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Can I bypass General Physics I-III for theoretical classes?

  1. Nov 28, 2009 #1
    Currently I am back in school taking some math courses to finish an undergraduate degree while getting credit for a master's program in math. I am fairly competent in calculus and did well in the first half of an introductory physics class that I had to withdraw from for other reasons. My long term interests are in astronomy. When it comes to math, I am more of a theoretical person. The reason that I can never fit the general physics classes into my schedule is because of the time consuming labs that I have no interest in taking (I currently work as well). I am very interested in taking the 2nd-3rd year theoretical classes like Electromagnetism, Analytical Mechanics, Quantum Mechanics and Relativity. I am wondering if I would be able to handle such classes, or if they would be over my head because my physics background is not strong enough.

    A parallel that I would like to make is with the math course Analysis. Calc III is a requirement to take this class. But the reality is that you learn Calculus from the beginning in Analysis in a much more theoretical way. Knowing Calculus helps, but it's not essential to succeed in such a class since you technically learn it from a proof-only mathematical perspective. Are classes like Electromagnetism similar? Is having a basis in electromagnetism with some self study enough to take such a class? Would auditing the class, but not taking the lab cut it? Any advice would be appreciated. I sent a similar but shorter message to the physics chair of the department several weeks ago and was ignored.
  2. jcsd
  3. Nov 28, 2009 #2
    2nd/3rd year classes always start out with the very most basic stuff/concepts. Being a math graduate student you'll be fine.
  4. Nov 28, 2009 #3


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    You can skip into the sophomore level physics classes (modern, classical, E&M, eventually quantum) without the intro levels (as long as they don't explicitly require them) but I suggest you get an intro physics book or two and learn some of the basic concepts on your own - while the labs themselves may not be necessary, they will expect you to know and understand the definitions of things like force, torque, momentum, and basics from E&M before staring more advanced courses.
  5. Nov 28, 2009 #4
    Thanks guys. This is very helpful.
  6. Nov 28, 2009 #5


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    You may be successful by skipping the fundamentals but I would not recommend it. If you are interested in pursuing physics you need to build a foundation. These classes are the basis for that foundation. Make an effort to schedule them.
  7. Nov 28, 2009 #6
    Integral is right. I needed to skip general physics and I started my physics course from 2nd year. I was successful in terms of grades and knowledge however for in-depth understanding you still need basics. Don't worry - with good math foundation it's like reading picture book. Math is simple so you can focus only on physics and it's not as boring as you think. It's like reading a prologue to your favourite book (at least I found oscillators & waves and EM interesting). What's more if you don't have classes such as hydrodynamics or materials properties taking intro courses may be the only chance to learn it.
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