Part II: Sections VI-X
(Emphasis is on electrostatics and magnetism, electricity and
circuits, sound and doppler effect, light and radiation, and geometrical
At the beginning of each of the 10 sections in the Physics Review Books (2017
edition) is a page listing the "Selected equations, facts, concepts, and
shortcuts" for that particular section. After reading the text in each section
and completing the accompanying MCAT-style passages, we feel that you will have a
better conceptual understanding of the material important to the physics found in
the Chemical and Physical Foundations of Biological Systems section of the MCAT.
Section VI: Electrostatics
- Know the difference between conductors and
insulators. Conductors allow for the movement of charge while insulators impede
the movement of charge.
- Understand how to use Coulomb's law. Be
aware that this law applies only to charges in a vacuum. Be familiar with the
unit of charge, the coulomb, and how charges interact with one another.
- Understand how electric fields are created. An electric field can be defined
as the ability of a charged particle to exert a force on another charged
particle. Know how to use a positive test charge to probe an electric
- Be familiar with field lines and know how to draw them.
Electric field lines are defined to show the direction of the electric force that
acts on a positive test charge. They will never intersect with one
- Understand the meaning of the dielectric constant. The
effect that a medium can have on charges is taken into account by a parameter
called the dielectric constant. This parameter is just the ratio of the
electrical force between two charges when they are in a vacuum compared to when
they are in a given medium.
- Understand the meaning of electrostatic
potential and how it is related to electric potential energy and electric field.
Electrostatic potential can be defined as the ability of a charged particle to do
work on another charged particle. If a test charge is moved from one place to
another against an electric field, the test charge experiences a change in
electrostatic potential. The work done against the electric field is converted to
electrostatic potential energy.
- Be familiar with equipotential
lines. An equipotential line is simply a surface on which the potential is the
same everywhere. Understand what happens to a test charge when placed at any
point on the same equipotential line.
- Be familiar with electric
dipoles. An electric dipole can be established if two charges of opposite sign
are separated from one another by some distance. Understand what happens if a
dipole is placed in a uniform electric field. Understand what happens when the
torque is at a maximum or a minimum.
- Be familiar with magnetic
fields. Magnetic fields have a magnitude and they have a direction. Magnetic
fields can exert a magnetic force on a charge moving in that field. The moving
charge will feel a force which is always perpendicular to both the velocity and
the magnetic field.
- Be familiar with the electromagnetic spectrum.
Electromagnetic waves are electrical and magnetic disturbances that propagate
through space at the speed of light. Know the speed of light. All of the
different types of electromagnetic waves have a characteristic wavelength and
frequency that can be related to the speed of light. Understand how to use this
Passages and Solutions
Section VI includes 6 MCAT-style passages with detailed solutions.
Passage topics are centered around information important to electrostatics and
Section VII: Electricity and Circuits
- Be familiar with electric currents. The flow of
charge (q) from one point to another point during a certain amount of time (t) is
called an electric current (I) and can be defined by the expression I = delta
q/delta t. Current has a direction in an electric field. Current flows in the
same direction that positive charges will flow and in the opposite direction that
negative charges will flow.
- Be familiar with batteries and how they
operate. Batteries are an important source of electric power. They have a
negatively charged pole (anode) and a positively charged pole (cathode) that
allows for a separation of charge. Movement of this charge from a low potential
to a high potential generates an electromotive force (a voltage source).
- Know how to use the expressions for resistivity and conductivity. The
resistivity of a material is the ratio of the electric field to the current
density. Conductivity is just the reciprocal of the resistivity.
Understand how to use Ohm's law. Ohm's law is a relationship between the current
(I) in a conductor, the electrical resistance (R) in a conductor, and the
potential difference (V) across the ends of a conductor. The expression for Ohm's
law (V = IR) is a direct result of the proportionality between the electric field
and the current density.
- Be familiar with electric power. Power is
the rate of conversion of electrical potential energy into some other type of
energy. Know how to relate power to current and voltage.
- Know how to
apply Kirchhoff's loop rule and Kirchhoff's junction rule. Kirchhoff's loop rule
states that the algebraic sum of the potential differences (voltage changes) in
any closed circuit (loop) is equal to zero. Kirchhoff's junction rule states that
current flowing through a junction must equal the current that entered the
junction. Be sure you understand how to use these two rules.
how to work with resistors in series and in parallel. Understand how to replace
several resistors in series with a single equivalent resistor and how to replace
several resistors in parallel with a single equivalent resistor.
familiar with capacitors and dielectrics. A capacitor is formed from two
conductors which are separated by an insulator. Understand what happens when a
voltage is placed between the parallel plates of a capacitor. Know how to
calculate the capacitance of a capacitor. A dielectric is a non-conducting
material between the conducting plates of a capacitor.
the process behind charging a capacitor. An emf source such as a battery can be
used to charge a capacitor. Know what happens as more and more positive charge
flows to the positively charged plate of a capacitor. Be able to predict what
the charge on the capacitor and the voltage drop across the capacitor will be at
various times after the capacitor begins charging or discharging.
Know how to work with capacitors in series and in parallel. Be aware that the
form of the expression for working with capacitors in series and in parallel is
different from the form of the expression for working with resistors in series
and in parallel.
