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Roller Coasters (Grade 3)

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Roller Coasters

Roller coasters can be a lot of fun. However, understanding how they work is really scientific. When it comes to describing how roller coasters work, it's all about physics.

The most basic of roller coasters work by climbing up a large hill. Then they go down the hill. Since roller coaster cars don't have motors, they must use a special lift to get them up the hill. As they climb, they build up energy. This energy, along with gravity, helps the cars go down the first hill. It also provides them with enough energy to climb the next hill on the track. Roller coasters typically feature a lot of hills. This is so they can keep on building up and releasing energy during the ride. At the beginning of the ride, the hills are higher. This is because the coaster needs a lot of energy to keep going. Near they end of the ride they are smaller. This is because the coaster needs to burn energy before stopping.

But what keeps the cars on the track while they are moving? Roller coaster cars are built with special wheels to help keep them on the track. Roller coasters with loops, however, rely on even more physics to stay in place. Centripetal force helps keeps riders in place as they go around sharp turns and bends. Inertia works to keep riders in their seats and the cars on the track as they go through loops.

Have you ever held a bucket of water and spun it in a circle really fast? Most of the water stays in the bucket. The force of the acceleration is stronger than gravity. It pulls the water upwards, just like it pulls riders' bodies upwards on a roller coaster. On roller coasters, loops are not made in perfect circles. That would make the force too strong for riders to enjoy. Instead, they are made to be elliptical, making the amount of force just right.

The next time you hop on a roller coaster, take some time to think about the physics behind the ride. Knowing how science makes the roller coaster work can make the ride a lot more fun and educational at the same time!
1. 
What branch of science has the biggest effect on roller coaster design?
  1. chemistry
  2. physics
  3. biology
  4. geology
2. 
When it comes to roller coasters, which statement best describes how hills are connected to energy?
  1. Hills help slow down the amount of energy a roller coaster car builds, making it easier to stop.
  2. Hills help a roller coaster car build and release energy as it moves along the track.
  3. Hills help create a lot of energy to keep the roller coaster car constantly moving.
  4. Hills help secure the roller coaster car to the track so riders stay safe
3. 
Based on the passage, you can infer that if roller coaster loops were made in perfect circles, the force...
  1. would be too high and uncomfortable to riders
  2. would not be hard enough to keep the cars on the track
  3. would cause the cars to come off the track because of the strength
  4. would make the car speed up as it went through the loop and along the rest of the track
4. 
The word ELLIPTICAL most likely means "in the shape of a(n)..."
  1. circle
  2. oval
  3. square
  4. parallelogram
5. 
What detail about roller coasters does the author NOT mention?
  1. the design of the track
  2. the energy used while in motion
  3. the force acting upon the coaster
  4. the safety features of the coaster

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