Physics was by far my strongest subject going into the OAT. I got straight A’s in undergrad in Physics at UC Santa Barbara and 90th percentile in the OAT Physics section of the exam.
For even the most physic-phobic students, here’s the strategy to dominate the OAT physics section.
ABOUT THE TEST
Content & Timing
You will have 50 minutes to complete 40 physics questions. You do not have access to a calculator. Although there is no “official weighting guide,” I’ve found that Kinematics (which I define to include Units, Vectors, Statics & Dynamics) makes up a very large portion of the test (potentially up to 40%!). Thus, I highly recommend that you master Kinematics to do well on OAT Physics.
How to Study in General
You need to do practice problems. Lots of practice problems. Period. I’ve never heard someone say “I did too many practice problems,” but I’ve certainly heard people say “I spent way too much time rereading the chapters in my textbook.”
How to Learn the Equations
You will need to know all the equations, but I recommend against memorizing them via brute force. The best way to learn them is through actually using them while solving practice problems.
You can think about using the equation sheet like using training wheels. For the first 50% of studying, simply refer to the equation sheet whenever you are solving a problem and can’t remember an equation. Then, slowly wean yourself off the equation sheet until you can recall them as needed.
Reverse Engineer to Solve (Almost) Any Physics Problem
In large part, the steps to solve most OAT physics problems are the same:
- List what you are trying to solve for (let’s called this “X”)
- Write down your given variables
- Write a rough sketch (if applicable)
- Ask yourself: “what information do I need to be able to solve for X?”
In many cases, this is where you will need to recall a specific formula. Keep “reverse engineering.” If to solve for the horizontal distance a ball is thrown off of a cliff, you need to determine the time the ball was in flight, ask yourself the same question. “What information do I need to be able to solve for the time the ball was in flight?”
Eventually, you will reach a point where you have the requisite information, and you have solved your problem!
- Last, do a quick sanity check.
Does it make sense that your answer is negative? Does it make sense that your weight in an ascending elevator is greater than in the elevator at rest?
ON TEST DAY
Time to Crush
The OAT physics section comes directly after your break. You will have just completed 100 Bio, Gen Chem, and Ochem problems, along with 50 reading comprehension problems. You will be mentally and physically tired. Make sure you eat a good lunch, relax, and if you’d like, get a little glucose to your brain for the last stretch. Note: you may spend 5-10 minutes checking back in to the test, so make sure you plan accordingly to be back in your seat on time. The physics section will start immediately when your break is over.
If You’re Tripping, Mark for Skipping
The most score-improving advice I ever received regarding the physics section was to skip problems that are taking too long. A good rule of thumb is that if you’re spending more than a minute on a problem, mark it for review.
Don’t let your ego get in the way. The worst thing for your score is to spend 5 minutes on a problem. Even if you finally get it (and what if you don’t?) you will have wasted valuable time and brain power for the rest of the test.
- Have kinematics DOWN
- Do lots of practice problems.
- Slowly wean yourself off of the equations sheet
- Follow the reverse engineering strategy to solve any problem
- If you’re spending more than 1 minute struggling with any problem, mark it for review.
May the (Mass x Acceleration) be with you!
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