve been teaching at AoPS since 2005.

AwesomeMath Physics Classes

AwesomeMath is devoted to providing enriching experiences in mathematics for intellectually curious learners. Through summer camps, publications, curriculum, and competitions AwesomeMath fosters a community that values critical thinking, creativity, passionate problem solving, and lifetime mathematical learning.

SpringLight Education Classes

SpringLight is a WASC accredited education organization. They have successfully provided the USAPhO training for more than five years. 30% to 60% of our students have qualified for the semi-final each year.

Their semifinalist students also qualified as finalists, and received gold medal, silver medal, bronze medal and honorable mentions.

Tang Academy

They offer physics classes for many levels. Students (8th – 12th grade) who are interested in AP Physics and the USA Physics Olympiad with strong math and science backgrounds are encouraged to apply.​

Arteem Institute Physics Competition Prep Courses

This online prep course will review the fundamental knowledge and cover problem solving skills needed to excel on this year's F=ma exam. Students will learn the tricks needed to solve common problems efficiency, and practice with previous physics contest problems, taken from F=ma, Physics Bowl, Physics Olympiad, and more.

ACES Academic Enrichment Center

ACES Physics Program provide a platform for the students maximize their potential and dig out their talents in Physics and pave the road for students to be qualified for the physics Olympiad semifinalist, the first level of US Physics Olympiad competition( F=ma )

Gauss Academy of Mathematical Education

Physics acceleration and problem solving classes. Classes include Junior Physics, Honors Physics, AP Physics 1/2, AP Physics C, and Physics Olympiad. The Physics Olympiad classes prepare the students to take part in the US Physics Bowl and USA Physics Olympiad qualifying exams.

F=ma/USAPhO courses with Cambridge Physics Academy

Prepare for the F=ma and USAPhO exams with two IPhO gold medalists! US Physics Team members Collin Fan and Evan Kim, incoming freshmen at Harvard and MIT, are offering a 16-week F=ma prep course along with a 14-week USAPhO prep course..

Paid Classes

What materials are allowed on the F=ma contest

According to AAPT Guidelines, during the competition, students are only allowed:

  • Writing utensils (Note: colored pens/pencils are allowed)

  • Rulers

  • Erasers

  • A handheld calculator may be used. Its memory must be cleared of data and programs. You may use only the basic functions found on a simple scientific calculator.

  • Only scratch paper provided by the proctors may be used in both the F=ma and USAPhO Exams. The proctors must collect it immediately after the exam, along with the exam pages. None of these materials may be returned to students until after public discussion is allowed.

Prohibited materials include:

  • Smartwatches

  • Phones

  • Computing devices

  • Compasses

  • Protractors

  • Graph paper

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