5 things to do when preparing for the SAT Physics

By Indrani Banerjee

(Test Preparation (ACT/SAT/SSAT), Math, Physics tutor at The Edge Learning Center)

The SAT Physics test has a mammoth of a syllabus, and as a result, it can be daunting to start preparing for it. Here are a few things to keep in mind when tackling SAT Physics.

Research the scope of the syllabus

A large chunk of the SAT Physics exam will test basic physics concepts: approximately 40% of the questions testing our knowledge of mechanics and just over 20% of the questions on electricity and magnetism. So prioritize these two areas of physics first when revising! The SAT physics exam also rewards students who are well read in the history of physics, so it is a very good idea to read about the origins of the discoveries and formulae we learn. Not only are the history of science questions easy, but if you are generally interested in physics (which one would assume is why you are doing the SAT physics test) this is the most interesting topic to revise. Also, reading scientific articles is also a great way of preparing for Natural Science passages for the ACT and SAT. If you are taking AP Physics courses at the same time, do use AP multiple-choice sections to help you revise for the SAT physics exam. Finally, physics and maths go hand in hand, so we might as well embrace this age-old fact and make sure alongside SAT physics you do some extra maths revision. The SAT physics exam is a non-calculator exam which does require knowledge of algebra and trigonometry at a high school level.

Make flash cards… and use them

You will face 75 questions in 60 minutes for the SAT physics exam which is a difficult feat. This means you have to work quickly through the paper and accurately. You want a systematic approach to each question: read the question stem, then identify the topic, and finally recall the relevant formulae. Sometimes the answer choices will be left as rearranged algebraic expressions instead of numerical values, so sometimes just recalling the relevant formulae is enough to answer the question! In Physics, we should also be aware of common relationships between variables, such as the inverse square law for the law of gravitation and electromagnetism. Make sure you have these common relationships memorized! The easiest way to do this is to make flash cards for all the equations, definitions, and formulae you need to learn and categorize them into topics. Then, memorize them. Get a friend or family member to test you on these… more than just the once. There’s no point of having a pretty pile of flashcards collecting dust!

Attempt every question

Whist 75 questions in 60 minutes is hard, a raw score of 60 is usually sufficient to gain a scaled score of 800! The questions also appear in random order with regards to the topic, so question 75 might be dead easy and testing basic mechanics, whilst question 15 might be quite the curveball and test special relativity. This is why you must work through the paper quickly enough to have a chance to glimpse through every question. Remember, each question is worth exactly the same mark, so there is no point impressing a computer with answering one special relativity question correctly after spending 5 minutes on it at the expense of a question testing definitions of Newton’s Laws of Motion. So do all familiar questions first, make sure you have all the easy marks in the bag! Then, move on to the harder topics. To ensure you are actively reading each question, it is a good idea to underline key terms, units and all relevant information. This helps maintain focus during the hour-long ordeal, and also helps you reduce careless mistakes.

Draw and write all over the question paper

The SAT physics paper can ask questions in a long-winded way, so to stop getting lost in the words, always try and simplify the problem as much as you can. No one will ever see the question paper, so feel free to draw out diagrams if necessary. Don’t be afraid to map out the different stages of the calculation. Sometimes it is easier to rearrange equations and isolate the variable first before plugging in numbers. Don’t be afraid to use ratios and proportions to simplify the problem, and then to eliminate incorrect answers before selecting an answer. As there is negative marking and a broad syllabus, in the SAT Physics exam there is no room for careless mistakes! So on topics that you are more confident on, make sure you write all your working to ensure you don’t make careless mistakes in your calculations. Play to your strength!

Do lots and lots and lots of practice!

You wouldn’t run a marathon without any prior training, so it makes no sense to not do mock exams prior to your Physics SAT exam. It is important to complete as many practice papers as possible under timed conditions. You should reserve college board papers for mock exams nearest to the test date, and make sure you time yourself. It is always a good idea to try and mimic the real exam as much as you can during mocks, so if possible, try and ask tutors and school teachers if they can help you arrange mocks rather than you doing them in the comfort of your room. You are allowed to do the exam more than once, so don’t panic and good luck!

Read more from Indrani in her previous blog “Counting Principles, Combinations and Permutations”


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