SAT Subject Test Physics (2012)


All About the SAT Physics Test


What Are the SAT Subject Tests?

The SAT Subject Tests (formerly called the SAT II tests and the Achievement Tests) are a series of college entrance tests that cover specific academic subject areas. Like the better-known SAT test, which measures general verbal and math skills, the SAT Subject Tests are given by the College Entrance Examination Board. Colleges and universities often require applicants to take one or more SAT Subject Tests along with the SAT. SAT Subject Tests are generally not as difficult as Advanced Placement tests, but they may cover more than is taught in basic high school courses. Students usually take an SAT Subject Test after completing an Advanced Placement course or an Honors course in the subject area.

How Do I Know If I Need to Take SAT Subject Tests?

Review the admissions requirements of the colleges to which you plan to apply. Each college will have its own requirements. Many colleges require that you take a minimum number of SAT Subject Tests—usually one or two. Some require that you take tests in specific subjects. Some may not require SAT Subject Tests at all.

When Are SAT Subject Tests Given, and How Do I Register for Them?

SAT Subject Tests are usually given on six weekend dates spread throughout the academic year. These dates are usually the same ones on which the SAT is given. To find out the test dates, visit the College Board Web site at You can also register for a test at the Web site. Click on the tabs marked “students” and follow the directions you are given. You will need to use a credit card if you register online. As an alternative, you can register for SAT Subject Tests by mail using the registration form in the SAT Registration Bulletin, which should be available from your high school guidance counselor.

How Many SAT Subject Tests Should I Take?

You can take as many SAT Subject Tests as you wish. According to the College Board, more than one-half of all SAT Subject Test takers take three tests, and about one-quarter take four or more tests. Keep in mind, though, that you can take only three tests on a single day. If you want to take more than three tests, you’ll need to take the others on a different testing date. When deciding how many SAT Subject Tests to take, base your decision on the requirements of the colleges to which you plan to apply. It is probably not a good idea to take many more SAT Subject Tests than you need. You will probably do better by focusing only on the ones that your preferred colleges require.

Which SAT Subject Tests Should I Take?

If a college to which you are applying requires one or more specific SAT Subject Tests, then of course you must take those particular tests. If the college simply requires that you take a minimum number of SAT Subject Tests, then choose the test or tests for which you think you are best prepared and likely to get the best score. If you have taken an Advanced Placement course or an Honors course in a particular subject and done well in that course, then you should probably consider taking an SAT Subject Test in that subject.

When Should I Take SAT Subject Tests?

Timing is important. It is a good idea to take an SAT Subject Test as soon as possible after completing a course in the test subject, while the course material is still fresh in your mind. If you plan to take an SAT Subject Test in a subject that you have not studied recently, make sure to leave yourself enough time to review the course material before taking the test.

What Do I Need on the Day of the Test?

To take an SAT Subject Test, you will need an admission ticket to enter the exam room and acceptable forms of photo identification. You will also need two number 2 pencils. Be sure that the erasers work well at erasing without leaving smudge marks. The tests are scored by machine, and scoring can be inaccurate if there are smudges or other stray marks on the answer sheet. Any devices that can make noise, such as cell phones or wristwatch alarms, should be turned off during the test. Study aids such as dictionaries and review books, as well as food and beverages, are barred from the test room.


The SAT Physics test is a one-hour exam consisting of 75 multiple-choice questions. According to the College Board, the test measures the following knowledge and skills:

• Ability to recall and understand important physics concepts and to apply those concepts to solve physics problems

• Knowledge of simple algebraic, trigonometric, and graphical relationships and principles of ratio and proportion, and ability to apply those principles to solve physics problems

• Knowledge of the metric system of units

According to the College Board, the questions on the test are distributed by topic in approximately the following percentages:

SAT Physics Test Topics


The College Board advises that because high school physics courses can vary, you are likely to encounter questions on topics that are unfamiliar.

About one-quarter to one-third of the test questions will require you to recall and understand concepts and information. About one-half the questions will require you to apply a single physics concept. The remaining one-quarter of the questions will require you to recall and relate more than one physics concept.

What School Background Do I Need for the SAT Physics Test?

The College Board recommends that you have the following before taking the SAT Physics test:

• A one-year college prep course in physics

• Algebra and trigonometry courses

• Physics laboratory experience

How Is the SAT Physics Test Scored?

