Sample Essay Questions

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How essay questions are incorporated into your examination

Regular examinations provide three essay questions and students choose which one of the three to answer. For a fifty-minute examination, we estimate one minute for each multiple-choice question, fifteen minutes for the essay, and an extra ten minutes to check your work. Essays often require more thought than multiple-choice questions, but there are usually many ways to answer an essay question, which gives you a chance to show what you know about a topic in your own way and on your own terms. The length of your essay will depend on the specific question and the size of your handwriting, and quality is not directly related to quantity, but strong essays usually require at least one side of a page.

Makeup examinations consist entirely of three essay questions and students must answer all three. Makeup examinations have no multiple-choice component and no choice of questions, and makeup examination essay questions are more difficult than regular examination essay questions.

Sample Questions (All were used in previous sections of this course)

  • An electron and a proton of identical energy are incident on the same potential barrier. If the probability of transmission for the electron greater than, less than, or equal to the transmission probability of the proton? Explain how you arrived at your answer.
  • In the infinite square well potential, there are often places (in excited states) where the probability of finding a particle is zero. Does that mean that a particle can't move through that location? Explain (i.e. explain how we can measure the location in one probable area, then later measure it in another probable area separated by a place where the probability was zero).
  • A friend of yours is taking a class like this one at another school. She calls you up one day and you get to talking about your classes. She says, "we just talked about the probability of finding particles in a potential well, and I think I figured it out. Whaddya think, the particle is always located somewhere, but we sometimes simply can't measure it. Even if we're not always paying attention to it, it's still located somewhere, right? That makes sense to me..." What do you tell her? Do you agree? disagree? Be as thorough and explicit as possible.
  • A friend in your math class tells you that when doing quantum mechanics you don't have to think about classical things at all. It's either quantum or it isn't. When you do quantum, you just have to toss your intuition out the window and let the math and the weird stuff take over. Rather than simply reacting to this statement, I want you to give me TWO examples. As part (a), give me an example where your friend is CORRECT, and you had to suspend all understanding of classical mechanics in order to think about the quantum physics. In part (b), give an example where your friend is INCORRECT, and you had to use your classical reasoning to help you with the quantum mechanics.
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