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How to teach AP physics

It’s easy to teach physics in a wordy and complicated way – but taking a concept and breaking it down into simple steps, and presenting ideas in a way that are easily comprehensible to the eager student, is more challenging.

Yet that is what Nobel prize winning physicist Richard Feynman excelled at.  The same skills that made one a good teacher also caused one to more fully understand the topic him/herself. This was Feynman’s basic method of learning.

Feynman How to teach physics

1) Develop an array of hands-on labs that allow one to study basic phenomenon.

You can also use many wonderful online simulations, such as PhET or Physics Aviary.

2) Each day go over several problems in class. They need to see a master teacher take what appears to be a complex word problem, and turn it into equations.

3.) Insure that students take good notes.  One way of doing this is having the occasional surprise graded notebook check (say, twice per month.)

4) Each week assign homework. Each day randomly call a few students to put one of their solutions on the board. Recall that the goal is not to get the correct numerical answer. (That sometime can come by luck or cheating.) Focus on the derivation. Does the student understand which basic principles are involved?

5) Keep track of strengths and weaknesses: Is there a weakness in algebra, trigonometry, or geometry?  When you see a pattern emerge, assign problem sets that require mastering the weak area – not to punish them, but to build skills. Start with a few very easy problems, and slowly build in complexity. Let them work in groups if you like.

6) Don’t drown yourself in paperwork: Don’t grade every problem, from every student, every day. You could easily work 24 hours a day and still have more work to do. Only collect & grade some percent of the homework.

7) Focus on simple drawings – or for classes that uses programming to simulate physics phenomenon – simple animations. Are the students capable of sketching free-body diagrams that strip away extraneous info? Can they diagram out all the forces on an object?

8) Give frequent assessments that are easy to grade.

9) Get books such as TIPERS for Physics, or Ranking Task Exercises in Physics. They are diagnostic tools to check for misconceptions.. Call publishers for free sample textbooks and resources. For a textbook I happen to like Giancoli Physics; their teacher solution manual is very well thought out.


Organic molecule models

At Seaport Academy, science education isn’t about drills and worksheets. We motivate students with hands-on activities, interactive apps, three dimensional animations, connections to the world around then, and labs.

Here we’re learning about organic molecules by building three dimensional models, and using magnetic board manipulatives.

Building molecules kit

Our smartboard is also a magnetic workspace.

Building organic molecules on board

Learning Standards

2016 Massachusetts Science and Technology/Engineering Curriculum Framework

HS-LS1-6. Construct an explanation based on evidence that organic molecules are primarily composed of six elements, where carbon, hydrogen, and oxygen atoms may combine with nitrogen, sulfur, and phosphorus to form monomers that can further combine to form large carbon-based macromolecules.
• Monomers include amino acids, mono- and disaccharides, nucleotides, and fatty acids.
• Organic macromolecules include proteins, carbohydrates (polysaccharides), nucleic acids, and lipids.

Prof Devel log NGSS Science discussion group

Sample prof development log for teachers in a NGSS Science Facebook discussion group.

Prof Development Log for FB Science teachers group (MS Doc format)

Prof Development Log for FB Science teachers group, PDF format


Concept Maps

We’re teaching our students how to translate articles into concept maps: these are graphical tool that depict relationships between concepts. They are used by students, engineers, and technical writers, to organize and structure knowledge.

Here’s an example of how one could take ideas related to energy and electricity, and show how they are related:

Electricity Concept Map
A concept map typically represents ideas and information as boxes or circles.


They are connected with labeled arrows.

The relationship between concepts often shows us cause-and-effect, with terms like: causes, requires, or “contributes to.”


How to create a concept map

Read the article

Identify the main concepts

How are the concepts related to each other?

Draw a rough map: draw each concept inside a square or circle

Draw arrows showing how one action or event affects another

You can use symbols “+” for increase, and ” – ” for decrease.

Here’s an example of an astronomy concept map

Astronomy concept map

Learning Standards

Why should teachers use concept maps? According to the National Research Council, experts differ from novices in that experts notice features and patterns of information, have acquired a great deal of content knowledge that is organized in ways that reflect deep understanding. Their knowledge cannot be reduced to a set of isolated facts or propositions but, instead, reflects contexts of applicability (Bransford, Brown, and Cocking 2000). More important, experts have efficiently coded and organized this information into well-connected schemas that help experts interpret new information and notice features and meaningful patterns of information that might be overlooked by less competent learners (Pellegrino, Chudowshy, and Glaser 2001).

As students gain mastery of concept maps, they develop an understanding of relationships among elements of a concept, ultimately making incremental gains in moving from novice to expert-level learners. Furthermore, by constructing concept maps, students enhance a metacognitive approach to learning by negotiating their ideas, taking control of their own learning, and monitoring their progress. As the learner physically draws the connection between two subtopics, he/she reinforces that same connection mentally.

From “Making the Most of Concept Maps”, Douglas Llewellyn, National Science Teachers Association

Note taking skills

Three main ways to take notes: Cornell notes, Guided notes & Harvard notes

James Kennedy Annotated notebook

No one note-taking system is always best. The type of notes that helps one the most depends on the subject and material.


Cornell Notes

A systematic format for condensing and organizing notes. The student divides the paper into two columns: the note-taking column (usually on the right) is twice the size of the questions/key word column (on the left). The student should leave five to seven lines, or about two in (5 cm), at the bottom of the page.

