physics

physicsproficiency exams

PHYSICS PROFICIENCY EXAMS

(last updated on June 18, 2014)


The general CWRU policies on proficiency exams are described in the First Year Registration Guide (see pages 35 - 36 in http://case.edu/ugstudies/students/docs/FYRGuide2013-14.pdf ). The Department of Physics offers proficiency exams for PHYS 115, 116, 121, 122 & 221. These exams are given twice each year, shortly before classes start in the fall and spring semesters, on a schedule determined by the Office of Undergraduate Studies. In recent years, the fall exams have been offered on the Thursday and the spring exams on the Saturday before classes begin. The last set of physics proficiency exams was given on Saturday, January 11, 2014. The date for the next set of exams is scheduled for Thursday, August 21 from 2 - 5 PM in Rockefeller 301.

Proficiency exams are NOT given on request at other times! Students are expected to research these scheduling issues BEFORE making travel plans.

( It is not normally possible to complete two proficiency exams in a single three hour period, although you are welcome to try. Students who wish to test out of two physics courses will generally have to do this by taking separate exams in August and in January. Students occasionally ask if they are limited to a single attempt to pass a proficiency exam; the answer is no, you can try as many times as you wish, once each semester. )

To be certain that an exam is available for you, you must register for a proficiency exam  in advance ( preferably at least 24 hours in advance ) by contacting the academic representative of the Department of Physics, Prof. G. Chottiner. Email is preferable. ( gary.chottiner@case.edu , 216-368-4024, Rockefeller 104D).  Your message should include the following information.

1. the email address to which your results should be sent, preferably an official CWRU email address

2. your student ID number (a 7 digit number that probably starts with a 3, not your network ID that starts with three letters)

3. which of the five possible exams you plan to take. If you aren't certain about this, consult your academic advisor since it's your major, not the physics department, that determines which physics credit you need. If no one requests an exam for a particular course, an exam for that course may not be available.  If the number of  students who show up for an exam exceeds the number of available exams, those who registered in advance will be given priority.

4. your class (first year, sophomore, junior or senior) and your major(s) or intended major(s). This might make a difference in the lab competency requirement associated with the physics proficiency exam you take.


A description of the material covered by each exam and a sample exam for each course are provided below. Please do not ask for answers (neat easily-readable answers are not produced for these exams) or for additional sample exams. The sample exams are posted so that students can see the style and level of difficulty of these exams. The point of these proficiency exams is to provide students who believe they know the material an opportunity to demonstrate that they should be excused from the corresponding course. If you need extensive practice or help with the sample exam, then you should be taking the class.

The physics proficiency exams are similar to the final exams given in each course; problems are modeled on those of past final exams and on homework problems from texts used in these courses. To receive proficiency credit, your performance on the exam must be equivalent to or better than a high C grade in the course ( in the neighborhood of 70% ).  Proficiency credit is indicated on your transcript by the symbols PR; no letter grade is given and proficiency credit does not count as part of your GPA.

Students are not expected to memorize formulae and constants in most of our introductory physics courses and you do not need to memorize them for the proficiency exams. Each exam will include a page of such material, this page will contain the fundamental formulae and physical constants that you should need for the exam.   You are expected to remember basic mathematical formulae (algebra, trig, calculus) but any complex formulae required to solve a particular problem will be provided. You can view a sample formula sheet at Proficiency Exam Formulae.pdf but note that the actual paper version you receive during the exam may vary slightly from the version posted here. Different texts and instructors may use variations of the formulae that you will be provided, so be certain you understand the format that will be provided with the proficiency exam.

You need to supply your own calculator, pencils and erasers. There are no restrictions on the kind of calculator you use for the exam, but computers, phones and other devices with communication capabilities may not be used during the test. A programmable, graphing calculator in which lots of formulae are stored is unlikely to help someone who does not understand the basic physics of a question.

Occasionally a student will ask for advice on whether to take a proficiency exam. The physics department is officially neutral on this subject; the decision is yours and there is no penalty for trying the exam except for the time you spend studying and taking the exam. However you may want to consult your advisor and consider the following factors.

Positive Factors

1. If you know the material well enough to pass the proficiency exam, you may be wasting your time taking the class.

2. Passing a course by proficiency frees up your schedule so that you may take another course in its place.

Negative Factors

1. There have been many students who skipped a first course in physics either through a proficiency exam or AP credit and who started immediately in the second course in the introductory physics sequence. Some of these students have a hard time adjusting to this second course and its lab, which assume that you have been through the first course here. Most people ( perhaps 90% ) make this adjustment in a few weeks but some never do and struggle through the entire semester, in some cases dropping the course and ending up worse off than they would have been taking the earlier course.

