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Testing Difficulty with Modern Physics Midterm

  1. Oct 5, 2016 #1
    I am currently in Honors Physics 3 which is the third introductory course of my physics degree program and covers modern physics beginning with special relativity. So far we have covered Lorentz transformations and velocity additions, relativistic energy and momentum, blackbody radiation, photon energies and quantization, Compton scattering, and Bohr's model of hydrogen. Although the homework is pretty difficult, we have a week to do each assignment of 8-15 problems and I get pretty good grades. We have one quiz each week during our recitation (small sub-classes to discuss topics from the lectures) and we usually go over the material on the quiz in class before we take the quiz. Those quizzes are usually 2-3 questions and are very straightforward. Last week, we received a practice exam to help us study for the first midterm. It was 16 questions and each question tested a fundamental topic we had learned. By that I mean that the questions were straightforward and did not require much complex problem solving. We went over the solutions this week and I got them all right so I was feeling prepared for the exam. I even woke up this morning and decided to study for a few hours before I took the exam just to get my mind working and ready.
    Now I can tell you with 95% certainty that I failed the exam. It was 16 problems just like the practice but the questions were double if not triple the difficulty and we were only given an hour to complete it. Whereas every relativity problem we had done in class, on quizzes, or on homework had only dealt with frames moving in the x-direction, the problems in the exam involved inertial frames moving at different angles. Any conservation of relativistic energy or momentum problem had previously only been a two-particle problem, now it was 3 or 4 particles. I was trying to solve problems that I had never attempted before and despite the fact that I understood the basic concepts, attempting to apply them to new situations while you only have 3.75 minutes to answer each question is a recipe for failure.
    I'm wondering is this just what is expected of me as a student pursuing a degree in physics or did the class simply not prepare me for the exam? I know that I could have put more effort in to learn to solve more complex problems but I feel like I was lulled into thinking the test would be easier and thus, I didn't bother to teach myself the harder problems. I assumed that the point of me spending 4 hours per week in class and another 2 or 3 on homework problems would be to prepare me for the types of problems I would see on the exam, but it seems as though I am expected to study more difficult problems on my own if I want to have any chance of passing this class.
  2. jcsd
  3. Oct 5, 2016 #2
    That's a bad attitude. You're not in high school anymore where they spoonfeed you everything. You're in college, which means you are expected to search for complementary materials to help you get a full understanding, this includes harder problems.
  4. Oct 5, 2016 #3


    Staff: Mentor

    If that's 2 or 3 hours per week for an Honors Physics class, that's definitely not enough time spent on homework.
  5. Oct 5, 2016 #4
    Sorry I didn't mean to sound like I'm not interested in learning the harder problems but I am in multivariable calculus, advanced statistics, and principles of astrophysics as well and I don't just have time to be delving into subjects I don't think I will be tested on. Believe me I would love it if college could be like that but unfortunately it's not. Like I said though if that's what I'm expected to do, I will know in the future. My question is, in an undergraduate physics degree program, is it common to be expected to apply fundamental concepts to more complex problems that aren't covered in class or in homework? Should I expect my exams to be more difficult than the regular course work, or is that just something that depends on the class/professor?
  6. Oct 5, 2016 #5
    2-3 hours is just on the one homework assignment that is due each week. That does not count time spent studying for the weekly quizzes or just reviewing lecture material. And also the same question in my reply above is really what I was looking for. Thanks.
  7. Oct 5, 2016 #6

    Vanadium 50

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    But you were tested on them.
  8. Oct 6, 2016 #7


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    Ummm it isn't only common, it's par for the course. You should be doing supplemental problem sets, not only because you believe you might be tested on them, but to gain a deeper understanding of the concepts.

    You should be spending at least three to four times that amount, easily.

    I never understood reviewing lecture material for physics. Read the text once, go to lecture, preform a deeper reader after, then your sole objective should be problems. You learn physics by doing!
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