MCAT Physics Study Questions

These are questions I came up with when I was studying for the MCAT.


On this page:

bulletTranslational Motion
bulletForce and Work
bulletRotational Motion and Waves


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  1. What is the difference between a scalar and a vector value?
  2. What are "components" of a vector?  Concerning a vector and two components, which is the hypotenuse?  Which is the longest side?  Can a vector's component be longer than the vector itself? 
  3. What is meant by "dot product"?  How is the dot product calculated? Is this a scalar or vector quantity?
  4. What is meant by "cross product"?  How is the cross product calculated?  Is this a scalar or vector quantity?
  5. What is the right hand rule for cross products?  Which direction will A X B point in relation to vectors A and B?  What will the magnitude equal?
  6. What is the SI unit for time?  How is km/hour converted into m/s?
  7. What is the SI unit for length?  What is the SI unit for mass?
  8. What is the SI unit for volume?  What is the SI unit for pressure?
  9. How many liters are in a cubic meter?  How many cubic centimeters(cc) are in a milliliter?  How many cc's are in a liter?  How many cubic centimeter's are in a cubic meter?  How many liters are in a cubic decimeter?
  10. What is the approximate value for atmospheric pressure in pascals?  In bars?  In torr?  In mmHg?  In atm?  Which one of these units is equal to N / m2?
  11. What is 0 degrees celsius in kelvin?  If 0 degrees C is doubled, what is the new temperature in celsius?  If something goes from 100 degrees C to 50 degrees C, what is the change in temperature in kelvin?



Translational Motion

  1. What is the difference between speed and velocity?  Between distance and displacement?
  2. What is meant by translational motion?  What type of motion is this contrasted with?  What is meant by the translational speed of a hurricane?
  3. What is acceleration?  Is this a scalar or vector quantity?
  4. Under what general condition is adding up the original velocity and the final velocity and then dividing by two equal to the average velocity?
  5. What is the acceleration due to gravity at the Earth's surface?  Does this increase or decrease with altitude?
  6. What is the average velocity of something that starts at rest and hits the ground at 40 m/s?  What about something with the initial downward velocity of 40 m/s which hits the ground at 80 m/s?
  7. If a bullet were fired horizontally out of a gun and another bullet were dropped from gun height, which would hit the ground first?  (Assume ideal conditions) Why?
  8. What is the formula for the kinetic energy of an object?  If the object's speed is doubled, what happens to its kinetic energy?  If an object's speed is tripled, what happens to the kinetic energy?  If an object's mass is doubled, what happens to its kinetic energy?
  9. Does kinetic energy depend on the direction of the velocity?
  10. If two objects were fired out of a cannon with the same speed, which would have the greatest vertical velocity : one fired at 30 degrees above the horizon or one fired at 60 degrees above the horizon?  Which would have the greatest vertical velocity upon hitting the ground?  How would the final kinetic energy values compare?
  11. What does a velocity vs. time graph look like for an object with a constant velocity?  What does any "y vs. x" graph look like when the y value is constant?
  12. What does the slope of a graph measure (specifically)?  What is the "rise" on a velocity vs. time graph?  What is the "run"?  What value does the slope of this graph represent?  What does a positive slope look like?  What does a horizontal slope look like?  What is the slope of a horizontal line?  What does a graph with a constant slope look like?
  13. The slope of a displacement vs. time graph is equal to what?  What about the slope of a velocity vs. time graph?  What about the area under the curve of an acceleration vs. time graph?  What about the area under the curve of a velocity vs. time graph?
  14. How does a velocity vs. time graph look when acceleration is constant?  What does a displacement vs. time graph look like when acceleration is constant? 
  15. How do you calculate the displacement from the average velocity and the duration of the trip?
  16. How do you calculate the final velocity from the known velocity, duration, and constant acceleration value?  How do you combine this equation from that of displacement from time and average velocity?