Notes from a class are written in the note-taking column; they consist of the main ideas; long ideas are paraphrased. Long sentences are avoided; symbols or abbreviations are used instead. To assist with future reviews, relevant questions (which should be recorded as soon as possible so that the lecture and questions will be fresh in the student’s mind) or key words are written in the key word column.

Within 24 hours of taking the notes, the student must revise and write questions, and then write a brief summary in the bottom five to seven lines of the page. This helps to increase understanding of the topic.

When reviewing the material, the student can cover the note-taking (right) column while attempting to answer the questions/keywords in the key word or cue (left) column.
_ Wikipedia

The Cornell Note Taking system (2 page PDF file)


Guided Notes

“Sometimes lecturers may provide handouts of guided notes, which provide a “map” of the lecture content with key points or ideas missing. Students then fill in missing items as the lecture progresses. Guided notes may assist students in following lectures and identifying the most important ideas from a lecture. This format provides students with a framework, yet requires active listening (as opposed to providing copies of powerpoint slides in their entirety). Research has shown that guided notes improve students’ recording of critical points in lecture as well as their quiz scores on related content.” – Wikipedia

Example of guided notes for a biology class:

Guided notes


Harvard Notes

This is a very well organized and common note-taking system. When taking notes from a book or lecture:
 Write down the main idea of at least every other paragraph.
 Use phrases, not complete sentences
 Where you have a I, you have to have a II; where you have an A, you have to
have a B
 You don’t need sub ideas


Harvard notes

Image from hicksvillepublicschools.org, note taking systems.



Here is a example from the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga, Center for College and Student Success, note-taking methods.

Harvard outline example


Related articles

For Note Taking, Low-Tech is Often Best; In college lecture halls, evidence suggests it’s time to put down the laptop and pick up a pen. By Susan Dynarski

Wikipedia text is from “Note-taking.” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. 5 Mar. 2018.


Our school is right by Boston Harbor – learning about the sea is second nature to many of our staff. So we love to tie maritime history and science into our curriculum.

Binnacle maritime

Photo by RK

As you enter our school, you pass by a binnacle – what was it used for?

A binnacle is a waist-high case, found on the deck of a ship, that holds the compass.

It is mounted in gimbals to keep it level while the ship pitched and rolled.

It also has a mechanism to compensate for errors in detecting the Earth’s magnetic field.

Every ship’s captain would use one, for navigating in and out of Boston Harbor, and around the world.


Here we see Boston Harbor – now let’s get in to how the binnacle works!

Boston Harbor Islands map

This map is from mass.gov/eea/images/dcr


Why did we need to develop the binnacle?

Excerpted from Magnetic Deviation: Comprehension, Compensation and Computation by Ron Doerfler  

Today, radio navigational systems such as LORAN and GPS, and inertial navigation systems with ring and fiber-optic gyros, gyrocompasses and the like have reduced the use of a ship’s compass to worst-case scenarios. But this triumph of mathematics and physics over the mysteries of magnetic deviation, entered into at a time when magnetic forces were barely understood and set against the backdrop of hundreds of shipwrecks and thousands of lost lives, is an enriching chapter in the history of science.

The Sources of Compass Error

Ron Doerfler writes:

Compasses on ships fail to point to true (geographic) north due to two factors:

Magnetic variation (or magnetic declination) – the angle between magnetic north and geographic north due to the local direction of the Earth’s magnetic field, and

Magnetic deviation – the angle between the compass needle and magnetic north due to the presence of iron within the ship itself.

The algebraic sum of the magnetic variation and the magnetic deviation is known as the compass error. It is a very important thing to know.

Magnetic Variation

Magnetic variation has been known from voyages since the early 1400s at least. Certainly Columbus was distressed as he crossed the Atlantic to find that magnetic north and true north (from celestial sightings) drifted significantly…

We now know that the locations of the Earth’s magnetic poles are not coincident with the geographic poles—not even close, really—and they are always wandering around.

magnetic north pole deviation

Image from commons.wikimedia.org, Magnetic_North_Pole_Positions. Red circles mark magnetic north pole positions as determined by direct observation, blue circles mark positions modelled using the GUFM model (1590–1980) and the IGRF model (1980–2010) in 2 year increments.


What’s the difference between where a compass needle points (magnetic north) and the geographic north pole? This is called the declination  It’s smallest near the equator, but generally gets large as one moves towards the poles.

On this map, the green arrows – the direction from the compass – point towards the magnetic north. The red arrows point towards the geographical north pole.

Notice how the left location (in Pacific ocean) shows the compass point a bit east of where we’d hope it would point; in the right location (in Atlantic Ocean) it shows the compass point a bit west of where we’d hope it points.

There’s also a special line where the magnetic north and geographic north point in the same direction.

Magnetic Declination

Image from Drillingformulas.com by Rachain J i


Here we can see how many degrees of deviation there are – the # of degrees between where the compass points, and where the north pole is. But – wait for it – the image is changing? The magnetic fields are significantly changing every year!

