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Name:________________________________ Regents Physics

Chapter 10- Circuits

Identifying Series and Parallel Circuits

We will be working with two types of circuits in this class: Series

and Parallel. It is extremely important to identify which type of
circuit you are dealing with before you try answering a question.
The simplest electric circuit consists of a source of electrical
energy, such as a battery; connecting wires; and a circuit
element, such as a lamp or resistor.


A series circuit is a circuit in which all parts are connected end to end to provide a single path
for the current. If you follow the path of wire with your finger, it will never have to choose
between two different paths of current.

Note: Notice how the wires are not curved. There is one battery and four resistors.

For Example:

1.) Draw a series circuit that contains one battery and three resistors.

A parallel circuit is a circuit in which the elements are connected between two points, with one
of the two ends of each component connected to each point. Consequently, there are two or
more paths for current flow. Therefore, if you used your finger to follow the wire path, it would
have to choose between two different directions.

Note: There is one battery and four resistors.

For Example:

2.) Draw a parallel circuit that contains one battery and three resistors.

3.) Identify whether the following circuit is a series or parallel circuit:

a.) b.) c.)

Calculating Series and Parallel Circuits

For each type of circuit, it is possible to calculate the potential difference, current, and
resistance at each resistor. These problems are similar to puzzles.


Since there is only one pathway for current to travel in a series circuit, the total current is equal
to the current in all other resistors. Also, the total potential difference (voltage) and total
resistance is equal to the sum of all other potential differences and resistances. To summarize:

To make the problems easier, make a list of V, I, and R next to each resistor and the battery (to
represent total V, I, and R). Then use the above rules and Ohms Law to solve for every
unknown variable within the circuit.

For Example:

Since there are two or more paths for current flow in a parallel circuit, the sum of the currents
in the branches is equal to the total current from the source. However, since each resistor has
an independent path to the battery, the total potential difference is the same in every
resistor. Therefore, the rules are as follows for parallel circuits:

Note: To find the total resistance of a parallel circuit, calculate the right side of the equation then
calculate one divided by your result.

For Example:

4.) A parallel circuit contains three resistors: 24 , 16 , and 8 . Find the total resistance in
the circuit.

5.) A circuit contains two resistors: 20 and 10

a.) If the resistors are wired in series, find the equivalent resistance.

b.) If the resistors are wired in parallel, find the equivalent resistance.

c.) Which circuit would you construct if you wanted the smallest resistance?
For completing parallel circuit problems, follow the same strategy used for series circuits. Find
V, I, and R at each resistor and battery.

For Example:

Meters in a Circuit

As noted earlier, an ammeter is used to measure current and a voltmeter is used to measure
potential difference. An ammeter is always connected in series with the circuit element being
measured, whereas a voltmeter is always connected in parallel.

Note: When a question asks you what a meter reads, simply use the circuit information to
determine the current and/or potential difference at the meter in question.
For Example:

6.) Which circuit diagram below correctly shows the connection of ammeter A and voltmeter V to
measure the current through and potential difference across resistor R?

7.) The diagram below shows a circuit with two resistors. What is the reading on ammeter A?

8.) Find the reading on the voltmeter on the diagram below.

Conservation of Charge in Electric Circuits

Charge (therefore current) in an electric circuit must be conserved. At any junction in a circuit,
the sum of the currents entering the junction must equal the sum of the currents leaving
it. A good analogy would be traffic flow. The number of cars that enter an intersection must
be the same number of cars that leave the intersection!

For Example:

9.) Which diagram below correctly shows currents traveling near junction P in an electric

10.) The diagram below shows electric currents in conductors that meet at junction P.

What are the magnitude and direction of the current in conductor PQ?

(1) 9 A toward P (2) 9 A toward Q (3) 5 A toward P (4) 5 A toward Q