A2L Item 015

Goal: Differentiate between magnitude and direction of acceleration.

Source: UMPERG

Case Column 1 Column 2
(A) A car goes from 0 to 60 mph in 6s along a
straight highway.
A car goes from 60 to 0 mph in 6s along a
straight highway.
(B) A race car travels around a circular
track at 50 mph.
A race car travels around the same circular
track at 100 mph.
(C) A ball is thrown straight up. It rises
20 ft. Ignore the effects of the air.
A ball is dropped
straight down. It falls 20 ft. Ignore the effects of the

For which cases is the acceleration the same for the motion described
in both columns?

  1. Case A only
  2. Case B only
  3. Case C only
  4. Cases A & B
  5. Cases B & C
  6. Cases A & C
  7. Cases A, B & C
  8. None of the cases
  9. Cannot be determined



(3) The only case having the same acceleration is C where the
acceleration is that due to the gravitational force. In case A, the
magnitude of the two accelerations is the same but one is positive and
the other negative, i.e. the vectors point in opposite directions.
[This assumes that the acceleration is uniform.] In case B, the
“direction” is the same, i.e. pointing toward the center of the circle,
but the magnitudes are different.


This question reveals whether students have the concept of acceleration
as a vector (i.e. has direction as well as magnitude). Some students
may ignore the magnitude completely and key on the direction. The
objective here is to have students indicate the concept of acceleration
that they are using to answer the question.

Questions to Reveal Student Reasoning

For which cases is the magnitude of the acceleration the same? the

For which cases does the acceleration change during the motion


Have students draw a motion diagram (a strobe diagram with the velocity
vector indicated at each position). This diagram helps students to
associate the acceleration with a change in velocity.