Physics Subject Test

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The Physics Subject Test assesses your understanding of concepts from one year of introductory physics on the college-preparatory level, as well as reasoning and problem-solving skills derived from lab experience. If you’re thinking about pursuing a math- or science-based program of study (such as science, technology, engineering, or math), taking the Physics Subject Test is a great way to demonstrate your interests on your college application.

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Video Lessons from Khan Academy

Use the free Khan Academy® lessons in this playlist to study for the Physics Subject Test.

Test Basics

Scoring, Timing, Number of Questions
Points Minutes Questions
200-800 60 75 (Multiple Choice)
Important:

Important Notes

  • Offered in August, October, November, December, May, and June.
  • Calculator use not permitted
  • Problem solving requires simple numerical calculations
  • Measurements are expressed in the metric system

Getting Ready for the Test

Skills Approximate % of Test
Fundamental concepts & knowledge 12%-20%
Single-concept problem 48%-64%
Multiple-concept problem 20%-35%
  • Ability to recall and understand the major concepts of physics and to apply these physical principles to solve specific problems
  • Understanding of simple algebraic, trigonometric and graphical relationships, and the concepts of ratio and proportion, and how to apply these to physics problems
  • Familiarity with the metric system of units
  • Ability to apply laboratory skills in the context of the physics content covered on the test
  • One-year introductory college-preparatory course in physics
  • Courses in algebra and trigonometry
  • Experience in the laboratory
Content Approximate % of Test

Mechanics

  • Kinematics, such as velocity, acceleration, motion in one dimension, and motion of projectiles
  • Dynamics, such as force, Newton’s laws, statics, and friction
  • Energy and momentum, such as potential and kinetic energy, work, power, impulse, and conservation laws
  • Circular motion, such as uniform circular motion and centripetal force
  • Simple harmonic motion, such as mass on a spring and the pendulum
  • Gravity, such as the law of gravitation, orbits, and Kepler’s laws
36%-42%

Electricity and magnetism

  • Electric fields, forces, and potentials, such as Coulomb’s law, induced charge, field and potential of groups of point charges, and charged particles in electric fields
  • Capacitance, such as parallel-plate capacitors and time-varying behavior in charging/ discharging
  • Circuit elements and DC circuits, such as resistors, light bulbs, series and parallel networks, Ohm’s law, and Joule’s law
  • Magnetism, such as permanent magnets, fields caused by currents, particles in magnetic fields, Faraday’s law, and Lenz’s law
18%–24%

Waves and optics

  • General wave properties, such as wave speed, frequency, wavelength, superposition, standing wave diffraction, and Doppler effect
  • Reflection and refraction, such as Snell’s law and changes in wavelength and speed
  • Ray optics, such as image formation using pinholes, mirrors, and lenses
  • Physical optics, such as single-slit diffraction, double-slit interference, polarization, and color
15%–19%

Heat and thermodynamics

  • Thermal properties, such as temperature, heat transfer, specific and latent heats, and thermal expansions
  • Laws of thermodynamics, such as first and second laws, internal energy, entropy, and heat engine efficiency
    6%–11%

    Modern physics

    • Quantum phenomena, such as photons and photoelectric effect
    • Atomic, such as the Rutherford and Bohr models, atomic energy levels, and atomic spectra
    • Nuclear and particle physics, such as radioactivity, nuclear reactions, and fundamental particles
    • Relativity, such as time dilation, length contraction, and mass-energy equivalence
    6%–11%

    Miscellaneous

    • General, such as history of physics and general questions that overlap several major topics
    • Analytical skills, such as graphical analysis, measurement, and math skills
    • Contemporary physics, such as astrophysics, superconductivity, and chaos theory
    4%–9%


    Download the SAT Subject Tests Student Guide (.pdf/6.3 MB) for more information on the topics.

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    Additional Things to Know

    When answering questions, you should assume that the direction of any current is the direction of flow of positive charge (conventional current).

    Please note that this test reflects what is commonly taught in high school. Due to differences in high school classes, it’s likely that most students will find questions on topics they’re not familiar with. This is nothing to worry about. You do not have to get every question correct to receive the highest score (800) for the test. Many students do well despite not having studied every topic covered.