On the SAT Physics test, your “raw score” is calculated as follows: you receive one point for each question you answer correctly, but you lose one-quarter of a point for each question you answer incorrectly. You do not gain or lose any points for questions that you do not answer at all. Your raw score is then converted into a scaled score by a statistical method that takes into account how well you did compared to others who took the same test. Scaled scores range from 200 to 800 points. Your scaled score will be reported to you, your high school, and to the colleges and universities you designate to receive it. Scoring scales differ slightly from one version of the test to the next. The scoring scale provided after the physics test in this book is only a sample that will show you your approximate scaled score.

When Will I Receive My Score?

Scores are mailed to students approximately three to four weeks after the test. If you want to find out your score a week or so earlier, you can do so for free by accessing the College Board Web site or for an additional fee by calling (866)756-7346.

How Do I Submit My Score to Colleges and Universities?

When you register to take the SAT or SAT Subject Tests, your fee includes free reporting of your scores to up to four colleges and universities. To have your scores reported to additional schools, visit the College Board Web site or call (866)756-7346. You will need to pay an additional fee.


Part A of the SAT Physics Test Consists of Classification Questions.

Each set of classification questions includes five lettered choices that are used to answer all questions in the set. The choices may consist of words, equations, graphs, sentences, diagrams, or data that are generally related to the same topic. Each question in the set must be evaluated individually. Any choice may be the correct answer to more than one question in the set.


Directions: Each set of lettered choices refers to the numbered questions of statements immediately following it. Select the one lettered choice that best answers each question or best fits each statement, and then fill in the corresponding oval on the answer sheet. A choice may be used once, more than once, or not at all in each set.

Questions 9–10 relate to the following.

(A) period

(B) wavelength

(C) kinetic energy

(D) frequency

(E) amplitude

9. Which quantity is maximized when the displacement of a mass on a pendulum from its equilibrium position is zero?

10. Which quantity is measured in hertz?

To answer question 9, you need to know about the motion of a pendulum. The displacement of the mass from the equilibrium position is zero when the mass is at the bottom, or center, point of the swing. At this point, the speed of the mass is greatest and the kinetic energy is maximized. The correct answer is C.

To answer question 10, you must be familiar with this unit of measure. You may recall that 1 hertz (Hz) equals 1 cycle per second. The quantity that measures cycles per second is frequency, so the correct answer is D. Another way to approach this question is to identify the units of each quantity listed. For example, period measures an amount of time, so its unit may be seconds. Wavelength and amplitude measure distance, so their units may be centimeters or meters. Kinetic energy is measured in joules or other units of energy.

Part B of the SAT Physics Test Consists of Five-Choice Multiple-Choice Questions.

Each five-choice multiple-choice question can be written as either an incomplete statement or as a question. You are to select the choice that best completes the statement or answers the question.


Directions: Each of the questions or incomplete statements below is followed by five suggested answers or completions. Select the one that is best in each case and then fill in the corresponding oval on the answer sheet.


54. A physicist is studying the nuclear reaction represented above. Particle X is which of the following?






Question 54 tests your understanding of nuclear reactions and equations. First, you must recognize the information provided by the symbols. In the symbol image, where X is the chemical symbol for the element, A is the atomic mass number, and Z is the atomic number. Second, you must recall that matter is conserved in all natural processes. Therefore, the equation must balance to represent this fact. So image, which yields image. To solve for Z, use image. Therefore, image. The missing particle is, therefore, described by imageHe, which is choice E.

Some Five-Choice Completion Questions May Have More than One Correct Answer or Solution.

A special type of five-choice completion question contains several statements labeled by Roman numerals. One or more of these statements may correctly answer the question. The statements are followed by five lettered choices, with each choice consisting of some combination of the Roman numerals that label the statements. You must select from among the five lettered choices the one that gives the combination of statements that best answer the question. Questions of this type are spread throughout the more standard five-choice completion questions.


29. In which of the following examples is the net force acting on the object equal to zero?

I. A soccer ball rolls to a stop.

II. A person holds a door open.

III. A child rides on a carousel horse at a carnival.

(A) I only

(B) II only

(C) III only

(D) I and II only

(E) I and III only

To answer this question, you must recall that according to Newton’s first law, a net force of zero must be acting on an object if the object maintains a constant velocity. Though no one is kicking the soccer ball any longer, a force must be acting on it because it is slowing to a stop. The force acting on the ball is friction. I is incorrect.

