Introduction to SAT II Physics

(Darren Dugan) #1

SAT II Physics Test-Taking Strategies

All the strategies discussed above can be applied equally to SAT II Physics and SAT II Modern
Hebrew. That’s why they’re called “general hints.” However, as you may have noticed, there are a
number of differences between the study of physics and the study of modern Hebrew. Because
physics is unlike modern Hebrew, and even unlike math and chemistry, there are a number of
strategies that apply uniquely to SAT II Physics. Some of these strategies will help you out in
physics generally, while some are suited to the unique idiosyncrasies of the SAT II format.

Physics Hint 1: Know Those Formulas!

You aren’t allowed to bring a calculator into the SAT II, nor are you allowed to bring in a sheet of
paper with useful information on it. That means that if you haven’t memorized formulas like

F = ma and you’re going to lose a lot of points. As we said earlier, 67–80% of

the test requires that you know your formulas.
This doesn’t mean you have to do a lot of rote memorization. As you become more familiar with
the principles of physics, you’ll find that the equations that express these principles will become
increasingly intuitive. You’ll find patterns: for instance, the force exerted at any point in a field, be
it a gravitational field or an electric field, is inversely proportional to r^2. That’s why Coulomb’s
Law and Newton’s Law of Gravitation look similar. Knowing your physics will help you know
your formulas.
A lot of people feel burdened coming into an exam with lots of formulas and equations in their
head. It can feel like your mind is “full,” and there’s no room for the problem solving at hand. If
you have trouble remembering formulas, you might want to look them over carefully in the
minutes before the test, and then, before you even look at the first question, write down the
formulas you have a hard time remembering on the back of the question booklet. That way, you
can refer back to them without any painful effort of recollection.

Physics Hint 2: Estimate

This hint goes hand in hand with General Hint 5: Know What You’re Being Asked. Don’t dive
blindly into five possible answer choices until you know what you’re looking for. The first way to
know what you’re looking for is to understand the question properly. Once you understand the
question, get a rough sense of what the correct answer should look like.
Estimation is only useful for questions involving calculation: you can’t “estimate” which Law of
Thermodynamics states that the world tends toward increasing disorder. In questions involving a
calculation, though, it may save you from foolish errors if you have a sense of the correct order of
magnitude. If you’re being asked to calculate the mass of a charging elephant, you can be pretty

confident that the answer won’t be 2 kg, which would be far too small, or kg, which would

be far too big. Estimation is a good way to eliminate some wrong answers when you’re making an
educated guess.

Physics Hint 3: Put It on Paper

Don’t be afraid to write and draw compulsively. The first thing you should do once you’ve made
sure you understand the question is to draw a diagram of what you’re dealing with. Draw in force
vectors, velocity vectors, field lines, ray tracing, or whatever else may be appropriate. Not only

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