Charges within a uniform electric field

The concepts of work and energy provide a comprehensively important framework for interpreting change within physical systems.

The concept of energy is one of the most important concepts in science. Perhaps the simplest definition of energy is that it is a measure of a system's ability to perform work. Energy is classified as either potential energy or kinetic energy. Potential energy is the energy shared by a system as a consequence of position or state. Potential energy includes such forms as gravitational energy or chemical energy. What makes energy exceedingly useful as a concept is that when the various forms of energy in an isolated system are transformed from one form to another, the total energy must remain the same.

Beyond straightforward Mechanics problems, energy concepts are tested in various contexts throughout the physical sciences section of the test. The MCAT writers are fond of following unusual phenomena or difficult seeming contexts in a passage with at least one or two fairly basic questions about energy. The concepts of Work, Power & Energy, of course, underpin the entire body of the physical and biological sciences. As this MCAT course progresses, whether the topic is electric circuits or membrane transport, you should continuously work on building the habit of always asking 'What's going on with energy?'

WikiPremed Resources

Work, Energy, & Power Cards
Chapter from the Wisebridge Learning System for Physics

Work & Energy Concepts
Concept chapter for Work, Energy & Power in PDF format

Work & Energy Practice Items
Problem set for Work & Energy in PDF format

Answer Key
Answers and explanations

Work, Energy, and Power Images
Image gallery for study with links to larger teaching JPEGs for classroom presentation

Question Drill for Work, Energy, and Power
Conceptual Vocabulary Self-Test

Basic Terms Crossword Puzzle

Basic Puzzle Solution

Learning Goals


Understand the definition of mechanical work and comprehend the relationship between the direction of the force and displacement vectors in determining the work performed.

Master basic quantitative problem solving involving potential and kinetic energy. Be able to verbalize the relationships.

Be able to imaginatively visualize changes in potential energy in such systems as an object near the earth's surface, a mass-spring, and basic electrostatic systems.

Understand what is meant by binding energy.

Explain the difference between conservative and non-conservative forces.

Understand the principles underlying force multiplication with simple machines such as levers and pulleys.

Master basic problem solving using the concept of power within different contexts.

Suggested Assignments

Warm up with the question drill to make sure you have the work & energy conceptual vocabulary down pat. Complete the fundamental terms crossword puzzle. Here is the solution to the puzzle.

Study the physics cards for work & energy.

Study the work & energy conceptual chapter. Perform the practice items. Here is the answer key for the problem set.

In ExamKrackers Physics, read pp. 40-48 and pp. 50-53. Perform practice items 33-40 on pg. 49 and 41-48 on pp. 54-55.

Finish your main progression work with a review tour of the work & energy web resources.

Conceptual Vocabulary for Work, Energy, and Power

Work, Energy, and Power

Each list begins with basic conceptual vocabulary you need to know for MCAT questions and proceeds to advanced terms that might appear in context in MCAT passages. The terms are links to Wikipedia articles.
In physics and other sciences, energy is defined as a work one system does (or can do) on another system
Kinetic energy
The kinetic energy of an object is the extra energy which it possesses due to its motion, defined as the work needed to accelerate the body from rest to its current speed.
Potential energy
Potential energy is energy stored within a physical system.
Mechanical work
Mechanical work is the amount of energy transferred by a force.
Conservation of energy
The conservation of energy states that the total amount of energy in an isolated system remains constant, although it may change forms.
Power is the rate at which work is performed or energy is transmitted. It is the amount of energy required or expended for a given unit of time.
The joule is the SI unit of energy.
The watt is the SI derived unit of power, equal to one joule per second.
Simple machine
A simple machine is any device that only requires the application of a single force to work.
Inclined plane
The inclined plane is a flat surface whose endpoints are at different heights.
A lever is a rigid object that is used with an appropriate fulcrum or pivot point to multiply the mechanical force that can be applied to another object.
A pulley is a wheel with a groove along its edge for holding a rope or cable or belt.
Mechanical advantage
Mechanical advantage is the factor by which a mechanism multiplies the force put into it.
The electronvolt is a unit of energy often used also in theoretical physics as a unit of mass. It is the amount of kinetic energy gained by a single unbound electron when it passes through an electrostatic potential difference of one volt, in vacuo.
Conservative force
A conservative force is a force that does zero net work on a particle that travels along any closed path in an isolated system.
Elastic energy
The elastic energy is the energy which causes or is released by the physical distortion of a solid or a fluid.
Gravitational binding energy
The gravitational binding energy of an object consisting of loose material, held together by gravity alone, is the amount of energy required to pull all of the material apart, to infinity.
A calorie is a unit of measurement for energy equal to the amount of heat required to raise a gram of water one degree celsius. In most fields, it has been replaced by the joule.
The foot-pound force is an English unit of work or energy. It is the amount of energy expended when a force of one pound acts through a distance of 1 foot along the direction of the force.
British thermal unit
The British thermal unit is a unit of energy used globally in the power, steam generation and heating and air conditioning industries.
Mechanical efficiency
Mechanical efficiency is the effectiveness of a machine and is defined as the ratio of mechanical advantage to velocity ratio.
An erg is the unit of energy and mechanical work in the centimetre-gram-second (CGS) system of units.
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