Estimated declination contours by year

from USGS.gov, faqs, what is declination


Magnetic Deviation

Ron Doerfler writes

There is an additional effect on the compass needle that took much longer to appreciate and even longer to understand. This magnetic deviation is due to the iron in a ship…

The first notice in print of this effect was by Joao de Castro of Portugal in 1538, in which he identified “the proximity of artillery pieces, anchors and other iron” as the source.

As better compass designs appeared, a difference in compass readings with their placement on the same ship became more apparent. Captains John Smith and James Cook warned about iron nails in the compass box or iron in steerage, and on Cook’s second circumnavigation William Wales found that changes in the ship’s course changed their measurements of magnetic variation by as much as 7°.

Here we see a modern naval vessel, with it’s own magnetic field. As a metal ship moves through Earth’s magnetic field, an electric current is produced within all that metal – and that current produces it’s own magnetic field. This field can affect the ship’s compass. That’s why a binnacle is designed to be adjustable, to compensate for this field. – RK

Degaussing magnetic field ship

image from slideplayer.com/slide/1632522/


Ron Doerfler writes

Captain Matthew Flinders (1774-1815) spent years in the very early 1800s on voyages to investigate these effects…. [he] eventually discovered that an iron bar placed vertically near the compass helped overcome the magnetic deviation. This Flinder’s bar is still used today in ships’ binnacles.


Apps & Interactives

NOAA Historical Magnetic Declination


Hands-on Activity: Nautical Navigation. Teachengineering.org




Educational opportunities and museums




Important components

Quadrantal spheres (spherical quadrantal correctors)

Hood, over the compass bowl

flinders bar (vertical, soft iron corrector)

Learning Standards

Ocean Literacy Scope and Sequence for Grades K-12
6. The ocean and humans are inextricably interconnected: From the ocean we get foods, medicines, and mineral and energy resources. In addition, it provides jobs, supports our nation’s economy, serves as a highway for transportation of goods and people, and plays a role in national security.

Massachusetts 2016 Science and Technology/Engineering (STE) Standards
7.MS-PS2-5. Use scientific evidence to argue that fields exist between objects with mass, between magnetic objects, and between electrically charged objects that exert force on each other even though the objects are not in contact.

HS-PS2-1. Analyze data to support the claim that Newton’s second law of motion is a mathematical model describing change in motion (the acceleration) of objects when acted on by a net force….{forces can include magnetic forces}

HS-PS3-5. Develop and use a model of magnetic or electric fields to illustrate the forces and changes in energy between two magnetically or electrically charged objects changing relative position in a magnetic or electric field, respectively.

History standards

National Standards for History Basic Edition, 1996
5-12 Identify major technological developments in shipbuilding, navigation, and naval warfare and trace the cultural origins of various innovations.

Massachusetts History and Social Science Curriculum Framework
The Political, Intellectual and Economic Growth of the Colonies. Explain the importance of maritime commerce in the development of the economy of colonial Massachusetts, using historical societies and museums as needed.

National Curriculum Standards for Social Studies: A Framework for Teaching, Learning, and Assessment, National Council for the Social Studies, 2010.


PSAT Science questions


About the PSAT

This is designed to measure the ability to understand and process elements of reading, writing, and mathematics…. The College Board now also offers two PSAT variations: the PSAT 10 for sophmores, and the PSAT 8/9 for freshmen and eighth graders. These variations generate score reports that measure students’ college readiness and skillsets. (the PSAT 8/9 is shorter and less complex). Read more about the PSAT variations.   It has four sections:

  • The Reading Test – 60 minutes, 47 questions
  • The Writing and Language Test – 35 minutes, 44 questions
  • Math Test, No Calculator Portion – 25 minutes, 17 questions
  • Math Test, Calculator Portion – 45 minutes, 31 questions

The PSAT/NMSQT and PSAT 10 both have a total testing time of 2 hours and 45 minutes.

= from testmasters.net


from the Kaplan website kaptest.com/study/psat/psat-reading-science-passages/

The PSAT Reading Test will contain either two single Science passages or one single Science passage and one set of paired Science passages. Science passages differ from other passage types because:

  • They often contain a lot of jargon and technical terms.
  • They can utilize unfamiliar terms and concepts.

While Science passages can be tricky due to unfamiliar language, you will never need to employ knowledge outside of the passage when answering questions. Use the following strategy when approaching Science passages on the PSAT:


    Does the paragraph…Explain? Support? Refute? Summarize?


    Unfamiliar terms will generally be defined within the passage or in a footnote.

Let’s look at the following example of an abbreviated Science passage and question set. After the mapped passage, the left column contains questions similar to those you’ll see on the PSAT Reading Test on Test Day. The column on the right features the strategic thinking a test expert employs when approaching the passage and questions presented. Note how a test expert can quickly condense the entire passage into a few words and use his or her Passage Map to ask questions that build a prediction for the correct answer.


When you encounter more than one theory or idea, paraphrase each in as few words as possible in your Passage Map.

Sample PSAT Reading Practice Question: Science

Questions 1-2 are based on the following passage. This passage is adapted from an essay about the characteristics of lunar eclipses.

Many people are aware of the beauty of a solar eclipse, but are surprised to learn that lunar eclipses are often just as spectacular and are both more common and easier to observe. The filtering and refraction of light from the Earth’s atmosphere during a lunar eclipse creates stunning color effects that range from dark brown to red, orange, and yellow. Each of these light shows is unique since they are the result of the amount of dust and cloud cover in the Earth’s atmosphere at the time of the eclipse.