The person pushing on the elevator door is exerting a force on the door. However, neither the person nor the door is moving. Because the door is not moving, its velocity is constant at zero. This means that the net force acting on the door must also be zero. II is, therefore, correct.

The child riding on the carousel is moving at a constant speed. However, because the direction is constantly changing, the velocity is also changing. This means that the net force acting on the child is not zero. III is incorrect.

The net force is zero only in statement II, so choice B is the correct answer.

Some Five-Choice Completion Questions Relate to Common Material.

In some cases, a set of five-choice completion questions relate to common material that precedes the set. That material may be a description of a situation, a diagram, or a graph. Although the questions are related, you do not have to know the answer to one question in a set to answer a subsequent question correctly. Each question in the set can be answered directly from the material given for the entire set of questions.


Questions 36–37: A crane is lifting an object with a mass of 500 kilograms at a constant velocity to a height of 20 meters over a period of 5 seconds. The crane then holds the object in place for 30 seconds.

36. How much power does the crane expend in lifting the object?

(A) 25 W





37. How much power does the crane expend to hold the object in place?

(A) 0 W





To answer question 36, you need to know that power is a measure of work divided by time. In addition, work is a measure of force multiplied by displacement. The object is lifted with constant velocity. Therefore, the net force acting on it is zero. The force exerted by the crane must be equal and opposite to the weight of the object. The weight of the object is image The power is then determined by the following:


The correct answer is E.

To answer question 37, you must recognize that even though a force is exerted to hold the object in place, no work is done on the object if it does not move any distance. If no work is done, no power is expended. Therefore the correct answer is A.

How to Use This Book

The SAT Physics test covers a very large amount of material, and your preparation time may be short. That is why it is important to use your study time wisely. This book provides a comprehensive review of everything you need to know for the test, and it has been organized to make your study program practical and efficient. It will help you to:

• Identify the physics topics that you most need to focus on.

• Familiarize yourself with the test format and test question types.

• Review all the basic physics you need to know for the test.

• Check your progress with questions at the end of each review chapter.

• Practice your test-taking skills using sample tests.

The following four-step study program has been designed to help you make the best use of this book.


Once you have read through this chapter, start your preparation program by taking the Diagnostic Test. This test is carefully modeled on the real SAT Physics test in terms of format, types of questions, and topics tested. Take the Diagnostic Test under test conditions and pay careful attention to the 1-hour time limit. When you complete the test, score yourself using the scoring information at the end of the test. Then read through the explanations to see which test topics gave you the most trouble. Look for patterns. Did you miss questions in one or two specific subject areas? Did specific question formats give you trouble? When did you need to guess at the answer? Use your results to identify the topics and question types that were most difficult for you. Once you know your physics strengths and weaknesses, you’ll know which subjects you need to focus on as you review for the test.


This book provides a full-scale review of all the topics tested on the SAT Physics test. Once you have identified the topics that give you the most trouble, review the relevant chapters. You do not need to work through the review chapters in the order in which they appear. Skip around if you like, but remember to focus on the topics that gave you the most trouble on the Diagnostic Test.

Each review chapter ends with practice problems that you can use to see how well you have mastered the material. If you get a problem wrong, go back into the chapter and reread the section that covers that particular topic.

Make a study schedule. If you have the time, plan to spend at least two weeks or so working your way through the review chapters. Be sure to set aside enough time at the end of your schedule to take the practice tests at the end of the book. However, if you do not have much time before the test, you may want to shorten your review time and focus instead entirely on the practice tests.


As you work through the examples and review questions in each review chapter, you’ll become familiar with the kinds of questions that appear on the SAT Physics test. You’ll also practice the test-taking skills essential for top scores. These include:

• The ability to recall and comprehend major concepts in physics and to apply them to solve problems.

• The ability to interpret information gained from observations and experiments.

• The ability to make inferences from experimental data, including data presented in graphs and tables.