Force and Work

  1. In a vacuum, which does gravity act on with a greater force : a bowling ball or a feather?  If these two objects were acted upon by the same force, which would accelerate faster?  What common term is a measurement of gravity's downward force?
  2. What is Newton's second law?  With the same force applied to objects of different mass, how will their accelerations compare?  With two objects of different mass with identical accelerations, how do the forces acting on them compare?
  3. Does every object that is accelerating have a net force acting on it?
  4. What is meant by "equal and opposite reaction"?  What is the opposite force of Earth's gravity pulling down on your chair?  What is the opposite force of your chair pushing into the floor?  What is the opposite force of the floor pushing up your chair?  Will "equal but opposite reaction" forces ever act on the same object?  (common trap)
  5. What is work?  How is it defined?  Which components of force are used to calculate the work done?  What is the unit for force?
  6. What is meant by potential energy?  How is potential energy converted into kinetic energy?  What is meant by mechanical energy?  What does friction do to the total energy?
  7. When a child on a high dive jumps into a pool, what happens to the child's potential and mechanical energy when he hits the pool?  Where does it go?
  8. If an object is at rest 50 meters above the ground, how can the formulas for kinetic and potential energy be used to calculate the velocity of this object after it falls 25 meters?
  9. What is a normal? What is a normal force?  Which direction does it act?
  10. On a ramp, which direction does the force of gravity act?  How does one divide this up into components perpendicular and parallel to the surface of the ramp?  Are either of these components larger than the original vector?  Which component will the normal force cancel out?  What component is left?
  11. What is static friction?  What is kinetic friction?  Why is the coefficient of static friction cited as "maximum" while the value of kinetic friction is not?  Is the maximum static friction usually smaller or greater than the kinetic friction?
  12. What is the force of friction dependent on?  Does surface area matter?  Do the materials involved matter?
  13. What kind of frictional force is acting between an automobile's tire and the road during normal driving?  What type of frictional force is present when automobile tires skid?
  14. What do frictional forces do to kinetic energy?  Is mechanical energy conserved when friction is present?  Is total energy conserved?
  15. Is force conserved?  Can force be created?  Is energy conserved?  Can energy be created?
  16. If a simple machine acts on an object with double the force that is put into it, ideally, is energy still conserved?  If double the force is used, what "tradeoff" will there be in order for energy to be conserved?
  17. What value is force multiplied by distance?  What value is force multiplied by time?
  18. What is power?  What are the units of power?  How else can these unit(s) be written?
  19. What quantity do the units "kilowatt-hour" refer to? What is the conversion factor for its SI equivalent?
  20. When dealing with ropes, what is meant by "tension"?  Does tension have a direction?  For a rope in a pulley system, is tension throughout the rope uniform?


Rotational Motion and Waves

  1. What is meant by rotational equilibrium?  What must add to zero?
  2. What rotational quantity is most analogous to force?  What is this quantity dependent on?
  3. What is simple harmonic motion?
  4. What is Hooke's Law?  Is acceleration constant in such a system?
  5. Considering a spring in SHM, where is the kinetic energy the highest?  Where is potential energy the highest?  Where is potential energy due solely to the spring the highest?
  6. What is meant by a restoring force?  When in SHM is the restoring force the highest?
  7. What is wavelength and how is it measured? 
  8. What is period?  What are its units?  What is frequency?  What are its units?  Quickly, how are these quantities related? 
  9. How are frequency, wavelength, and wave speed related [formula]?
  10. Is a ball attached to a string spinning uniformly around ones head accelerating?  Why or why not?  Is a force acting on this ball?  In which direction is this force?
  11. Considering such a ball on a string moving around one's head, if the string were released, which way would the ball fly?  For a racecar speeding around a racetrack, what force keeps the car from traveling in this direction?
  12. What is meant by centripetal force?  Why is there no centrifugal force acting on the ball on a string?  If there were, which direction would the ball travel if the string were released?
  13. What is the formula for centripetal acceleration?  What is the formula for centripetal force?
  14. What is torque?  What happens to an object when there exists an overall net torque?  When selecting what type of wrench to use, how does one get more torque?  Which component of force is used to calculate the torque?
  15. What is the center of mass?  How is this different than the center of gravity?  Under what conditions are they the same?
  16. When two things on either side of a seesaw's fulcrum, what must cancel out for the seesaw to be balanced?






  1. What is turbulent flow?  What is laminar flow?  Where in laminar flow is the velocity the fastest?
  2. What is the product of cross sectional area and velocity?
  3. In a single tube of varying width, what is true about the volume flow at two different points?  If this is true, what must happen when the cross sectional area is decreased?
  4. How does one calculate the gauge pressure at a given depth?  What is the corresponding absolute pressure?
  5. Approximately how many meters must one go underwater to increase the pressure by one atmosphere?
  6. What is Bernoulli's equation?
  7. What happens to the pressure in a fluid when the velocity increases? 
  8. What is water pressure a function of?  How does the pressure vary with gravity?
  9. What is a buoyant force?  How can you determine if something will float in water?  In air?
  10. What will happen to something with a specific gravity > 1 when dropped into a fish tank?  What is the specific gravity of water?
  11. For an object floating in water, what is the weight due to gravity counteracted by?
  12. How do hot air balloons work?