While total solar eclipses last only for a few minutes and can be seen only in a small area of a few kilo- meters, total lunar eclipses can last for several hours and can be seen over much of the planet. In fact, the beauty and stability of lunar eclipses make them a favorite of both amateur and professional photographers. Lunar eclipses generally occur two to three times a year and are possible only when the Moon is in its full phase. When we see the Moon, we are actually seeing sunlight reflected off the surface of the Moon. When the Earth is positioned in between the Moon and the Sun, however, the Earth’s shadow falls on the Moon and a lunar eclipse occurs. To better understand this process, it’s helpful to imagine the Earth’s shadow on the Moon as a pair of nested cones, with the Earth at the apex of the cones, and the Moon at their bases. The outer, more diffuse cone of shadow is called the penumbral shadow, while the inner, darker cone is the umbral shadow.

1. According to the passage, the colors of a lunar eclipse are the result of

(A) the penumbral shadow.

(B) the stability of lunar eclipses.

(C) filtering and refraction of light.

(D) the sunlight reflected off the moon.

2. In lines 26-27, the phrase “pair of nested cones” serves to

(A) offer support for a previous statement.

(B) describe the diffraction of light through the atmosphere.

(C) explain why lunar eclipses are favorites of photographers.

(D) provide a concrete example to help readers visualize a phenomenon.

Explanations of answers:

For practice question #1, use the Passage Map to find where the author mentions color. Because the author mentions both “filtering” and “dust,” you know that the right answer will include those. Choice (C) mentions “filtering” and is, therefore, correct.

For practice question #2, ask “Why did the author choose those words—what are they doing?” Could you picture how an eclipse worked? Predict that the phrase helps the reader understand the concept. Choice (D) matches exactly.


from 2015 Practice Test #1, Preliminary SAT/National Merit Scholarship Qualifying Test

Questions 20-28 are based on the following passage and supplementary material.
This passage is adapted from Tina Hesman Saey, “Lessons from the Torpid.” ©2012 by Society for Science & the Public.

Understanding how hibernators, including ground squirrels, marmots and bears, survive their long winter’s naps may one day offer solutions for problems such as heart disease, osteoporosis and muscular dystrophy. Nearly everything about the way an animal’s body
works changes when it hibernates, and preparations start weeks or months in advance. The first order of business is to fatten up.

“Fat is where it’s at for a hibernator,” says Matthew Andrews, a molecular biologist at the
University of Minnesota Duluth who studies 13-lined ground squirrels. “You bring your own lunch with you.” Packing lunch is necessary because the animals go on the world’s strictest diet during the winter, surviving entirely off their white fat. “They have their last supper in October; they don’t eat again until March,” Andrews says.

Bigger fat stores mean a greater chance of surviving until spring. “If they go in really chunky, nice and roly-poly, that’s going to be a good hibernator,” he says. Bears also watch their waistlines expand in the months before settling in for the season. The brown
bears cardiologist Ole Fröbert studies pack on the pounds by chowing down on up to 40 kilograms of blueberries a day. Such gluttony among humans could have severe consequences: Obesity is associated with a greater risk of heart attack and diabetes, among other ailments.

To see how fattening up affects Scandinavian brown bears, Fröbert and his colleagues
ventured into the wilds of Sweden following signals given off by radio transmitters or GPS devices on tagged bears.

Bears can be dangerous close-up. Even hibernating bears can rouse to action quickly, so
scientists tracking down bears in the winter use darts to tranquilize the animals from a distance. Scientists studying the bears in the summer tranquilize them from a helicopter.

Once a bear is under the tranquilizer’s influence (which takes about five minutes), the scientists have 60 minutes max to get the animal from its den, weigh and measure it, draw blood samples and do minor surgeries to collect fat and other tissues. The bear is returned to its den by minute 61.

Precious materials collected during this high-pressure encounter need to be analyzed within 24 hours, so the researchers often test for levels of cholesterol or certain proteins in the blood while working in the snow or at a nearby research station.  A pilot sometimes flies samples from field sites to a lab in Denmark in order to meet the deadline, Fröbert says. Samples such as bones and arteries that can’t be collected from live bears come from bears killed by hunters during the legal hunting season.

Recent analyses revealed that Scandinavian brown bears spend the summer with plasma cholesterol levels considered high for humans; those values then increase substantially for hibernation, Fröbert and his colleagues reported. These “very, very fat” bears with high cholesterol also get zero exercise during hibernation. Lolling about in the den pinches off blood vessels, contributing to sluggish circulation.

“That cocktail would not be advisable in humans,” Fröbert says. It’s a recipe for hardened arteries, putting people at risk for heart attacks and strokes. Even healthy young adult humans can develop fatty streaks in their arteries that make the blood
vessels less flexible, but the bears don’t build up such artery-hardening streaks. “Our bears, they had nothing,” Fröbert says. It’s not yet clear how the bears keep their arteries flexible, but Fröbert hopes to find some protective molecule that could stave off hardened arteries in humans as well.

Graph Plasma cholesterol

20. The passage is written from the perspective of someone who is
A) actively involved in conducting hibernator research.
B) a participant in a recent debate in the field of cardiology.
C) knowledgeable about advances in hibernator research.
D) an advocate for wildlife preservation.

