The test consists of approximately 100 five-choice questions, some of which are grouped in sets and based on such materials as diagrams, graphs, experimental data and descriptions of physical situations.
The aim of the test is to determine the extent of the examinees’ grasp of fundamental principles and their ability to apply these principles in the solution of problems.
Most test questions can be answered on the basis of a mastery of the first three years of undergraduate physics.
The International System (SI) of units is used predominantly in the test. A table of information representing various physical constants and a few conversion factors among SI units is presented in the test book.
The approximate percentages of the test on the major content topics have been set by the committee of examiners, with input from a nationwide survey of undergraduate physics curricula. The percentages reflect the committee’s determination of the relative emphasis placed on each topic in a typical undergraduate program. These percentages are given below along with the major subtopics included in each content category. In each category, the subtopics are listed roughly in order of decreasing importance for inclusion in the test.
Nearly all the questions in the test will relate to material in this listing; however, there may be occasional questions on other topics not explicitly listed here.
The Physics Test administered beginning in April 2021 yields three subscores in addition to the total score: (1) Classical Mechanics, (2) Electromagnetism, and (3) Quantum Mechanics and Atomic Physics. The questions on which subscores are based are distributed throughout the test; they are not set aside and labeled separately, although several questions from a single content area may appear consecutively.
CLASSICAL MECHANICS — 20%
(such as kinematics, Newton’s laws, work and energy, oscillatory motion, rotational motion about a fixed axis, dynamics of systems of particles, central forces and celestial mechanics, three-dimensional particle dynamics, Lagrangian and Hamiltonian formalism, noninertial reference frames, elementary topics in fluid dynamics)
ELECTROMAGNETISM — 18%
(such as electrostatics, currents and DC circuits, magnetic fields in free space, Lorentz force, induction, Maxwell’s equations and their applications, electromagnetic waves, AC circuits, magnetic and electric fields in matter)
OPTICS AND WAVE PHENOMENA — 9%
(such as wave properties, superposition, interference, diffraction, geometrical optics, polarization, Doppler effect)
THERMODYNAMICS AND STATISTICAL MECHANICS — 10%
(such as the laws of thermodynamics, thermodynamic processes, equations of state, ideal gases, kinetic theory, ensembles, statistical concepts and calculation of thermodynamic quantities, thermal expansion and heat transfer)
QUANTUM MECHANICS — 12%
(such as fundamental concepts, solutions of the Schrödinger equation (including square wells, harmonic oscillators, and hydrogenic atoms), spin, angular momentum, wave function symmetry, elementary perturbation theory)
ATOMIC PHYSICS — 10%
(such as properties of electrons, Bohr model, energy quantization, atomic structure, atomic spectra, selection rules, black-body radiation, x-rays, atoms in electric and magnetic fields)
SPECIAL RELATIVITY — 6%
(such as introductory concepts, time dilation, length contraction, simultaneity, energy and momentum, four-vectors and Lorentz transformation, velocity addition)
LABORATORY METHODS — 6%
(such as data and error analysis, electronics, instrumentation, radiation detection, counting statistics, interaction of charged particles with matter, lasers and optical interferometers, dimensional analysis, fundamental applications of probability and statistics)
SPECIALIZED TOPICS — 9%
Nuclear and Particle physics (e.g., nuclear properties, radioactive decay, fission and fusion, reactions, fundamental properties of elementary particles), Condensed Matter (e.g., crystal structure, x-ray diffraction, thermal properties, electron theory of metals, semiconductors, superconductors), Miscellaneous (e.g., astrophysics, mathematical methods, computer applications)
Those taking the test should be familiar with certain mathematical methods and their applications in physics. Such mathematical methods include single and multivariate calculus, coordinate systems (rectangular, cylindrical and spherical), vector algebra and vector differential operators, Fourier series, partial differential equations, boundary value problems, matrices and determinants, and functions of complex variables. These methods may appear in the test in the context of various content categories as well as occasional questions concerning only mathematics in the specialized topics category above.
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