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Schools AP Physics v. University Physics

  1. Oct 31, 2008 #1
    Okay so I'm taking AP Physics B at my high school this year (i'm a senior) and I really enjoy it and I do well on all of the tests so far (I do usually get 1 or 2 problems wrong tho...my average is between 80 and 90 percent on tests). I really like Physics and all of the theories and stuff but I'm worried that I might not do well in college because of the math...not that I'm not good at math (I taught myself calculus and I have no problem remembering the equations)..it's just that some of the problems in my textbook get really hard to do, (I've only encountered one that I haven't been able to solve on my own though. and the problems my teacher assigns are usually pretty easy to me)...

    So my question is... how does AP Physics B compare to University Physics? Is it just a little harder or is it incredibly more difficult? I'm planning on going to the U of Arizona...(not really a top ranked school, but I would probably transfer to a better one in the last two years of my major). and...I've taken two and a half years of Biology classes and now Biology seems extremely easy to me...is this what it's like for Physics? Do you start out kind of not good at it or whatever then after a course or two you get used to it and it becomes a piece of cake? or at least just easier?

  2. jcsd
  3. Oct 31, 2008 #2
    I doubt physics B will even give you college credit since science/engineering majors require physics with calculus. AP tests are about on par with university courses at an average university. Some classes are harder and some are easier. English language/lit are probably harder, Calculus is probably easier, physics I found was a LOT easier to pass. For example, I got a 5 on Physics C: Mechanics but I had to bust my arse for a B in E/M. Totally different material, but I found the course at the university to be much more thought-provoking and difficult.
  4. Oct 31, 2008 #3


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    I think most students who start with first semester (calculus-based) university physics (i.e. without AP credit for it) feel the same way about the second semester. The calculus-based E&M stuff is hard for everybody, especially Gauss's Law and similar topics.
  5. Oct 31, 2008 #4
    I would (when you choose a college or university, or when Univ of Arizona becomes definite) suggest talking with the department about their courses. Sometimes the first semester physics doesn't use much calculus (even though a course description claims it might) because Calculus I is a co-requisite. So they might be give at least one term of credit for AP B. I'd be careful about enrolling in the second semester E&M without feeling confident about integration (typically covered more in-depth in Calc II).

    More importantly: You haven't directed indicated what you'd like to major in either (we'll assume for now it's physics). Why does this matter? The way AP worked when I was in HS school (back in the early 90's)... Take AP courses in subject areas you DIDN'T want to major in (hence filling in your general-ed credits to give you time to take ALL the courses in your major and related departments). I'm personally not fond of this trend in trying to advance yourself quickly in your major. :grumpy: Why?

    I declared my physics major late (I switched from chemistry) and I still had time (by later enrolling in terms consisting off full 18 credits of math/science) to complete ALL courses offered by my department (except 1 intermediate computational course designed to hold students off before intermediate mechanics and E&M) and MOST of the core-courses and uppermost electives offered by math and chemistry.... with chilling out the last term and having only 13 credits (and therefore lots of research time for my thesis project :biggrin: ). I'm personally happy that, as an undergraduate, I declared my physics major in the middle of my first year and therefore started the sequence one term later than the calc-sequence (based on the suggested class structure for chemistry majors)... I was, therefore, one term ahead in math, so all "co-requisites" in physics were actually already completed (i.e. Calc II was completed before I started Physics II/E&M). How did I later perform in grad school? Top of the class in all my core courses in a well-ranked school. And -- to everyone's surprise (even faculty who remembered their bad experiences), I love E&M :!!) and think it's gorgeous formulation and symmetry, probably because I never really got killed by the mathematics of it and had time to process the meaning behind the mathematics.

    My personal advice: I'd tend to take it slow. If your courses your first term are "boring" because you've not skipped courses based on AP credits, look into intermediate level texts on the same topics to see how the concepts might later develop, read up on the research areas in the department to prepare yourself for working with a research group, look into other areas you might self-study on a bit before you get to the topic (or if the topic isn't covered)... get to know faculty, spend time at your library enriching yourself. You sound like you're good at self-study, so indulge that side of yourself some more... it's a great luxury!

    BTW: at least in my personal experience, most students switch majors at least once. When I graduated from undergrad, none of the physics majors graduating that term, including myself, started out in physics. Indulging yourself makes sure you get into the field you're interested in (as long as you don't take half of your undergraduate years experimenting in everything simple and never moving into the complex parts)... by your first term in your third year, you need to be in intermediate/advanced topics... and taking lots of those courses in your department and related fields. The exception to this... get ahead in the math. (If you're thinking about physics, double-majoring in math is a great idea!)
  6. Oct 31, 2008 #5
    It's funny you should say that physics girl ph. One of the reason I'm dropping physics is because I always find myself learning the mathematics concurrently with the physics, so half of the time I'm worrying about the maths rather than the physics. I much prefer to get the mathematics out the way first, learning it in a proper maths course, and then doing the physics. I guess now I'm just learning physics on my own for fun.
  7. Oct 31, 2008 #6
    Thanks everyone.

    Physics girl. I am planning to major in Physics btw... Well I'm not bored with anything in Physics...yet...maybe one day I'll find something boring...but i kinda doubt it. Basically I think it's extremely interesting material (even mechanics) and I LOVE the challenge I get from solving the problems, since I usually don't get a challenge from anything i do. Usually it's just frustatrating...I'll contact the UofA's department about what you said.
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