21. It is reasonable to conclude that the main goal of the scientists conducting the research described in the passage is to
A) learn how the hibernation patterns of bears and squirrels differ.
B) determine the role that fat plays in hibernation.
C) illustrate the important health benefits of exercise for humans.
D) explore possible ways to prevent human diseases.

22. Which choice provides the best evidence for the answer to the previous question?
A) Lines 1-5 (“Understanding… dystrophy”)
B) Lines 10-13 (“Fat… squirrels”)
C) Lines 31-35 (“To… bears”)
D) Lines 42-46 (“Once… tissues”)

23. What main effect do the quotations by Andrews in lines 10-18 have on the tone of the passage?
A) They create a bleak tone, focusing on the difficulties hibernators face during the winter.
B) They create a conversational tone, relating scientific information in everyday language.
C) They create an ominous tone, foreshadowing the dire results of Andrews’s research.
D) They create an absurd tone, using images of animals acting as if they were human.

24. As used in line 19, “stores” most nearly means
A) preservatives.
B) reserves.
C) stacks.
D) shelters.

25 Based on the passage, what is Fröbert’s hypothesis regarding why bears’ arteries do not harden during hibernation?
A) The bears’ increased plasma cholesterol causes the arteries to be more flexible.
B) Sluggish circulation pinches off the blood vessels rather than hardening the arteries.
C) Bears exercise in short, infrequent bursts during hibernation, which staves off hardened arteries.
D) Bears possess a molecule that protects against hardened arteries.

26 Which choice provides the best evidence for the
answer to the previous question?
A) Lines 19-20 (“Bigger… spring”)
B) Lines 24-27 (“The brown… day”)
C) Lines 69-72 (“Even… streaks”)
D) Lines 73-76 (“It’s… well”)

27 What information discussed in paragraph 10 (lines 58-68) is represented by the graph?
A) The information in lines 58-62 (“Recent…reported”)
B) The information in lines 62-64 (“These…hibernation”)
C) The information in lines 64-65 (“Lolling…circulation”)
D) The information in lines 67-68 (“It’s… strokes”)

28 Which statement about the effect of hibernation on the seven bears is best supported by the graph?
A) Only one of the bears did not experience an appreciable change in its total plasma cholesterol level.
B) Only one of the bears experienced a significant increase in its total plasma cholesterol level.
C) All of the bears achieved the desirable plasma cholesterol level for humans.
D) The bear with the lowest total plasma cholesterol level in its active state had the highest total plasma cholesterol level during hibernation.


Questions 38-47 are based on the following passages.

Passage 1 is adapted from Stewart Brand, “The Case for Reviving Extinct Species.” ©2013 by the National Geographic Society. Passage 2 is adapted from the editors at Scientific American, “Why Efforts to Bring Extinct Species Back from the Dead Miss the Point.” ©2013 by Nature America, Inc.

Passage 1: Many extinct species—from the passenger pigeon to the woolly mammoth—might now be reclassified as “bodily, but not genetically, extinct.” They’re dead, but their DNA is recoverable from museum specimens and fossils, even those up to 200,000 years
old. Thanks to new developments in genetic technology, that DNA may eventually bring the animals back to life. Only species whose DNA is too old to be recovered, such as dinosaurs, are the ones to consider totally extinct, bodily and genetically.

But why bring vanished creatures back to life? It will be expensive and difficult. It will take decades. It won’t always succeed. Why even try? Why do we take enormous trouble to protect endangered species? The same reasons will apply to species brought back from extinction: to preserve biodiversity, to restore diminished ecosystems, to advance the science of preventing extinctions, and to undo harm that humans have caused in the past.

Furthermore, the prospect of de-extinction is profound news. That something as irreversible and final as extinction might be reversed is a stunning realization. The imagination soars. Just the thought of mammoths and passenger pigeons alive again
invokes the awe and wonder that drives all conservation at its deepest level.

Passage 2: The idea of bringing back extinct species holds obvious gee-whiz appeal and a respite from a steady stream of grim news. Yet with limited intellectual bandwidth and financial resources to go around, de-extinction threatens to divert attention from the modern biodiversity crisis. According to a 2012 report from the International Union for
Conservation of Nature, some 20,000 species are currently in grave danger of going extinct.

Species today are vanishing in such great numbers—many from hunting and habitat destruction—that the trend has been called a sixth mass extinction, an event on par with such die-offs as the one that befell the dinosaurs 65 million years ago.
A program to restore extinct species poses a risk of selling the public on a false promise that technology alone can solve our ongoing environmental woes — an implicit assurance that if a species goes away, we can snap our fingers and bring it back.

Already conservationists face difficult choices about which species and ecosystems to try to save, since they cannot hope to rescue them all. Many countries where poaching and trade in threatened species are rampant either do not want to give up the revenue or lack the wherewithal to enforce their own regulations. Against that backdrop, a costly and flamboyant project to resuscitate extinct flora and fauna in the name of conservation looks irresponsible: Should we resurrect the mammoth only to let elephants go under? Of course not.

That is not to say that the de-extinction enterprise lacks merit altogether. Aspects of it could conceivably help save endangered species. For example, extinct versions of genes could be reintroduced into species and subspecies that have lost a dangerous amount of genetic diversity, such as the black-footed ferret and the northern white rhino. Such investigations, however, should be conducted under the mantle of preserving modern biodiversity rather than conjuring extinct species from the grave.

