Students participate in annual F=ma physics contest

January 28, 2019 — by Christine Zhang

As the bell rang to dismiss students from their sixth periods on Jan. 23, 34 students headed to physics teacher Kirk Davis’s Room 1014 to take the annual F=ma physics contest, consisting of 25 multiple choice questions to be completed in 75 minutes.

The F=ma is sponsored by the American Association of Physics Teachers (AAPT), which Davis is a part of. Science club vice president Jeffrey Xu coordinated the event with Davis.

After the test, Davis made and kept a copy of all the scantrons, and he sent the official ones back to AAPT for grading. In approximately one month’s time, AAPT will release the cutoff score for the F=ma exam to determine the students who qualify for the USA Physics Olympiad, the semifinal round of the contest. Davis said that Saratoga High typically has around 10 qualifiers per year.

In an effort to prevent cheating, Davis said that the AAPT has made the testing window narrower. In the past, the test could be administered any time during a certain two-week period, but the test dates are now restricted to two days. The exam at Saratoga High took place on the earlier date.

Xu also faced a new challenge organizing this year’s F=ma contest. Due to a state-mandated school policy prohibiting mandatory fees for activities, he had to ask for donations instead of requiring payments from students for the test.

“One of our main issues was that we’re not allowed to collect money anymore,” Xu said. “So it was really difficult to get all the money in, but we were finally able to raise the right amount of money to get the tests.”

Davis said that he has administered the F=ma exam since he first began teaching AP Physics at the school, which was in 2008. He encourages his students to participate in the contest.

“We open it up to anybody who wants to take it,” Davis said. “I encourage kids to do it because I think it’s good fun. It gives them a chance to test themselves and get some recognition for being able to do well on physics tests.”

Xu also said that the F=ma is a good opportunity for students to apply their knowledge in physics.

“I think it’s just a good chance for kids who have been studying a lot of physics to compete in a national level contest and receive national recognition if they deserve it,” Xu said.