2. Historically, less than 50% of the people attempting the physics proficiency exams pass them.


LABORATORY COMPETENCE

PHYS 115, 116, 121 and 122 each have a laboratory component and it is not possible to test this aspect of your education on a proficiency exam. Labs are a critical component of introductory physics and your perfomrance in the lab counts for 25% of your course grade. Until the summer of 2007, the Department of Physics withheld proficiency credit from students who passed the exam until those students could independently establish their laboratory skills. This could be done via an interview with the Laboratory Director, by taking the stand-alone lab PHYS 113A or PHYS 113B lab, or by successfully completing the second course in a physics sequence, with its associated laboratory.

In the summer of 2007, the department decided to relax these requirements and to immediately issue proficiency credit for students who pass the PHYS 115 and 121 proficiency exams, as long as you plan to take the next course in the sequence, either PHYS 116 or PHYS 122, since taking the second course ensures that you hve a suitable laboratory experience. If you are nervous about taking the PHYS 116 or PHYS 122 labs without having taken a mechanics lab at CWRU, you should consult with the Laboratory Director of the Department of Physics, Dr. D. Driscoll ( Rockefeller 222A, x-8844, did2@po.cwru.edu ) about taking PHYS 113A.

Students who pass the PHYS 116 or PHYS 122 proficiency exam (plus those who pass the PHYS 115 or PHYS 121 exam but who will not take another physics course with a lab at CWRU) WILL have to establish their Laboratory Competence before they receive proficiency credit. This can be done via either of two methods.

1. Complete PHYS 113B ( the lab component of PHYS 116 and 122 ). These labs are 1 credit courses that meet for 3 hours every other week during the semester ( seven total sessions ). After successfully completing PHYS 113B with a grade of C or better (> 70% ), your proficiency credit will be posted - BUT you will have to initiate the posting process after receiving your lab grade, by contacting Prof. Chottiner in the Department of Physics and asking Dr. Driscoll to forward your lab grade to him.

2.   You may arrange an interview with the Laboratory Director of the Department of Physics, Dr. D. Driscoll ( Rockefeller 222A, x-8844, did2@po.cwru.edu ), to demonstrate that you possess a knowledge of experimental physics techniques and procedures equivalent to that expected in the CWRU E&M labs. Successful completion of a mechanics lab course at CWRU (PHYS 113A, 115, 121 or 123) certainly helps but may not be sufficient. You should bring to the interview as much of the documentation described below as you can easily obtain. Don't worry if you don't have everything; just bring what you do have and be prepared to discuss the other items. Do NOT bring a letter from a high school physics instructor; we've found these to be of little value in this process. You should ideally have evidence of experience with laboratory notebooks, data acquisition by hand and by computer, data and error analysis ( including error estimates, error propagation, statistical analysis, and linear as well as nonlinear fits ), report writing and exposure to various types of apparatus related to basic concepts in electricity and magnetism. Be prepared to answer a few basic questions about each of the topics mentioned above. You may, for example, be asked how to perform certain types of data or error analysis or how particular types of measurements could be made.  


EXAM COVERAGE

The General Bulletin description of each course is copied below, along with a more detailed listing of topics which might be tested on the proficiency exam. A sample exam for each course is available at the link provided for each course.

For your convenience, the chapters in Halliday, Resnick and Walker, 6th edition, that would be covered by the proficiency exams for PHYS 115, 116, 121 and 122 are also given below. This edition is obsolete but it should be as easy to find as any equivalent physics text. Physics textbook publishers provide new editions every couple of years, and our various course instructors can choose from many different texts each year. Furthermore, PHYS 115/116 no longer uses a calculus-based text such as Halliday, Resnick and Walker. So, consider the following listing as a rough guide to the topics that may be tested on each exam.

PHYS 115 Introductory Physics I  - Mechanics (sample exam)

First part of a two-semester sequence directed primarily towards students working towards a B.A. in science, with an emphasis on the life sciences. While the formal calculus prerequisite for this sequence was dropped in 2003, Case students taking PHYS 115/116 normally have taken calculus and it is possible that some proficiency exam problems will require knowledge of basic calculus. Kinematics; Newton's laws of motion; rotational motion; conservation laws; gravitation; simple harmonic motion; mechanical waves; fluids; ideal gas law; heat and the first and second laws of thermodynamics. This course has a laboratory component. Prereq: MATH121, MATH123 or MATH125.