38. The author of Passage 1 suggests that the usefulness of de-extinction technology may be limited by the
A) amount of time scientists are able to devote to genetic research.
B) relationship of an extinct species to contemporary ecosystems.
C) complexity of the DNA of an extinct species.
D) length of time that a species has been extinct.

39. Which choice provides the best evidence for the answer to the previous question?
A) Lines 7-9 (“Thanks… life”)
B) Lines 9-11 (“Only… genetically”)
C) Line 13 (“It will be… difficult”)
D) Lines 13-14 (“It will take… succeed”)

40. As used in line 27, “deepest” most nearly means
A) most engrossing.
B) most challenging.
C) most extensive.
D) most fundamental.

41. The authors of Passage 2 indicate that the matter of shrinking biodiversity should primarily be considered a
A) historical anomaly.
B) global catastrophe.
C) scientific curiosity.
D) political problem.

42. Which choice provides the best evidence for the answer to the previous question?
A) Lines 37-41 (“Species… ago”)
B) Lines 42-45 (“A program… woes”)
C) Lines 53-56 (“Against… irresponsible”)
D) Lines 65-67 (“Such… grave”)

43. As used in line 37, “great” most nearly means
A) lofty.
B) wonderful.
C) large.
D) intense.

44. The reference to the “black-footed ferret and the northern white rhino” (line 64) serves mainly to
A) emphasize a key distinction between extinct and living species.
B) account for types of animals whose numbers are dwindling.
C) provide examples of species whose gene pools are compromised.
D) highlight instances of animals that have failed to adapt to new habitats.

45. Which choice best states the relationship between the two passages?
A) Passage 2 attacks a political decision that Passage 1 strongly advocates.
B) Passage 2 urges caution regarding a technology that Passage 1 describes in favorable terms.
C) Passage 2 expands on the results of a research study mentioned in Passage 1.
D) Passage 2 considers practical applications that could arise from a theory discussed in Passage 1.

46. How would the authors of Passage 2 most likely respond to the “prospect” referred to in line 21, Passage 1?
A) With approval, because it illustrates how useful de-extinction could be in addressing widespread environmental concerns.
B) With resignation, because the gradual extinction of many living species is inevitable.
C) With concern, because it implies an easy solution to a difficult problem.
D) With disdain, because it shows that people have little understanding of the importance of genetic diversity

47. Which choice would best support the claim that the authors of Passage 2 recognize that the “imagination soars” (line 24, Passage 1) in response to de-extinction technology?
A) Lines 28-30 (“The… news”)
B) Lines 30-33 (“Yet… crisis”)
C) Lines 58-59 (“That… altogether”)
D) Lines 61-63 (“For… diversity”)


Questions 12-22 are based on the following passage and supplementary material: Vanishing Honeybees: A Threat to Global Agriculture

Honeybees play an important role in the agriculture industry by pollinating crops. An October 2006 study found that as much as one-third of global agriculture depends on animal pollination, including honeybee pollination—to increase crop output. The importance of bees highlights the potentially disastrous affects of an emerging, unexplained crisis: entire colonies of honeybees are dying off without warning. They know it as colony collapse disorder (CCD), this phenomenon will have a detrimental impact on global agriculture if its causes and solutions are not determined.

Since the emergence of CCD around 2006, bee mortality rates have exceeded 25 percent of the population each winter. There was one sign of hope: during the 2010–2012 winter seasons, bee mortality rates decreased slightly, and beekeepers speculated that the colonies would recover. Yet in the winter of 2012–2013, 10 percent in the United States, with a loss of 31 percent of the colonies that pollinate crops.

B) pollination: this is
C) pollination,
D) pollination;

B) highlights the potentially disastrous effects
C) highlight the potentially disastrous effects
D) highlight the potentially disastrous affects

B) Known as colony
C) It is known as colony
D) Colony

15 Which choice offers the most accurate interpretation of the data in the chart?
B) been above the acceptable range.
C) not changed noticeably from year to year.
D) greatly increased every year.

16 Which choice offers an accurate interpretation of the
data in the chart?
B) portion of bees lost was double what it had been
the previous year, rising to
C) number of losses, which had fallen within the
acceptable range the previous year, rose to
D) portion of total colonies lost rose almost 10 percentage points, with a loss of

Honey Bee Colony Loss graph

Studies have offered several possible reasons that bees are vanishing. One reason that is often cited is the use of pesticides called neonicotinoids, which are absorbed by plants and linger much longer than do topical pesticides. Chemicals such as herbicides and
fungicides may also play a role, contaminating the pollen that bees typically feed on and inhibiting healthy insect maturation.

17 Which choice most smoothly and effectively introduces the writer’s discussion of studies of CCD in this paragraph?

B) Bees are vanishing, and according to studies there are several possible reasons for this trend.
C) Several possible reasons, offered by studies, may explain why bees are vanishing.
D) DELETE the underlined sentence.

18 At this point, the writer is considering adding the following sentence. Prolonged exposure to neonicotinoids has been shown to increase bees’ vulnerability to disease and parasitic mites. Should the writer make this addition here?

