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Do you need high school physics to study physics?

  1. May 28, 2015 #1
    I tried to keep the thread name as applicable to my question as possible. I'm sure this question has been asked before I apologise in advance I could not find the appropriate answer :) I did not do physics at high school as when I tried to change a sub to physics they told me I was too late (which I later learned was bs). I have studied fitness and did physics of the body. I would really like to study physics!

    I have chronic fatigue syndrome and it's kept me from doing a lot in my life but I don't want to put this off any longer... Are there courses one can take which do not require high school physics but rather supply the same high school physics education? Then I could progress from this and apply for a higher education?

    I really can't find the answer online, any help would be greatly appreciated! :)
  2. jcsd
  3. May 28, 2015 #2
    Nope, first year physics college courses will cover everything you learned in high school. Although it will be at a much faster pace. Good luck!
  4. May 28, 2015 #3
    No, you don't. It would be useful but not completely necessary. My high school was a very small one in a small town. We didn't have enough funding for physics classes, teachers, etc. When I went to college, I wanted to know more about physics and be challenged by it. I decided to major in it, and it's the best decision of my life. The general introductory physics classes will teach you the basics. It will set the foundation that a physics major needs to have.

    Basically, don't worry about not taking it in high school. Do well in your calculus courses and pay attention in the introductory physics courses which will cover kinematics, force, fluid dynamics, electricity, magnetism and a few more concepts.

    You'll do fine. Just study.


  5. May 28, 2015 #4
    How are your math skills (algebra, geometry, trigonometry, imaginary numbers, exponents, logarithms, functions, rates of changes of functions, finding the area under a curve, calculus, differentiation, integration, vectors, etc.)? If you are strong in these areas, then you are certainly ready for classical physics (Newton's Laws, Work-energy theorem). Eventually, you will also need to learn multivariable calculus, linear algebra (vector spaces, span, linear independence, basis functions, linear transformations, linear operators, eigenvalues, eigenvectors, etc.), differential equations, probability and statistics.

    When I took Physics I, I did so in the summer, and I did so after having taken Calculus I and II. Since I didn't have a job at the time and since I was only taking one course, I probably spent 30 hours a week on Physics I. Most people don't have time to spend 30 hours a week to study physics, and 30 hours a week probably was excessive. However, it is important that you establish a solid theoretical foundation.

    If you really want to study physics, then math and physics are the most important subjects that you will study. English and history are great, but they aren't going to help you become a physicist. (Although, knowing how to write well is important). The point is that if you have to lighten your course load and take five years to get a degree, so be it. Or take summer classes. The point is that you should really set aside the time that you need to excel at physics. I don't see how people excel at physics when they are overwhelmed with 4 or 5 or 6 other classes. But that's just me.

    All the best.
  6. May 28, 2015 #5


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    Not at all. I tried an "Introductory Physics" course maybe a couple years before the REAL, fundamental Physics-Mechanics course. The earlier intro course was not much help, maybe only slightly useful, but not much at all.
  7. May 28, 2015 #6
    Thank you for taking the time out to reply. This sets my heart at ease :)
  8. May 28, 2015 #7
    Goes to show if you want something you will make it work! I hope one day every child will be fortunate enough to study whatever they like... Thank you for your response and great advice :)
  9. May 28, 2015 #8

    Haha very good point. Yes my math skills will be exercised before applying myself to physics. I agree with you that it takes up a lot of time and I'm currently not working so I don't think time will be an issue now or in the foreseeable future. My main issue would be my fatigue but that's relevant here. I appreciate the time you took to reply to my post and the advice given :)
  10. May 28, 2015 #9
    That's great to know! I'm so glad the actual process of learning is less complicated than the physics itself. Thank you so much for helping to set me at ease!
  11. May 28, 2015 #10


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    What does that mean? You will very likely find Physics to be difficult to learn. An introductory Physics course which is not at or above the level of the introductory series for science & engineering major students will give you brief light acquaintance with physics but is not too difficult. Real physics needed for science & engineering students requires Trigonometry, Intermediate Algebra, some light-level of Calculus (for the start), and to learn to think in detail, analytically. Problems to solve are very involved compared to what you would find in an Introductory Physics course non-calculus-based and non-intended for the sci majors.
  12. May 29, 2015 #11
    Yes, I do understand what you mean! I think you misunderstood me. I meant that physics is already going to be a big enough challenge for me, I'm glad trying to qualify to study it won't be as complicated as the physics itself. From what I've researched on the Internet it seems like there is not much info on this. If they're going to make it hard for people to qualify to educate themselves then they're going to make the actual physics look easy... But Everybody cleared this up for me now.
  13. May 29, 2015 #12
    You certainly don't. I didn't and I think it may have been an advantage, the reason is that my first exposure to physics was being taught by people that had a very deep understanding of it. While I'm sure there are a lot of great high school physics teachers, I'd also guess there are a lot that don't really understand physics (I don't have much data, but from what I heard from my high school friends I'm glad I didn't take physics in high school. Also when I was a TA, in summer quarters I'd sometimes get high school physics teachers in class trying to improve their skills).

    I don't know what your university offers, but mine offered an introduction to physics class that was outside of the calculus based track for engineering/physics majors and the non-calculus track for pre-meds and such. I believe it was intended as a stand alone class for people that just wanted one quarter of physics, for general education credits or something like that.

    One of the things that helped me was that I started taking calculus one quarter before physics. So the math in the physics classes was pretty easy for me. For example, I didn't have to worry about the mechanics of how to integrate since I already knew, I could concentrate on the physics behind what was going on.

    Bottom line, I think you'll be fine. Enjoy and best of luck!
  14. May 29, 2015 #13


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    You will find what you need to know as you go. Intro/Elementary Physics, take if you want, but it is not as deep and critical as Fundamental Physics - Mechanics, E&M, Modern Physics series. Those of the series are calculus based, and you build up to the Calculus courses through Elementary Algebra, Intermediate Algebra, PreCalculus & Trigonometry.
  15. May 31, 2015 #14
    I never took physics in high school. I went to an arts magnet school and they didn't offer AP Physics when I was there (they actually introduced it the year after I graduated).
    My only options at the time were regular physics and honors physics. I believe the latter was only offered online.

    Being an "AP or nothing" kid, I skipped out on physics to take a full course load of AP classes in other subjects. It actually turned out in my favor because I got to skip almost all general education humanities/English/SocSci credits in college and move straight into focusing on science and math my freshman year. Like EM_Guy, I took my first physics course over the summer after I had finished Calc I and II. During my freshman year I was attempting to self-learn from Feynman's lectures, though. But taking the summer physics course, it didn't look like I missed out on much.

    If you plan to major in physics in college, I think what matters is a motivation and passion for the subject. The high school introduction is not necessary in my personal opinion.
    However, for someone who has no plans of studying physics in college but wants to choose a major where the knowledge of basic physics concepts might help (e.g. computer science) I think it would be good to take the HS course.

    From what I hear about some people's experience with HS physics though, I feel sort of lucky that my interest wasn't potentially nipped early on.
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