- 1-D motion, velocity and acceleration, average and instantaneous (Chapter 2)

- vectors, components, addition, multiplication (Chapter 3)

- 2-D and 3-D motion, projectile motion, uniform circular motion, relative motion (Chapter 4)

- forces and motion, Newton's Laws (Chapter 5)

- friction (Chapter 6)

- kinetic energy and work (Chapter 7)

- potential energy and conservation of energy (Chapter 8)

- collisions, momentum and conservation of momentum, elastic and inelastic (Chapters 9 & 10)

- rotational dynamics, torques, angular momentum, moments of inertia (Chapters 11 & 12)

- static equilibrium (Chapter 13)

- gravity and planetary motion (Chapter 14)

- fluids (Chapter 15)

- oscillations and simple harmonic motion (Chapter 16)

- waves, sound (Chapter 17 & 18)

- thermodynamics, temperature, ideal gas (Chapters 19-21)

 

PHYS 116 Introductory Physics II - Electricity and Magnetism (sample exam)

Electrostatics, Coulomb's law, Gauss's law; capacitance and resistance; DC circuits; magnetic fields; electromagnetic induction; RC and RL circuits; light; geometrical optics; interference and diffraction; special relativity. Introduction to quantum mechanics; elements of atomic, nuclear and particle physics. This course has a laboratory component. Prereq: PHYS115.

- electric charge, fields (Chapters 22 & 23)

- Gauss' Law (Chapter 24)

- electric potential (Chapter 25)

- capacitance (Chapter 26)

- current and resistance (Chapter 27)

- circuits (Chapter 28)

- magnetic fields (Chapters 29 & 30)

- induction and inductance (Chapter 31)

- magnetism of matter: Maxwell's Equation (Chapter 32)

- electromagnetic oscillations and Alternating Current (Chapter 33)

- electromagnetic waves (Chapter 34)

- optics and images (Chapter 35)

- interference and diffraction (Chapters 36 & 37)

- special theory of relativity (Chapter 38)

- photons and matter waves (Chapters 39 & 40)

- atoms (Chapter 41)

- nuclear physics (Chapters 43 & 44)

- particle physics and cosmology (Chapter 45)

 

PHYS 121 General Physics I - Mechanics (sample exam)

Particle dynamics. Newton's laws of motion, energy and momentum conservation, rotational motion, and angular momentum conservation.. This course has a laboratory component. Prereq: MATH121, MATH123, MATH125 or one year of high school calculus.

- 1-D motion, velocity and acceleration, average and instantaneous (Chapter 2)

- vectors, components, addition, multiplication (Chapter 3)

- 2-D and 3-D motion, projectile motion, uniform circular motion, relative motion (Chapter 4)

- forces and motion, Newton's Laws (Chapter 5)

- friction (Chapter 6)

- kinetic energy and work (Chapter 7)

- potential energy and conservation of energy (Chapter 8)

- collisions, momentum and conservation of momentum, elastic and inelastic (Chapters 9 & 10)

- rotational dynamics, torques, angular momentum, moments of inertia (Chapters 11 & 12)

- static equilibrium (Chapter 13)

- gravity and planetary motion (Chapter 14)

- oscillations and simple harmonic motion (Chapter 16)

 

PHYS 122 General Physics II - Electricity and Magnetism (sample exam)

Electricity and magnetism emphasizing the basic electromagnetic laws of Gauss, Ampere, and Faraday. Maxwell's equations and electromagnetic waves, interference, and diffraction. This course has a laboratory component Prereq: PHYS121 or PHYS123. Coreq: MATH122, MATH124 or MATH126.

- electric charge, fields (Chapters 22 & 23)

- Gauss' Law (Chapter 24)

- electric potential (Chapter 25)

- capacitance (Chapter 26)

- current and resistance (Chapter 27)

- circuits (Chapter 28)

- magnetic fields (Chapters 29 & 30)

- induction and inductance (Chapter 31)

- magnetism of matter: Maxwell's Equation (Chapter 32)

- electromagnetic oscillations and Alternating Current (Chapter 33)

- electromagnetic waves (Chapter 34)

- interference and diffraction (Chapters 36 & 37)

 

PHYS 221 Introduction to Modern Physics (sample exam)

Concepts in special relativity, statistical mechanics and quantum mechanics and their impacts on modern technology. Applications to atomic structure, and selected topics in nuclear, condensed matter physics, particle physics, and cosmology. Prereq: PHYS116, PHYS122 or PHYS124.

A more detailed list of topics follows, along with the chapters in which they may be found in a typical text, Modern Physics by Kenneth Krane, Wiley, ISBN: 0-471-82872-6, 1996.

- Special Theory of Relativity (Chapter 2)

- Particle-like Properties of Electromagnetic Radiation (Chapter 3)

- Wavelike Properties of Particles (Chapter 4)

- Schrodinger Equation (Chapter 5)

- Atoms (Chapters 6-8)

- Statistical Physics (Chapter 9)

- Solid State Physics (Chapter 10)

- Nuclear Physics and Radioactivity (Chapters 11 & 12)

- Elementary Particles (Chapter 13)

- Astrophysics and General Relativity (Chapter 14)


Contact the academic representative of the Department of Physics (Prof. G. Chottiner, gsc2@case.edu ) for more information on proficiency exams.


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