A) Yes, because it provides support for the claim made in the previous sentence.
B) Yes, because it introduces a new idea that will become important later in the passage.
C) No, because it would be better placed elsewhere in the passage.
D) No, because it contradicts the main idea of the passage.

Given the role that honeybees play in agriculture, the impact of this loss of hives on fruit, vegetable, seed, and nut crops is not to be scoffed at. A reduction in bee numbers leads to less pollination, which in turn leads to smaller harvests and higher food prices. Some farmers have resorted to renting hives from beekeepers to pollinate their crops; when there is a shortage of bees this being an expensive proposition. Other farmers have
increased they’re dependence on costly hand-pollination by human workers.

urthermore, there may be sociological repercussions. Agroecologist Alexandra-Maria Klein has suggested that rising produce prices could lead to an increase in obesity as people turn to cheaper, less wholesome fare.

Though the precise causes of CCD are yet unclear, some commonsense measures may be taken. A decrease in the use of certain pesticides, herbicides, and fungicides, as well as greater attention to the nutrition, habitat, and genetic diversity of managed hives, could begin a shift in a favorable direction.

B) is a pretty big deal.
C) can’t be put on the back burner.
D) cannot be ignored.

B) crops, this is an expensive proposition when
there is a shortage of bees.
C) crops, an expensive proposition when there is a shortage of bees.
D) crops; an expensive proposition when there is a shortage of bees.

B) there
C) their
D) its

The writer wants a conclusion that addresses the future of efforts to combat CCD. Which choice results in the passage having the most appropriate concluding sentence?

B) Still, bee colonies have experienced such devastating losses that the consequences of the issue have been felt worldwide.
C) Although CCD is a relatively new phenomenon, scientists have been studying other aspects of honeybees for over a century.
D) Genetic variation in bee colonies generally improves bees’ productivity, disease resistance, and ability to regulate body temperature.


Fall 2016 PSAT Practice Test


Questions 39-47 are based on the following passage.
This passage is adapted from Ed Yong, “Gut Bacteria Allows Insect Pest to Foil Farmers.” ©2013 by National Geographic Society.

Here is a lesson that we’re going to be taught again and again in the coming years: Most animals are not just animals. They’re also collections of Line microbes. If you really want to understand animals, 5 you’ll also have to understand the world of microbes inside them. In other words, zoology is ecology.

Consider the western corn rootworm—a beetle that’s a serious pest of corn in the United States. The adults have strong preferences for laying eggs in corn 10 fields, so that their underground larvae hatch into a feast of corn roots. This life cycle depends on a
continuous year-on-year supply of corn. Farmers can use this dependency against the rootworm, by planting soybean and corn in alternate years. 15 These rotations mean that rootworms lay eggs into corn fields but their larvae hatch among soybean, and die.

But the rootworms have adapted to this strategy by reducing their strong instincts for laying eggs in 20 corn. These rotation-resistant females might lay among soybean fields, so their larvae hatch into a crop of corn.

There are almost certainly genetic differences that separate the rotation-resistant rootworms from their 25 normal peers, but what are they? Researchers at the University of Illinois have been studying the problem since 2000 and, despite generating a vast mountain of data, have failed to find the genes in question. “The western corn rootworm has been an enigma for 30 a long time,” says Manfredo Seufferheld. “This insect has the ability to adapt to practically all control methods deployed against it, including crop rotation.

After many years of research about the mechanisms of rotation resistance, results were mostly 35 inconclusive.” So, Seufferheld looked elsewhere. Rather than focusing on the rootworm’s own genes, he studied the genes of the bacteria in its gut . . . and found
some answers. The rotation-resistant varieties have 40 very different gut bacteria from the normal ones. And when the team killed these microbes with antibiotics, they severely reduced the beetle’s ability to cope with rotation.

“The bad guy in the story—the western corn 45 rootworm—was actually part of a multi-species conspiracy,” says Joe Spencer, who was part of the study.

The team, including graduate student Chia-Ching Chu, found that a third of the rootworms’ gut 50 bacteria comprise species that are unique to either the resistant or normal varieties. These two factions also differ in the relative numbers of the bacteria that they share.

These different microbes give the resistant beetles 55 an edge when eating soybeans. The rootworms digest the protein in their meals using enzymes called cysteine proteases, and soybeans defend themselves with substances that can block these enzymes.

But Chu found that the more the beetles’ bacteria 60 differed from the normal set, the higher the levels of cysteine proteases in their guts. By avoiding indigestion, these beetles were better at surviving among soybeans, and more likely to lay their eggs there.

65 The team proved that the bacteria were responsible by killing them with antibiotics. Sure enough, this drastically lowered the cysteine protease activity in the guts of the rotation-resistant beetles and wrecked their ability to thrive among soybeans.

39. Over the course of the passage, the main focus shifts from a
A) statement about the challenge posed by a particular insect to an indication of why that
challenge was easy to overcome.
B) summary of a once-unexplained natural phenomenon to a biography of the scientists
who researched that phenomenon.
C) description of a problem affecting agriculture to an explanation of how scientists identified the cause of that problem.
D) discussion about a scientific field to an anecdote showing how research is done in that field.

40. The statement “zoology is ecology” (line 6) mainly serves to
A) propose that two areas of scientific knowledge be merged.
B) point out that knowledge obtained in one field of research will lead to expertise in another.
C) assert a point about biological science that is supported by the example in the passage.
D) suggest that one field of scientific research has completely supplanted another.