Once you have completed your review of all the SAT Physics topics, get ready for the real exam by taking the two practice tests at the back of this book. When you take each test, try to simulate actual test conditions. Sit in a quiet room, time yourself, and work through as much of the test as time allows. The tests are ideal for practice because they have been constructed to be as much like the real test as possible. The directions and practice questions are very much like those on the real test. You’ll gain experience with the test format, and you’ll learn to pace yourself so that you can earn the maximum number of points in the time allowed.

Each test will also serve as a review of the topics tested because complete explanations are provided for every question. The explanations can be found at the end of each test. If you get a question wrong, you’ll want to review the explanation carefully. You may also want to go back to the chapter in this book that covers the question topic.

Each review chapter ends with practice problems that you can use to see how well you have mastered the material. If you get a problem wrong, go back into the chapter and reread the section that covers that particular topic.

At the end of each test you’ll also find scoring information. Calculate your raw score, then use the table provided to find your approximate scaled score. The scaling on the real test may be slightly different, but you’ll get a good idea of how you might score on the actual test.

Strategies for Top Scores

When you take the SAT physics test, you’ll want to do everything you can to make sure you get your best possible score. That means studying right, building good problem-solving skills, and learning proven test-taking strategies.

Here are some tips to help you do your best.


Get to know the format of the exam. Use the practice tests in this book to familiarize yourself with the test format, which does not change from year to year. That way, you’ll know exactly what to expect when you see the real thing on test day.

Get to know the test directions. If you are familiar with the directions ahead of time, you won’t have to waste valuable test time reading them and trying to understand them. The format and directions used in the practice exams in this book are modeled on the ones you’ll see on the actual SAT Physics exam.

Study hard. If possible, plan to study for at least an hour a day for two weeks before the test. You should be able to read this entire book and complete all five practice exams during that time period. Be sure to write notes in the margins of the book and paraphrase what you read. Make study cards from a set of index cards. Those cards can “go where you go” during the weeks and days before the test. If you are pressed for time, focus on taking the five practice exams, reading the explanations, and reviewing the particular topics that give you the most trouble.


Know what the question is asking. While this tip may sound obvious, it is crucial that you read the question carefully to identify the information you are seeking. If you jump to the answer choices before completing the question, you may miss a relationship that you need to identify. It is equally important to go back and check the question after completing a calculation. For some questions, you may stop too soon or take the calculation too far. Take time to check that you have answered the question being asked.

Solve problems in whatever way is easiest for you. There are usually several ways to solve any problem in physics and arrive at the correct answer. For example, when converting units some students prefer to use a dimensional analysis whereas others prefer to set up a proportion. Do what is easiest for you. Remember that the SAT exam is all multiple choice. That means that no one is going to be checking your work and judging you by which solution method you chose. So solve the problem any way you like.

Make sure you read all relevant information. There may be additional information that is required to answer the question. Look for descriptive material that may be provided along with a graph or diagram.

Know your formulas. You will not be allowed to bring a calculator to the test. You are also not allowed to bring in any sheets of useful information. Roughly three-quarters of the test requires you to use formulas. If you do not know basic formulas such as how force relates to mass and acceleration, F = ma, you are sure to lose easy points.
Many formulas will come easily as you study physics. Others may be difficult for you to remember. If this is the case, look them over just before the test. You may wish to jot those formulas down on the top or back of the question booklet before you begin the test so you don’t forget them. Keep in mind that merely memorizing formulas will not be enough. You also need to understand them. Only rarely do questions ask you to simply plug numbers into a formula. More often you need to rearrange or relate various formulas to solve a problem.

Pay attention to units of measure. The test questions predominantly use the metric system. Familiarize yourself with the units of measurement for common physical quantities. Include units in your calculations. If the outcome of a calculation does not yield the proper unit, you may have used information incorrectly.

Estimate when possible. Once you know what a question is asking, it is helpful to get a rough idea of what the answer should look like through estimation. Of course this strategy is helpful only for questions involving calculations. Estimation is a good way to avoid wrong answers when you are making an educated guess.

Identify all labels on graphs and diagrams. About one-quarter of the questions on the test will involve graphs or diagrams. When you encounter such a question, take a moment to review the information provided. For example, identify the quantities plotted on the axes of a graph. Then read the related question and answer choices. Knowing what you are dealing with before you read the question can help you identify the correct answer.

