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SAT II Test Prep

The SAT Subject tests are multiple-choice exams which each focus on a specific subject within the areas of English, math, history, foreign languages, and science.

Overview of Physics Level 1 SAT II Test

The Physics Level 1 SAT II test requires students to recall and understand the major concepts of physics, use those principles to solve problems, understand the simple algebraic, trigonometric, and graphical relationships and the concepts of ration and proportion, and apply these to physics problems.

Normally, CATES suggests students consider the Physics Level 1 SAT II if they have completed one year of introductory Physics at the college-preparatory level with laboratory experience. Lab experience is important because to do well on this test you’ll need the skills you have learned in the lab—like reasoning, problem solving, and applying the concepts you’ve learned. If you have had this preparation, and have attained grades of B or better in these courses, then the Physics SAT II might be a great choice for you. Calculators are not allowed on this test, so the math you will be asked to do is fairly straightforward, but the concepts (and knowing how and when to use them) are not. To score well on this test, you need to know the major principles and concepts inside and out, and be comfortable applying them to a range of question types.

Format & Scoring

The Physics Level 1 SAT II test is a one-hour test that features 75 multiple-choice questions with five answer choices each. The College Board awards one point for every correct answer, deducts one-quarter point for every incorrect answer, and neither awards or deducts points for unanswered questions. Like all SAT II Subject Tests, the scores on the Physics Level 1 SAT II test range from 200 to 800, with 800 being the highest possible score.

Part A: Multi Answer Questions (1-12) - On these questions the test makers have more or less reversed the format, Jeopardy style. The five answer choices are presented to students followed by three to four questions or statements. The students are required to correctly match the information in the numbered questions or statements to the lettered answer choices. For every three or four questions, you are referring to the same answer choices, but keep in mind, the same answer choice can be correctly paired to more than one question.

For these question types, CATES recommend that students take a bit of time to study the answer choices before they move on to the actual questions. Often they can predict the information that is being tested by assessing the list of answer choices. Taking a moment to consider the answers with an open mind, creating a “Web of Association,” can save time when you are looking to match the questions below.

Part B: Multiple Choice Question (13-75) - One question followed by five answer choices, generally in easy, medium, difficult order. You know what to do with these.


  • 800: 91st
  • 750: 78th
  • 700: 61st
  • 650: 50th
  • 600: 44th
  • 550: 30th
  • 500: 18th


Skills Specification

  • Recall 20-33%
  • Single-concept problem 40-53%
  • Multiple-concept problem 20-33%

Topics Covered

Mechanics: 36-42%

  • Kinematics: velocity, acceleration, motion in one dimension, motion of projectiles
  • Dynamics: force, Newton’s laws, statics, friction
  • Energy and momentum: potential and kinetic energy, work, power, impulse, conservation laws
  • Circular motion: uniform circular motion, centripetal force
  • Simple Harmonic Motion: mass on a string, the pendulum
  • Gravity: law of gravitation, orbits, Kepler’s laws

Electricity and Magnetism: 18-24%

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

Waves and Optics: 15-19%

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

Heat and Thermodynamics: 6-11%

  • Thermal properties: temperature, heat transfer, specific and latent heats, thermal expansion
  • Laws of thermodynamics: first and second laws, internal energy, entropy, heat engine efficiency

Modern Physics: 6-11%

  • Quantum Phenomena: photons, photoelectric effect
  • Atomic: the Rutherford and Bohr models, atomic energy levels, atomic spectra
  • Nuclear and particle physics: radioactivity, nuclear reactions, fundamental particles
  • Relativity: time dilation, length contraction, mass-energy equivalence

Miscellaneous: 4-9%

  • General: the history of physics, general questions that overlap several major topics
  • Analytical skills: graphical analysis, measurement, math skills
  • Contemporary physics: astrophysics, superconductivity, chaos theory

CATES Approach to the Physics SAT II Subject Test

At CATES, we advise our students to take the Physics Level 1 SAT II test at either the end of their junior year, or, more commonly, at the beginning of senior year. Different students take physics at different times, though, and CATES will work to get you up to speed no matter when you choose to take the test.  While many students in a college-preparatory Physics course have reviewed most of the material by the end of junior year, we find students can benefit from using the time over the summer to prepare for the fall (October or November) test dates. The summer allows students more time to practice and get better acquainted with some of the more obscure material on the test. As you can see, a vast range of content could appear on this test, and chances are you haven’t gone over every piece of it in detail in your classes at school. 

For students taking the Physics Level 1 SAT II test, at CATES, we begin with a diagnostic test to assess the immediate and long-term content and strategy needs. From there, we devise a customized study plan—complete with specifically chosen test prep materials geared towards the individual student’s needs—and teach students the content and strategies to maximize their score. We show the students the ins and outs of the exam, how to handle specific question types, how to manage time throughout the subsections of the test, and the particular test-taking challenges individual students must overcome in order to reach the target score.

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