41. According to the passage, one similarity between rotation-resistant rootworms and normal rootworms is that they both
A) reduce crop productivity by extracting nutrients from the soil.
B) produce larvae that feed on the plant roots of crops.
C) adapt to crop rotation by maintaining high levels of enzymes in their guts.
D) contain the same quantity and composition of bacteria in their guts.

42. Which choice most clearly provides information indicating how some rootworms have overcome farmers’ efforts to eradicate them?

A) Lines 15-17 (“These… die”)
B) Lines 18-20 (“But… corn”)
C) Lines 25-28 (“Researchers… question”)
D) Lines 41-43 (“And… rotation”)

43. The central claim in the fourth paragraph (lines 23-35) is that

A) extensive study of the rootworm’s genes was insufficient to determine why some rootworms are rotation resistant.
B) the rootworm’s ability to adapt to pest control methods is unique among insects.
C) the genetic profile of rootworms is significantly more complex than researchers initially believed.
D) our current understanding of genetics is inadequate to allow researchers to understand why some rootworms are rotation resistant.

44. As used in line 24, “separate” most nearly means
A) distinguish.
B) discharge.
C) extract.
D) scatter.

45. According to the passage, the gut bacteria of rotation-resistant rootworms

A) help the rootworms survive in soybean crops.
B) are responsible for lowering the amount of cysteine protease in the rootworms’ guts.
C) make the rootworms less vulnerable to being killed by antibiotics.
D) are transferred to the larvae that hatch from the rootworms’ eggs.

46. Which choice provides the best evidence for the answer to the previous question?
A) Lines 29-30 (“The western… Seufferheld”)
B) Lines 39-40 (“The rotation-resistant… ones”)
C) Lines 44-47 (“The bad… study”)
D) Lines 54-55 (“These… soybeans”)

47. The main idea of the last paragraph is that

A) cysteine proteases are harmful to rootworms when present in large quantities in the body.
B) eggs laid by rotation-resistant rootworms will hatch into crops of soybeans.
C) bacteria unique to rotation-resistant rootworms allow them to digest soybeans.
D) rotation-resistant rootworms do not digest soybeans using cysteine proteases.



Questions 12-22 are based on the following passage and supplementary material.
A Study in Arctic Migration

Each year, many species of shorebirds migrate from locations in the Southern Hemisphere to their breeding grounds in the 12 Arctic. A journey of thousands of
kilometers that requires frequent stops to fuel up. The risk of death is significant, and the Arctic is an inhospitable region for most of the 13 year, yet the shorebirds never failing to make their annual pilgrimage.

Come spring, the Arctic becomes a suitable habitat, providing many benefits: an abundant supply of food, permanent daylight, ample nesting space, fewer pathogens, and fewer predators to invade the nests of these ground-dwelling birds. These benefits are found in all regions of the 14 Arctic regardless of latitude yet some shorebirds continue on to the high Arctic. If these birds are simply looking for open space and enough food to eat, then why not end their long journey in the low Arctic? Continuing on to the north requires more fuel and carries an even greater risk of 15 mortality if the
birds continue on. The most likely reason certain shorebirds head to the high Arctic is to escape their predators.

B) Arctic, a
C) Arctic; a
D) Arctic; which is a

B) year, the shorebirds never fail
C) year, yet the shorebirds never fail
D) year; yet the shorebirds never failing

B) Arctic, regardless of latitude
C) Arctic, regardless of latitude,
D) Arctic: regardless of latitude,

B) mortality if they keep going.
C) mortality and death.
D) mortality.

[1] A four-year study by a team of Canadian scientists, headed by student Laura McKinnon of the Université du Québec, 16 provide evidence in support of this hypothesis. [2] The scientists created artificial nests that resembled a typical shorebird’s nest. [3] Then each year, during the shorebirds’ breeding season, forty of the nests were placed in each of seven locations that ranged in latitude from the low Arctic to the high Arctic. [4] Each nest had been baited with four 17 quail egg’s, which are similar in size and shape to a shorebird’s eggs. [5] The scientists returned to the nests many times over nine days to check how many eggs remained in the nests. [6] A nest was said to have survived if, at the end of the nine days, it contained at least one undisturbed quail egg.

B) provides
C) are providing
D) have provided

B) quail eggs,
C) quail eggs’,
D) quails eggs,

To make this paragraph most logical, sentence 5 should be placed
A) where it is now.
B) after sentence 1.
C) after sentence 2.
D) after sentence 6

Nest survival by site

The figure shows the results for the nesting 19 sites,
furthermore, at four of the seven locations, averaged over
the four years of the study. The 20 number of predators
invading the nests increased over time at each location.
This result confirmed that predators were present at the
researchers’ chosen locations. The researchers found that
the percent of 21 surviving nests was greater at locations
having higher latitudes. For example, on day 9,
approximately 55 percent of nests were found to have
survived at the 82°N location compared to approximately 10 percent of nest survival at the 63°N location. This study provides the first known quantifiable evidence for the previously unanswered question of why shorebirds
continue on to the high Arctic. 22 The shorebirds risk
their own survival by flying farther. Their offspring have a better chance of survival because fewer predators invade the nests.




Sample tests

2015 Practice Test PSAT/NMSQT


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