Placement for New Students

Greetings, new students! You will find here some information that may help you decide which introductory course is right for you.

If you think you might major in Physics or Astronomy, start with Physics 123 (The Newtonian Synthesis). This course is offered Fall semester only. If you have already taken a calculus-based mechanics course, you may place out of Physics 123 in one of two ways:

  • Receive a 5 on the AP Physics C Mechanics examination; or
  • Pass the physics placement exam.

The physics placement exam covers the material in Physics 123: kinematics, Newton's laws of motion, work and energy, momentum, rotation, gravitation and oscillation. The placement exam is a 90-minute written take-home test that can be picked up outside the department office (Room 214 in Merrill Science Center) during orientation. The tests must be returned the Monday before the first day of class. The chair will contact you about your results by email. Students with scores from IB Higher-Level or comparable exams should take the placement exam.

If you place out of Physics 123 and you wish to take a physics course in the fall semester, you could take Physics 227 (Methods of Theoretical Physics) then continue with Physics 124 (The Maxwellian Synthesis) in the Spring.

You should also take MATH-121 (Intermediate Calculus).

If you think you probably won’t major in Physics or Astronomy, you can take either Physics 116 (offered both semesters) or 123 (Fall semester only). Both satisfy the physics requirements for medical school. (Both also satisfy the requirements for the majors.) You can take the physics placement exam (discussed above) if you want to get our opinion about which of the two courses is best for you. If your background is sufficient to place out of Physics 116/123, you should discuss with the department chair whether you should start with Physics 117 (Introductory Physics II: Electromagnetism and Optics).

If you have any questions about the placement procedure or the physics curriculum, please feel free to stop by the department office, Merrill 214, or contact the department chair.


Physics and Astronomy Department

AC# 2244
Amherst College
Amherst, MA 01002-5000
William Loinaz, Chair