Figure 1: Astronomy, a very minor part of the SAT Subject Test in Physics (but my favorite regardless)So, you’ve decided to take the SAT Subject Test in Physics. You know you’re applying to a college that requires at least one science subject test, and you feel most comfortable with physics. Now what?
Now it’s time to develop a plan for how to attack this test. Even though you might have done well in your physics class, the SAT in Physics will be very different than exams in your classes. Here are a few steps to guide your studying for the SAT Subject Test in Physics.
1. Get to know the test
The SAT Physics test is a 1-hour long, 75 multiple-choice question exam typically given in May, June, August, October, November, and December. The test’s format as a multiple-choice exam is a great advantage to you: you know that one of the given answers has to be correct! No calculators nor physics formula sheets are allowed. This means that you will have to employ your mental math, basic arithmetic, and formula memorization skills.
There are 5 answer choices for each question. For each answer you get right, you receive one point. For each incorrect answer, ¼ of a point is subtracted. If you skip a question, no points are subtracted nor given. This means that you should develop a strategy for when to skip and when to guess.
You do not have to get every question right to get a perfect 800. In fact, because of the grading curve of the SAT Subject Test in Physics, you could leave about fifteen questions blank, and if you answered every other question right, you would receive an 800.
The topics covered on the exam are (from most to least covered): Mechanics, Electricity and Magnetism, Waves and Optics, Heat and Thermodynamics, and Modern Physics.
2. Find your weaknesses and work on those
Now that you know what to expect from the exam, the first thing to do is to take a diagnostic test and to analyze your result to find out your areas of strength and weakness.
Once you take an exam, grade it, and try to find patterns about your answers. Write down the topic covered in each question and locate which questions you answered incorrectly or were unable to answer. Did you answer every mechanics question right while missing almost every electricity and magnetism question? Did you answer every question right about blocks but missed every question about pendulums?
Once you know your areas of weakness, spend the majority of your time reviewing and improving your knowledge on these topics. You should occasionally do practice problems in subject areas you are already comfortable with, just so you don’t lose your knowledge and confidence, but you should aim to improve in areas where there is most room to improve.
If you are having trouble identifying your areas of weakness, reach out to a tutor. Part of my job as a tutor is to analyze your diagnostic tests and develop a personalized plan to help you prepare.
Now that you have a list of topics in hand, how should you prepare?
3. Use a variety of study strategies for the exam
It might be tempting to read a physics textbook about a given topic and to say that you now know it. However, to truly get the information to stick in your head (like a truly inelastic collision between your brain and physics knowledge), you need to cover the same material in several different ways. For example, for the same topic, you might do a little bit of reading, watch a video lecture, and try ten practice problems. Each time you see the same material but presented differently, you remember more and more of it.
One great resource that I have sworn by since I myself was in high school is Khan Academy. The video lectures in physics are exactly at the level of a typical high school physics course and are incredibly well-produced. Watching physics lectures narrated by the dulcet voice of Sal Khan is a great way to prepare.
One way a tutor can help you is by building a plan and developing individualized lessons for the topics you should review. Tutors can help you identify which video lectures are most useful, provide you with practice problems, and make sure that you cover the material from all directions.
4. Take practice tests!
This is perhaps the most commonly given piece of studying advice for standardized tests, but for good reason! Every few weeks in your studying, sit down for the full hour and take a practice test. This will help you do two things. First, it will allow you to gauge whether you’re studying methods have been effective. If you are getting more questions right, great! You’re doing it right. Second, it will help you build stamina for the real exam. Staying utterly focused at the intensity required for the SAT Subject Tests is no small feat. By practicing staying concentrated for the full hour only on the exam, you simulate real test conditions. On test day, you will know what it feels like and will be confident that you can complete the exam and do well. After all, you’ll have done it before.
At Cambridge Coaching believe that a tailored program is a basic prerequisite for any effective tutoring relationship, particularly for high school students navigating Physics SAT subject test. We build each tutoring relationship around each unique student. Before you even meet with a tutor, you will take an official exam and input your results into our software; based on your diagnostic results, your tutor will outline the content, structure and pacing of your first session.
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