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Calc based or algebra based physics?

  1. Aug 27, 2009 #1
    So I'm a human bio major, and just taking physics to satisfy requirements. Which one would be a wiser choice? I've taken calc 1 and 2 and did reasonably well in both. What's the difference between them and which one would be easier?
  2. jcsd
  3. Aug 27, 2009 #2
    human bio? Anywho algebra is easier.
  4. Aug 27, 2009 #3


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    Even in a calc-based physics course, the problems and exercises are still mostly done in algebra.
  5. Aug 27, 2009 #4
    Depends on what you want to get out from your physics class. Calc-based physics is usually more rigorous than the algebra-based one because you will derive more formulas. Some of the formulas in first-year physics requires calculus to see why they work out that way, so if you take algebra-based one, your class will give you formulas assuming that they work. At my school, a lot of life science and health science people take the algebra based, but I know a few who decided to take the calculus based because they felt like they weren't learning as much as they wanted to learn from the algebra based.

    I would personally recommend the calc based--if you have calc 1 and 2 under your belt, math shouldn't be much of a problem, and the physics that you learn will make more sense. Physics I (Newtonian mechanics ) is almost like applied calculus, anyway.
  6. Aug 27, 2009 #5


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    Check to see if the calc-based physics require more calc classes as corequisites. Some calc-based physics classes do, although you could possibly get an exemption from the department if that's the case.

    If you want to know the math behind all the concepts you learn, then calc-based will be more explanatory. With algebra-based, the coursework might be easier, but you'll have to be more trusting that it actually does work out mathematically.
  7. Aug 27, 2009 #6
    Calc-based physics at my school had very little calculus in homework, and almost none on the tests. The most calculus I can recall was simple integration for Guassian surfaces or flux. Most of the calculus was in the teacher justifying our formulas. The calc-based version was a little more rigorous than the algebra one. Even if it was easier, the algebra people seemed more confused by formulas that really required calculus to fully use and understand.
  8. Aug 27, 2009 #7
    i'm assuming you'll be doing Physics I (Mechanics) and Physics II (Electricity and Magnetism). In that case, you already have Mathematics prerequisites (Calc I and II respectively) set for both courses.

    I took Calculus based Physics I at my University...and there barely was any mention of Calculus. 99.9% of the homework did not involve Calculus. On top of my head, there were two exception where homework involved using derivatives of x^n and sine and cosine. One of them was when we was at the beginning of the course, when velocity, acceleration talk goes (had to do derivative of x^2 lol). Another one was during simple harmonic motion (used sine and cosine derivatives).

    edit: i also remember using integrals for Work and Potential energy formula derivation but that's prolly it.

    we never had anything to do with calculus in exam.


    and i agree with fabelhaft. I knew some folks who took Physics w/o calculus and bunch of them seemed confused indeed. It's kinda hard to explain Physics w/o Calculus.


    similar was with Physics II, just some basic integration, in particularly for proving formulas.
    Last edited: Aug 27, 2009
  9. Aug 27, 2009 #8
    I just want to add that even the limited calculus that was included in my sequence was so formulaic that it could easily have been done by someone who didn't even know calculus. Of course as I and others have mentioned, to understand it in any form requires calculus. Honestly, based on what I've seen from the algebra-based course (from assisting algebra-based people in their studies) it's really just a waste of time. I say that not just because the material is more lightweight but also more opaque, but because the calc-based version isn't that much harder.
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