Format of SAT II Physics
SAT II Physics is a one-hour-long test composed
of 75 questions and divided into two parts. You can answer questions
in any order you like, though you’re less likely to accidentally
leave a question out if you answer them in the order in which they
appear. Part A—classification questions—takes up the first 12 or
13 questions of the test, while Part B—five-choice completion questions—takes
up the remaining 62 or 63 questions.
Part A: Classification Questions
Classification questions are the reverse of normal multiple-choice
question: they give you the answers first and the questions second.
You’ll be presented with five possible answer choices, and then
a string of two to four questions to which those answer choices
apply. The answer choices are usually either graphs or the names
of five related laws or concepts. Because they allow for several
questions on the same topic, classification questions will ask you
to exhibit a fuller understanding of the topic at hand.
The level of difficulty within any set of questions is
generally pretty random: you can’t expect the first question in
a set to be easier than the last. However, each set of classification questions
is generally a bit harder than the one that came before. You should
expect questions 11–13 to be harder than questions 1–4.
Classification Question Example
set of lettered choices below refers to the numbered questions immediately
following it. Select the one lettered choice that best answers each
question and then blacken the corresponding space on the answer
sheet. A choice may be used once, more than once, or not at all
in each set.
A boy throws a ball straight up in the air and then catches
the above graphs best represents the ball’s position with respect
||Which of the above graphs best
represents the ball’s velocity with respect to time?
||Which of the above graphs best
represents the ball’s acceleration with respect to time?
You can usually answer classification questions a bit
more quickly than the standard five-choice completion questions,
since you only need to review one set of answer choices to answer
a series of questions.
The answer to question 1 is B. The ball’s
position with respect to time can be expressed by the equation y =
where g is the downward, acceleration
due to gravity. As we can see, the graph of y against t is
an upside-down parabola. In more intuitive terms, we know that,
over time, a ball thrown in the air will rise, slow down, stop,
and then descend.
The answer to question 2 is E. The acceleration
due to gravity means that the velocity of the ball will decrease
at a steady rate. On the downward half of the ball’s trajectory,
the velocity will be negative, so E, and not A,
is the correct graph.
The answer to question 3 is D. The acceleration
due to gravity is constant throughout the ball’s trajectory, and
since it is in a downward direction, its value is negative.
Don’t worry if the question confused you and the explanations
didn’t help. This material and more will be covered in Chapter 2:
Kinematics. This was just an exercise to show you how a classification
question is formatted.
Part B: Five-Choice Completion Questions
These are the multiple-choice questions we all know and
love, and the lifeblood of any multiple-choice exam. You know the
drill: they ask a question, give you five possible answer choices,
and you pick the best one. Got it? Good. An example appears below.
While you’ll often find two or three questions in a row
that deal with the same topic in physics, there is no pattern. You
might find a question on modern physics followed by a question on
dynamics followed by a question on optics. However, there is a general
tendency for the questions to become more difficult as you progress.
Five-Choice Completion Question Example
of the questions of 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.
||A gas in
a closed container is steadily heated over a period of time. Which
of the following statements is true of this process?
||The average kinetic energy of the gas molecules decreases
||The mass of the container increases
||The pressure exerted by the gas on the walls of the container
||The gas changes phase into a liquid
||The specific heat of the gas decreases
The answer to this question is C. The key
lies in remembering the ideal gas law: PV = nRT. According
to this formula, an increase in temperature is accompanied by an
increase in pressure. A is wrong, since the average
kinetic energy of gas molecules corresponds to their temperature:
if the temperature increases, so does the average kinetic energy
of the molecules. B is wrong because we’re dealing
with a closed container: the mass cannot either increase or decrease. D is
wrong because a gas must be cooled, not heated, to change phase into
a liquid. Finally, E is wrong because the specific
heat of any substance is a constant, and not subject to change.
We’ll touch on all this and more in Chapter 9: Thermal Physics.