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May8-09, 03:34 PM
P: 4
Hi! I'm in my mid-30s and am going back to school to become a vet. I'm really not sure which physics series to take.
Back in the day, I was very good at math (e.g. 800 on math SAT + GRE, 5 on BC calc, A or A+ in multivariate calc, ordinary + partial DiffEQ, Linear Algebra, and a bunch of theory classes). However, I was never any good at physics. In high school, I took a year of physics (algebra/trig based) and I never felt like I understood anything. I could manipulate equations, but didn't always understand the concepts so not infrequently, I set them up wrong. I scraped a B+ but felt like a deserved a D.

The school where I'm taking my vet school prereqs offers two physics sequences that would meet the requirement: one which requires trigonometry, and one which requires a single semester of calculus.

If it were 15 years ago, the choice would be easy, I'd take the calc one! However, at this point, I don't remember much calculus beyond the basics. For that matter, I don't really know any trig (that's a different story, though. I skipped trig so that I'd be able to take BC calc in 11th grade and because I hated the trig teacher. I crammed just enough to pass out of the trig test, which was not very much. Someone showed me how to use complex exponents instead of manipulating the trig itself, so I never really bothered myself with learning trig and at this point, I couldn't even tell you what sec or cot means without looking it up). With calculus, it's just been too damn long. However, if I had a choice of needing to know calculus or trig by next week, I would pick calculus. My algebra is pretty much good (there are parts I've forgotten, like conic sections, but when it comes to setting up equations, manipulating variables, etc, I'm golden).

So, I guess my question is: am I sufficiently prepared at this point to take algebra/trig based physics? Or, with a quick refresher, calculus based physics? If not, what do I need to do?

Does algebra/trig based physics require MORE trig than than calculus-based version? I can't imagine that that's the case, but if it is, I might be better off taking the calc one.

Also, how much trig do you REALLY need to know? Do you just need to be able to push the sin and cos keys on your calculator (e.g. the Bragg equation came up in the chemistry sequence I'm currently taking, and it was totally plug-n-chug) or do you need to have a deeper understanding of trig (whatever that means - I clearly don't have it!)

How much calculus do you need to know for the calc-based class? I can still do basic integrals + derivatives for easy stuff like polynomial equations, but that's about it.

The one reason I'm hesitant to take anything but the calc-based version is because someone told me a long time ago that the reason I struggled with physics is because the class didn't use calculus. I'm skeptical about this, but I haven't dismissed it entirely. I'm not sure if you can really derive all of the physics sequence with just a single semester of calc, but I'm definitely the sort of person who does better when I know where the equations are derived from (and can derive them myself) instead of just memorizing equations that seem to be pulled from thin air. In high school, I struggled with the conceptual part of physics. From what I've read on this site, it seems like the algebra course may be more conceptual (understand the concept, and here's an equation that represents it), whereas the calc version may be more mathematical (here's where the equation comes from. See all the moving parts in the mathematics, and you'll understand the concept). Is this an accurate understanding of the different ways the class is taught?

I never had a problem doing physics problems when they were part of a math class (y'know, those end-of-the-chapter "applications" questions), but I think that's due to the fact that they'd set the whole thing up for you and you never really had to understand the concepts.

I'd like to take whichever class will be easier to pull an A in. I'm still working 50+ hours a week, and I don't really have the time to spend more hours than necessary struggling every week. I just don't know which class that would be!

I'm afraid of physics. I'm dreading it more than any class I've ever taken. It's the only class where I believe that hard work may not suffice - it just may be something that I completely lack the talent to master.

To anyone who responds, thank you very much in advance for your input!
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