1. Limited time only! Sign up for a free 30min personal tutor trial with Chegg Tutors
    Dismiss Notice
Dismiss Notice
Join Physics Forums Today!
The friendliest, high quality science and math community on the planet! Everyone who loves science is here!

Beginning in Physics

  1. May 26, 2013 #1
    The title's pretty much self-explanatory. I'm totally new to Physics. I know absolutely nothing about Physics and I've never picked up a physics textbook before. What better way then to come into a Physics Forum!
    I'm currently in 8th grade and going into 9th grade. I was inspired to start Physics by my parents because, well, because they said that math would be a good foundation for physics.I was afraid that I was a bit too late to start really focusing on Physics and get all the way to the Olympiad levels but better late than never! I've got tons of questions going through my mind about Physics competitions, books, etc... so I'll just give a list of the things on my mind.
    1) When do people usually start Physics? Is 9th grade a little to late to start preparing for Olympiads?
    2) How do Olympiad Physics contenders prepare for Olympiads? Do they read books? If so, do they read high school textbooks?
    3) Can you give me a list of books from absolute beginning level to advanced. Preferably a pdf.
    4) How should I study?
    5) What kind of competitions are there in Physics?
    I know I sounded like an absolute noob but I just need a few good advices to get myself started. I'm really determined so I hope you guys could give me some detailed answers and help me. Thanks so much.
  2. jcsd
  3. May 26, 2013 #2


    User Avatar

    Staff: Mentor

    If anything, 8th grade is a bit early to start... How much math have you had?
  4. May 26, 2013 #3
    I've qualified for the AIME. I'm hopefully trying to get into the USAMO next year.
  5. May 26, 2013 #4
    Last edited by a moderator: May 6, 2017
  6. May 26, 2013 #5
    I've done until Algebra 2. I've done Geometry but I haven't gone to Trig yet.
  7. May 26, 2013 #6
    You're going to have to be a bit more specific. "Algebra 2" is not universal term. In any case, trig is very important for physics so I would focus on expanding your mathematical knowledge. I imagine the easiest thing to do would be approach the math and/or physics teacher at the high school you will attending in the fall. Tell them what you are interested in doing. They, being the most familiar with your local education system, will be able to point you towards the areas of mathematics you will need to start on their physics curriculum. Perhaps they will even let you borrow some intro physics textbooks over the summer.

    I would caution you not to view competitions like the physics Olympiad as the ultimate goal. There tends to be a fairly rigid structure to these sorts of contest questions, and being able to answer such questions quickly does not guarantee a deep understanding of the material. If you're going to devote time to study physics independently, you should do so because you think you will enjoy physics and want to explore it; not because your parents suggested it or because you want to win some competitions.
  8. May 26, 2013 #7


    User Avatar
    Homework Helper

    http://ipho.phy.ntnu.edu.tw/syllabus.html is a syllabus from the International Physics Olympiad, it lists topics that one typically needs a full year of college physics to learn, so my guess is the top olympiads have pretty advanced requirements.

    That you will need to know trigonometry is beyond doubt. Master it, know it very well. I would learn that straight away.

    As for whether you will need calculus, that depends on what level you want to reach. With calculus, you could reach that first year of college level like the IPhO requires and other olympiads may require. This also means you would have access to more resources because the most comprehensive textbooks require one to learn calculus.

    Without calculus, you may struggle to find all the topics you need to learn about. You could learn from school textbooks, but I've come to learn that to excel in olympiads, one must know more than one's competitors. If you are serious about doing well in olympiads, I think the calculus-college-level route is necessary.

    Luckily, there are great resources available. Trigonometry you can learn from any school textbook, and I'm sure there are tons of resources online. For calculus, this course is great. Personally, I would not learn multivariable calculus at all, even for electricity & magnetism, no olympiad questions will require it. For the physics itself, a comprehensive college book like Young & Freedman, University Physics (https://www.amazon.com/University-P...1369570373&sr=1-1&keywords=university+physics, http://www.pearsonschool.com/index....ramID=81101&elementType=attribute&elementID=1) might be all you need, along with the myriad of physics lecture videos online. And of course, you could read through any school physics textbooks while you are learning the math you will need, to get you started.

    For olympiads, you need to go straight to the top level. I wish you the best of luck.
    Last edited by a moderator: May 6, 2017
  9. May 26, 2013 #8
    Trust me. I'm really interested in going in depth with Physics. I feel like I've only been leaning towards math my whole life and I haven't really looked at Science that much. Feeling I needed to break the barrier, this is why I'm starting Physics. It's for the pursuit of knowledge. Competitions and Olympiads are of course important but I'm not doing this solely for that.
    Anyways. Whilst I'll be learning Physics, I think I'll learn Calculus and Trigonometry along the way. Like I've said, I'm a total beginner in Physics and I don't think there is any application of Cal and Trig in the beginning level. If there is, maybe I should touch up on my math for a month or so.
    But nontheless, do you guys know any Physics books, textbooks etc... I could read to get a basic sense of what Physics is and build the foundation. Could you guys preferably give me a pdf file. I'm in Korea so I'm kinda limited to Printed English Books. Even if I ordered them online, it would take a few days but I'd like to start as soon as possible.
    Another question if you guys won't mind asking is "When did you guys start learning Physics. Did you just naturally do it because of your high school curriculum or did you do it individually? And is starting in 8th grade a little late?
    Wouldn't "University Physics with Modern Physics" be a little too advanced for me as a beginner?
    Anyways, thanks for all the help so far and I hope you guys can just answer a little bit of my remaining thoughts. You guys have been so helpful in introducing me to Physics. Thanks!
  10. May 26, 2013 #9
    I really would learn trig first, you will encounter it the first few pages of an intro physics text. You can get away with deferring calculus and learning physics algebraically for a while, but there's no way around trig.