Passages and Solutions
Section VII includes 6 MCAT-style passages with detailed solutions.
Passage topics are centered around information important to electricity and
- Have a general understanding of how the human
ear detects sounds. Be familiar with the basic anatomy of the human ear. Be able
to outline the steps involved in conversion of a sound wave to a nerve
- Be familiar with the mechanics of a sound wave. As a sound
wave moves forward, it will begin to compress the medium in front of it,
resulting in a compressional waves moving outward in all directions from the
source of the sound.
- Know how to find the speed of a longitudinal
sound wave in various media. Have a feel for the speed of sound in air. Be aware
that the speed of sound in liquids and metal is much higher. Understand why this
is the case.
- Be familiar with the subjective properties used to
describe sound. Know the difference between pitch and intensity. Pitch describes
the frequency of a sound. The intensity of a sound wave is the power that the
wave transports per unit area of its wave front.
- Know the difference
between the intensity and intensity level of a sound. The units for sound
intensity is expressed watt/m2. The units for sound intensity level is expressed
- Understand what is meant by the Doppler effect. The
Doppler effect can be exhibited by all types of waves. The Doppler effect is a
frequency shift that occurs because of motion of the source of the wave, or
motion of the receiver of the wave or motion of both source and receiver.
- Know the general form of the Doppler equation and how to use it. Have a good
understanding of each variable in this equation. Know why if you are moving
toward the source of a sound, the frequency of sound waves encountered by the
listener will always be greater than the frequency of sound waves emitted by the
source. Conversely, know why if you and the source of the sound are moving away
from one another, the frequency of the sound waves encountered by the listener
will always be less than the frequency of the sound waves emitted by the
- Be aware that the Doppler shift for light waves differs than
that for sound waves. Sound waves need a medium in which to propagate; light
waves do not. In space one can only say that an observer and a source of light
are moving with respect to one another. This is based on Einstein's principle of
- Be familiar with resonance in strings. Understand the
nature of a standing wave, a node, and an antinode. Know how far nodes are away
from one another. Know where an antinode is in relation to a node.
Be familiar with resonance in closed and open pipes. Understand how a pressure
pulse of air moves into and out of a closed pipe and an open pipe, and how it
undergoes a change of phase. Understand why a closed pipe can vibrate at odd
multiples of the fundamental frequency and not at even multiples. Understand why
an open pipe can vibrate at all fundamental frequencies.
Passages and Solutions
Section VIII includes 6 MCAT-style passages with detailed solutions.
Passage topics are centered around information important to sound and doppler
- Review the electromagnetic spectrum (again).
Know where the major electromagnetic waves fall within the electromagnetic
spectrum. Know where the wavelength of visible light begins and where it ends in
this spectrum. Know the colors associated with those wavelengths.
Know the difference between unpolarized and polarized light. Light that radiates
in all planes is said to be unpolarized. If light were to be passed through a
polarizing filter, then radiation would occur in just one plane, and the light
would be linearly polarized. Understand how this occurs.
Passages and Solutions
Section IX includes 6 MCAT-style passages with detailed solutions.
Passage topics are centered around information important to light and radiation.
Understand the law of reflection. The law of reflection says that the angle an
incident light ray makes with a surface is equal to the angle that the reflected
light ray makes with the surface.
- Be familiar with the index of
refraction. If a light wave passes from one medium to another, its direction
usually changes. The wave that changes direction is said to be refracted.
Refraction is the result in the change of speed of the incident light wave as it
passes from one medium to the next. Electromagnetic radiation that passes through
a vacuum travels at the speed of light. However, in a medium other than a vacuum
the velocity of the wave depends on the medium itself. The index of refraction is
the ratio of the speed of a wave in a vacuum to the speed of that wave in a given
- Understand how to apply Snell's law. The relationship
between the index of refraction of each medium and the angle of incidence and the
angle of refraction is governed by Snell's law.
- Be familiar with
total internal reflection. When light rays from an underwater light source reach
the surface of the water, some are reflected and some are refracted. However, as
the angle of incidence increases, the intensity of the refracted rays decreases
while the intensity of the reflected rays increases. At some critical angle of
incidence there is total internal reflection.
- Be familiar with the
phenomenon of dispersion. Understand why red light is deflected the least while
violet light is deflected the most as white light is passed through a
- Know how to work with lenses. Two types of lenses to be
familiar with are converging lenses and diverging lenses. Understand what is
meant by a focal point, a real image, and a virtual image. Know how to use the
expression for a thin lens. Be familiar with the linear magnification of an
- Be familiar with combination lenses. Optical instruments
like binoculars, telescopes, and microscopes contain more than one lens.
Understand how they work.
- Be familiar with mirrors. Mirrors focus
light by reflecting it. The three general types of mirrors are plane (flat),
concave (converging), and convex (diverging). Know how to use the thin lens
expression for locating an image produced by a mirror.
Passages and Solutions
Section X includes 6 MCAT-style passages with detailed solutions.
Passage topics are centered around information important to geometrical optics.
At the end of Book II are five diagnostics, each with 9 passages,
free standing questions, and detailed solutions.
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