About the Course

This is a four-week course at the San Diego Math Circle preparing students for the F=ma contest offered by the American Association of Physics Teachers, to select for the USA Physics Olympiad.

The course runs from 13:30-15:30 on four Sundays from December 16, 2018 to January 20, 2019.

The official schedule is kept in the San Diego Math Circle Master Calendar.

Weekly Topics

Week 1 – December 16, 2019

Discussed in class

  • The 2018A exam – Questions 2, 4, 5, 9, 10, 11, 14, 15, 19 & 25.

Things to know

  • Moments of inertia for various objects.
  • Relation between period/frequency of a (complicated) pendulum and its moment of inertia.

Old examshere.

Please save the 2018B exam for later!

HW – for Week 2:

  1. Work through the rest of 2018A and the whole 2016 exam at your own pace. Look at the solutions and email questions by 23:59 on January 2.
  2. Take the 2017 exam under similar conditions to the real exam. Try your best to see how you'd do in the real thing.
  3. Finish the algebra of 2018A#9.
  4. Derive the new spring constant of spring cut in half in 2018A#11.
  5. Derive the relation between total and kinetic energies under the conditions of 2018A#15. That is, show E = -K under adiabatic conditions.

Week 2 – January 6, 2019

Discussed in class

  • The 2018A exam – Questions 15, 16, 17 & any others requested.
  • The 2015 exam – most difficult questions in 30 minutes & discussion.
  • Dimensional, magnitude & extremal analysis methods.

Things to know – test taking strategies.

  • Answer every question. You'd expect 5/25 just by guessing randomly on the whole test.
  • If you don't see an approach to reach the answer to a question (almost) immediately, skip it and return later – exactly the opposite of our exercise with the 2015 exam today.
  • Dimensional or magnitude analysis methods are your first line of attack where relevant. Avoid rederivation and full calculations wherever possible. Caveat: learn them anyway – it strengthens understanding and is a great fall back if you have spare time.
  • Extremal analysis is useful for any problems with a variable parameter, e.g. 2015#22.

HW – for Week 3:

  1. Prepare for the "practice" exam to be administered next week.
  2. Make sure to bring all materials needed for the real exam, as specified by the AAPT rules. Scantrons will be provided.

Week 3 – January 13, 2019

Discussed in class

  • Practice exam sitting! 2018B exam will be administered starting at 13:45 – á la the real exam – scantrons and all.
    • Scantrons will be provided. Bring all materials needed for the real exam, as specified by the AAPT rules
    • Parents will be asked to sit in the back or wait outside during the exam portion.
  • Open floor for questions from the 2018B exam. We covered 7, 10, 12, 13, 14, 15, 19, 17, 21, 23 & 24.

Week 4 – January 20, 2019

Discussed in class

  • Open floor for any questions.
  • Reviewing the remainder of the 2018B exam.

Exams – January 23 & January 25, 2019

See the San Diego Math Circle F=ma page for details.

Closing Remarks

I hope everyone enjoyed this class! Good luck!

If you feel inclined to give me feedback, you can do so anonymously – or not.


American Association of Physics Teachers

F=ma exam home page.

Old F=ma exams 2007-2018.


I recommend Physics, Principles with Applications, Sixth Edition by Giancoli. This is the book I used at this level.