    I began self teaching myself my school's grade 11 curriculum in grade 9. You are worrying about the timeline way too much. You don't get extra points for starting earlier than other people and you don't get docked points for starting later. All that matters is what you know. You have plenty of time.
  11. May 26, 2013 #10


    User Avatar

    Staff: Mentor

    I'm not verty, but that won't stop me from expressing an opinion :smile:

    What makes a physics text too advanced or not too advanced is the level of math it uses. If you can handle the math the book uses, you can handle the physics.
  12. May 26, 2013 #11


    User Avatar
    Homework Helper

    Getting into the final round of a country's olympiad is very, very difficult. Advanced knowledge won't guarantee you a place but many students from private schools have advanced knowledge and this makes it difficult if not impossible without that edge. So I chose to mention that book because it reaches far enough for any olympiad and looks very comprehensive.

    That said, it would be advanced. What it requires mathematically (to get to this top olympiad level) you would gain when learning trigonometry and calculus. By the end of single-variable calculus, your math would be very good and you would be used to difficult calculations. Your math level would be sufficient to do probably half the problems in the book, I believe. The thing is, concepts like angular momentum and torque are rather difficult. I don't think a school book would cover them. And you would need this math level to really know them well.

    And even then, the E&M chapters would use more advanced math and you would not be able to do the problems.

    So my answer is many-fold. It is advanced, but it is the cheapest way to get all that knowledge in one place, it is perhaps the only way to get a really good handle on some topics, and given the excellent videos online, it represents a method to get a very solid knowledge base for participating in olympiads.

    I don't have a recommendation for a school-level book though. Am I right in thinking that Algebra II is basically grade 11 math? A grade 11 or 12 science book would work in that case. As you can tell, I am still assuming you want to learn things ahead of time.
  13. May 26, 2013 #12


    User Avatar
    Education Advisor

    You seem concerned that you're in 8th grade and just starting physics. That's absolutely not too late! You're getting started on it much earlier than most people do. Most people don't even have any formal physics instruction until Junior year of high school or so.

    Personally, I'm 26 and just now starting to study physics from an academic standpoint. Don't worry, you've got plenty of time!

    The best advice I can give is to build as strong of a mathematical foundation as you possibly can. College Algebra and Trig are going to be key for you, as they're the mathematical concepts that introductory physics is really based on. Good luck!
  14. May 26, 2013 #13
    So would "University Physics with Modern Physics" cover pretty much everything I need to know just in a more advanced way? I understand that this book is advanced and as you said, this book would give me a possible edge on other students as it reaches further, but are the topics taught in this book the basics of Physics just taught more in-depth? Would this be a good starter?
  15. May 27, 2013 #14


    User Avatar
    Homework Helper

    First question, yes. Second question, I think so. Physics is (I think) a body of mathematical theories of how physical systems operate, so beginning books will choose those areas that need basic math. We can think of a physical system as difficult if the math required is difficult and easy if the math required is easy. So a more comprehensive book will require more advanced mathematics. Books for beginners will describe the easier systems in ways that do not need you to know a lot of math. But knowing more math can only ever help, it can't be a hindrance.

    If I am right that you are just about at a grade 11 level of math (only trigonometry remaining to be learned), you are nearly 3 years ahead. For someone that gifted, a beginning book may be too slow.

    Are there topics not covered in a more advanced book? I believe that no physical system is covered in a book for beginners that is not covered in a comprehensive college text like the one I gave.

    I know I launched into this olympiad advice even though you said you were a total beginner. I wanted to answer the question: what do olympiad participants learn, what books do they use? I have stayed within that context on purpose; being advanced with math means this is within reach. For now, the way ahead is to learn the math. If you can do that, this college learning is definitely doable.

    A brief summary so I don't need to say any more. For someone ahead in math, college physics is within reach. A comprehensive college book is the most direct way for such a person to gain that knowledge, supplemented by online lectures which should go some way to making up for their being no teacher. Books for beginners are more broad in scope and teach more than just physics, and interests always change. If a book for beginners was cheaper, I could see the point of getting it before committing to a college book. But the fact is, a used copy of a college book will often cost less. The threshold and the point of decision is if/when one can/does learn the math. That is all.
Share this great discussion with others via Reddit, Google+, Twitter, or Facebook