SAT and AP Physics & Mathematics

The SAT II subject tests are created and administered by the College Board and the Educational Testing Service (ETS), the two organizations responsible for the SAT I . The SAT II Subject Tests were created to act as complements to the SAT I. Whereas the SAT I tests your critical thinking skills by asking math and verbal questions, the SAT II Subject Tests examine your knowledge of a particular subject, such as Physics, Writing, U.S. History, or Biology. The SAT I takes three hours; the Subject Tests take only one hour each. 

The SAT II Subject Tests are better tests than the SAT I because they cover a definitive topic rather than an unclear one. However, just because the SAT II Subject Tests do a better job of testing your knowledge of a useful subject doesn’t mean they are necessarily easier or demand less studying. A “better” test isn’t necessarily better for you in terms of how easy it will be. Because SAT II Subject Tests cover specific topics like Physics and Biology, you can study for them effectively. The SAT IIs are straightforward tests. 

How is the Physics Subject Test formatted? 

The SAT II in Physics is 60 minutes long and asks 75 multiple-choice questions. Every question has five answer choices. There are some independent questions, while others are grouped and ask about the same graph or picture. You cannot use a calculator on the Physics Subject Test. With less than a minute for each question, the test doesn’t consist of complicated mathematical questions.


  • Recall questions are straightforward questions and make up 20%-33% of the test. They basically test your understanding of the concept of physics.
  • Single Concept Questions make up 40% to 53% of the test. In addition to recalling a concept, you have to apply a physical relationship, formula, or equation to solve a problem. These questions test your understanding of simple algebraic, trigonometric, and graphical relationships, along with concepts of ratios and proportions.
  • Multiple Concept Questions make up about 20% to 30% of the test. They consist of an extra step of recall and combining them with two or more relationships, equations or formulas in order to solve a problem.

What subject topics are you tested on? 

According to College Board, the SAT II in Physics covers mechanics, electricity and magnetism, waves and optics, heat and thermodynamics, modern physics, and other miscellaneous concepts. Mechanics and electricity/magnetism questions make up over half the test. Let's look at how the test breaks down.

Mechanics: 36% - 42% 

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

Electricity and Magnetism: 18% - 24% 

  • Electric fields, forces, and potentials
  • Capacitance, such as parallel-plate capacitors and time-varying behavior in charging / discharging
  • Circuit elements and DC circuits, such as resistors, light bulbs,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

Waves and Optics: 15% - 19% 

  • 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

Heat and Thermodynamics: 6% - 11% 

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

Modern Physics: 6% - 11% 

  • 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

Miscellaneous: 4% - 9% 

  • 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