SAT Subject Test: Physics

The SAT Subject Test in Physics helps assess a student’s comprehension of high school and college prep level Chemistry course material. For those students who wish to follow an undergraduate math- or science-based course of study, the SAT Subject Test in Physics can help display the student’s excellent Physics knowledge, usage, and application. The test can also assist the college applicant who desires acceptance into highly recognized science and engineering universities.

The SAT Subject Test in Physics tests the student’s knowledge of college preparatory Physics courses generally taught in most high schools. Students taking this test should have already completed courses in Algebra and Trigonometry as well as one year of college preparatory Physics, and the student should have one year of Physics laboratory experience. The majority of the questions in the test are problems concerning a single Physics concept, but the student will encounter some questions relating to multiple concepts. Approximately a third of the questions will test the student’s knowledge of the fundamentals of Physics.

To register online for the SAT Subject Test in Physics, the student should go online to The registration fees for each Subject Test are $22. Students may register for an SAT Subject Test by phone ($15, if the student has already registered for a previous test), register late ($26), request to change a test date or a specific test, or change the preferred testing site ($25). Scores will be posted online at the student’s secure SAT site and/or are mailed to the student with no fee.

The SAT Subject Test in Physics can be taken at the same testing center where a student would sit for the SAT General Exam. The SAT Subject Test in Physics is generally offered in October, November, December, January, May, and June. The SAT General Test is typically offered on the same dates as the SAT Subject Test in Physics, but the student may not register to take both the SAT Exam and any SAT Subject Test on the same date.

The SAT Subject Test in Physics allows a maximum time of 60 minutes to complete the test, which consists of 75 multiple choice questions. Measurements are given using the metric system, and any mathematical problem solving will use simple numeric equations. A calculator is not allowed in the testing center for the SAT Subject Test in Physics.

The SAT Subject Test in Physics is divided into six sections.

The first and largest section of the test will examine the student’s knowledge of the mechanics of Physics and will consist of 36% to 43% of the entire test. This section includes questions on circular and simple harmonic motion and rotation (uniform, centripetal force, and pendulum); dynamics, energy, and motion (force, friction, impulse, statics, kinetic energy, power, and conservation laws plus Newton’s laws); gravity (orbits and gravitational and Kepler’s law), kinematics (acceleration, velocity, projectile motion, and one-dimensional motion) and vibrations and SHM.

The next largest section of the test (18% to 24%) focuses on Electricity and Magnetism. Questions will be asked about electric and magnetic fields and forces, but will also include understanding of DC and electric circuits, capacitance, electric potentials, and electromagnetic induction. Students should have familiarity also with Faraday’s Law, Joule’s Law, Ohm’s Law, and Lenz’s law.

Comprising 15% to 19% of the test is the section on Optics and Waves, including general wave properties (diffraction, frequency, Doppler Effect, superposition, wavelength speed), reflection and refraction (Snell’s Law,) and physical and ray optics (colors, lenses, mirrors, and polarization).

The two smallest sections of the test will pose questions relating to Heat and Thermodynamics (6% to 11%: entropy, kinetic theory, thermal properties, and the first and second thermodynamic laws) and Modern Physics (also 6% to 11%; atoms, quantum phenomena, nuclear physics, and relativity).

The final section of the SAT Subject Test in Physics comprises only 4% to 9% of the test and consists of miscellaneous questions that will test the student’s analytical skills in Physics using math, measurements, or graphs, and the questions may encompass several of the major Physics topics. This section may also pose questions that test the student’s knowledge of the history of Physics or questions about contemporary Physics such as astrophysics, chaos theory, or superconductivity.

When arriving at the testing center, the student must bring an acceptable photo ID, two (2) number 2 pencils, and the printed admission ticket to the SAT Subject Test in Physics. The student may not bring to the testing site any books, notebooks, scratch paper, pens, colored pencils, highlighters, rulers, protractors, compasses, timers, cell phones, PDAs, iPods, BlackBerries, or any digital, electronic equipment, or devices, i.e. calculators, computers, laptops, or cell phone calculators. A student may want to bring a silent watch to keep track of elapsed time.

It is recommended that the student begin the test by quickly scanning through all multiple choice questions first, answering those that can be easily answered, followed by continuing with the more difficult questions. Read the questions carefully after the first scan before selecting the correct answer. Eliminate answers that are most obviously incorrect, and use the test booklet to mark these incorrect answers for reference. Mark on the test booklet those questions and/or sections that have already been completed. The student should not take too much time on any one section or question but continue to work steadily, moving on to the next question before too much time has elapsed, particularly if the answer is not known. Allow no more than 45 seconds for each question. Make an educated guess and go to the next question.

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