Write down any information you need to answer a question. Do not hesitate to draw or write on your question booklet. If a diagram is not provided with a question, draw a rough sketch of the information described. Field lines, velocity vectors, and graphs are just some of the topics that will become much easier to work with once you have drawn them.
Write down formulas or equations you may need. You may find it helpful to write down formulas related to a topic. If, for example, you are dealing with a question about energy, write down such equations as image. If you are unsure of the answer, it may be helpful to plug in the given values. Some rearranging and rewriting may lead you in the right direction.

• Pay attention to words in questions such as EXCEPT, NOT, ALWAYS, and NEVER. Some questions include qualifying words in capital letters. These words change they way you need to approach the question.


Answer all the easy problems first, and then tackle the harder ones. Keep in mind that the test is only 1 hour long. There isn’t much time to spend trying to figure out the answers to harder problems, so skip them and come back to them later. There are three reasons you should do this. The first reason is that every question counts the same in the scoring of the exam. That means that you are better off spending time answering the easier questions, where you are sure to pick up points. The second reason to skip past harder questions is that later on in the test you might come to a question or a set of answer choices that jogs your memory and helps you to go back and answer the question you skipped. The third reason is that by answering the easier questions, you’ll build your confidence and get into a helpful test-taking rhythm. Then when you go back to a question you skipped, you may find that it isn’t as hard as you first thought.

Use the process of elimination. Keep in mind that on the SAT Physics test, like any other multiple-choice test, the answer is right in front of you. Try eliminating answer choices that you know are incorrect. Often this can help you select the correct answer.

If you must guess, make an educated guess. The SAT has a one-quarter point penalty for wrong answers to discourage random guessing. So if you have absolutely no idea how to answer a question, you are better off skipping it entirely. However, you may be able to eliminate one or more answer choices to make a reasonable guess.

Be wary of answer choices that look familiar but are not correct. Sometimes in the set of answer choices there will be one or more wrong answers that include familiar expressions or phrases. You might be tempted to pick one of these choices if you do not work out the problem completely. That is why it is important to work through each problem thoroughly and carefully to make sure that you pick the correct answer choice.

You don’t have to answer every question. If you do not know the answer to a question and cannot eliminate any answer choices, skip it and go on. It is better to do that than to risk losing one-quarter of a point for a wrong answer. If you have time at the end of the test, you can return to skipped questions and try to make an educated guess.


Don’t panic! Once test day comes, you’re as prepared as you’re ever going to be, so there is no point in panicking. Use your energy to make sure that you are extra careful in answering questions and marking the answer sheet.

Use your test booklet as scratch paper. Your test booklet is not going to be reused by anyone when you’re finished with it, so feel free to mark it up in whatever way is most helpful to you. Circle important words, underline important points, write your calculations in the margins, and cross out wrong answer choices.

Be careful when marking your answer sheet. Remember that the answer sheet is scored by a machine, so mark it carefully. Fill in answer ovals completely, erase thoroughly if you change your mind, and do not make any stray marks anywhere on the sheet. Also, make sure that the answer space you are marking matches the number of the question you are answering. If you skip a question, make sure that you skip the corresponding space on the answer sheet. Every 5 or 10 questions, check the question numbers and make sure that you are marking in the right spot. You may want to mark your answers in groups of 5 or 10 to make sure that you are marking the answer sheet correctly.

Watch the time. Keep track of the time as you work your way through the test. Try to pace yourself so that you can tackle as many of the 75 questions as possible within the 1-hour time limit. Check yourself at 10- or 15-minute intervals using your watch or a timer.

Don’t panic if time runs out. If you’ve paced yourself carefully, you should have time to tackle all or most of the questions. But if you do run out of time, don’t panic. Make sure that you have marked your answer sheet for all the questions that you have answered so far. Then look ahead at the questions you have not yet read. Can you answer any of them quickly, without taking the time to do lengthy calculations? If you can, mark your answers in the time you have left. Every point counts!

Use extra time to check your work. If you have time left over at the end of the test, go back and check your work. Make sure that you have marked the answer sheet correctly. Check any calculations you may have made to make sure that they are correct. Take another look at any questions you may have skipped. Can you eliminate one or more answer choices and make an educated guess? Resist the urge to second-guess too many of your answers, however, as this may lead you to change an already correct answer to a wrong one.