Distance vs. displacement

Kinematics provides us with the conceptual vocabulary to describe motion.

Kinematics gives you the tools you need to describe motion. You don't address the causes of motion in Kinematics. The causes of motion are the domain of Dynamics, in which Newton's Laws are introduced. Kinematics uses mathematics to describe motion using the concepts of space and time.

For the MCAT, Kinematics is an important topic, both in itself and as a primary underpinning of Physics. Kinematics is one of the main areas from which the MCAT writers draw 'plug and chug' problems for the exam. Although there are only a few quantitative problems on a typical MCAT, one or two of them are frequently kinematics problems. In addition to practicing quantitative problems, you should encourage yourself in kinematics to imagine the model mechanical system, simple bodies moving in free space. Practice visualizing motion while conceptualizing displacement, velocity, and acceleration. Concentrate on building a mental space for mechanics as an imaginative skill, a capability that will help you throughout physics.

WikiPremed Resources

Kinematics Cards
Chapter from the Wisebridge Learning System for Physics

Kinematics Concepts
PDF document presenting the central concepts of kinematics.

Kinematics Practice Items
Problem set for Kinematics in PDF format

Answer Key
Answers and explanations for practice items

Triangles and Trig
Review sheet for the important right triangles

Kinematics Images
Image gallery for study with links to larger teaching JPEGs for classroom presentation

Question Drill for Kinematics
Conceptual Vocabulary Self-Test

Basic Terms Crossword Puzzle

Basic Puzzle Solution

Learning Goals


Be able to define displacement, velocity, and acceleration in clear, conversational language.

Reproduce the four equations of kinematics from memory and achieve facility in solving straightforward quantitative problems.

Be able to explain the difference between vector and scalar quantities and perform basic vector operations.

Describe how an object may accelerate yet still have a constant speed.

Be capable of fluently applying the concepts of uniform circular motion and projectile motion for problem solving.

Suggested Assignments

Warm up conceptually to kinematics with the question drill for kinematics conceptual vocabulary. You can also ensure familiarity with the basic terms by completing the fundamental terms crossword puzzle. Here is the solution.

Study the kinematics chapter of the physics cards. The physics videos rely on this content fairly heavily, so it may be helpful to make it through at least one cycle before watching the video for kinematics.

Study our conceptual chapter for kinematics. Perform the practice items. Here is the answer key.

ExamKrackers Physics, read pp. 1-9 and pp. 11-17. Perform practice items 1-8 on pg. 10 and 9-16 on pp. 18-19. As you read and study, with each presentation of a new formula, take a moment and practice getting into the habit of imagining what the formula is representing in a common sense way. Picture a simplest model system you can and try putting the formula into everyday language.

Review the web resources for kinematics at the topic level in the learning center. Click the next topic arrows to scroll through the topic level. The HyperPhysics links in this chapter are highly recommended, as are the PY105 notes.

Conceptual Vocabulary for Kinematics

Kinematics is a branch of mechanics which provides the basic tools for describing the motion of objects.
Acceleration is defined as the rate of change of the velocity.
Velocity is defined as the rate of change of the position.
Motion means a continuous change in the position of a body relative to a reference point.
Speed is the magnitude of the velocity.
Distance is a numerical description of how far apart objects are at any given moment in time.
Displacement is the vector that specifies the position of a point or a particle in reference to an origin or to a previous position.
A scalar is a simple physical quantity that does not depend on direction, and is therefore not changed by coordinate system rotations.
A vector is a physical quantity characterized by both magnitude and direction.
Uniform circular motion
Uniform circular motion describes motion in which an object moves with constant speed along a circular path.
Free fall is motion with no acceleration other than that provided by gravity.
Frame of reference
A frame of reference is a particular perspective from which the universe is observed, providing a set of axes from which an observer can measure the position and motion of all points in a system.
A trajectory is the path a moving object follows through space.
Position vector
A position vector represents the location of an object in space in relation to an arbitrary inertial frame of reference.
International System of Units
The International System of Units (abbreviated SI) is the world's most widely used system of units.
Standard gravity
Standard gravity is the nominal acceleration due to gravity at the Earth's surface at sea level.
Translational kinematics
Translational kinematics or linear kinematics is the science in classical mechanics of describing the motion of a point particle.
Ballistics is the science of mechanics that deals with the motion, behavior, and effects of projectiles.
Jerk, jolt, surge or lurch, is defined as the rate of change of the acceleration.
Snap or jounce is the fourth derivative of the displacement vector with respect to time, with the first, second, and third derivatives being velocity, acceleration, and jerk, respectively.