  1. What unit is used to represent charge?  What is meant by charge?  Can charge be created and destroyed?
  2. What is a conductor?  What is an insulator?  Why are these designations sometime arbitrary?
  3. What is the effect of a positive charge on another positive charge?  What is the effect of a positive charge on a negative charge?
  4. What is Coulomb's law?  What is the force between two charges dependent on?  If the distance between them were tripled, what would happen to the force acting on them?
  5. What is measured by the electric field?  How does one convert the electric field quantity for a certain location into the force felt by a particle of a certain charge?
  6. Is force a vector?  Is the electric field a vector?  Is potential (voltage) a vector?
  7. What quantity measures the force on a particle per coulomb?  What quantity measures the potential energy (work done) of a particle per coulomb?
  8. What is the result of multiplying a constant force by distance?  What is the result of multiplying a constant E-field by distance?
  9. What are field lines?  Where do they start?  Where do they end?  What is the significance of field lines that start close together but spread out the further they get from the source?  What is the significance of field lines that are parallel?
  10. What unit is used to represent the number of coulombs traveling through a medium per second?  What is this quantity called?
  11. What is Ohm's law?
  12. What is the difference between resistance and resistivity?  Does resistance increase or decrease with length?  What about with cross sectional area?  Does electrical resistance usually increase or decrease with increasing temperatures?
  13. If voltage is a measure of work per coulomb and current is a measure of coulombs per second, what does the product of current and voltage equal?  Using Ohm's law,  what is this equation using only current and resistance?
  14. In a circuit, which way do the electrons travel?  Which way, by convention, does the current travel?
  15. How do resistors in series combine?  How do parallel resistors combine?
  16. How do capacitors in series combine?  How do parallel capacitors combine?
  17. Imagine a circuit with a battery and three resistors in series?  Is the voltage constant throughout the loop?  Is the current constant?
  18. Will two different strength resistors parallel experience the same voltage?  Will they experience the same current?  Will two different strength resistors in series experience the same voltage?  the same current?
  19. Does a capacitor allow the long-term flow of electricity in a DC circuit?  What about in an AC circuit?
  20. What is capacitance?  What does it measure?  What units does it use?
  21. When dealing with a parallel-plate capacitor, what are the characteristics of the E-field between the plates?
  22. How does the charge stored on the capacitor change when the voltage applied across it increases?
  23. How does the voltage across the capacitor change as it discharges?
  24. What is meant by "dielectric constant"?
  25. Does a stream of moving cations constitute a current?  How about a moving shoe? 
  26. What are the rules governing potential and current in a complex circuit?




  1. What is a monopole? Do monopoles exist?
  2. Which direction do magnetic field lines point?
  3. How is a magnetic field created? 
  4. In current flowing through a wire, how will the magnetic field be oriented? 
  5. What is the formula for the force exerted on a wire by a magnetic field?  Which way does the cross product of Il x B point?
  6. What is does paramagnetic mean?  Ferromagnetic? Diamagnetic?   
  7. What force acts on two parallel wires carrying charges in the same direction?
  8.  What is induction?  What will induce an EMF in a loop of wire?
  9. What is an inductor?
  10. When dealing with stereo speaker wires, what type of frequencies would an inductor preferentially block?  which would a capacitor block?  Why?




  1. What is the index of refraction?  What is this value for air?  What is it for water? 
  2. How does one determine the speed of light in medium by the medium's index of refraction?
  3. What is Snell's law?  Which way does light bend when traveling from a less dense to a more dense medium?  How are the angles used in this law measured (normal, surface, etc.)?
  4. What is diffraction?  What is refraction?  What is reflection?
  5. What is a virtual image?
  6. What is a concave lens?  What is a convex lens?  What is a concave mirror?  What is a convex mirror?  Which of these are diverging?  Which of these are converging?
  7. What its the focal point of a lens?  What is this in a mirror?
  8. What type of lens is in the glasses of a nearsighted individual?  Which type is in reading glasses? 
  9. Which type of lens is in an overhead projector,  i.e. which type could theoretically project an image on a screen? 
  10. What unit is commonly used to measure the power of a lens?  How is this unit related to focal point?
  11. With a converging lens, where do parallel light rays converge?  Where must the rays originate to cause (after passing through converging lens) parallel rays?
  12. What is magnification?  How is it measured?  How can this be related to the distances do and di?
  13. What is the lensmaker's formula?
  14. How does the magnification of two lenses combine?  How does one go about solving the image location if the two lens powers and object location are known?
  15. What is meant by "out of focus"?  What makes things blurry?
  16. What are the primary colors of light?  What are the primary colors of pigments?
  17. What is electromagnetic radiation
  18. Approximately what wavelength (in nm) is the border of infrared and visible light?  What about the border of visible and ultraviolet?  Which, IR or UV, has the longer wavelength?  Which has the higher frequency?  Which has the higher energy?
  19. What properties of a photon do you need to know to calculate its energy?  In the photoelectric effect, what is the work function? Where does the energy in excess of the work function value go?




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