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Does it take time to get used to physics?

  1. Sep 3, 2011 #1
    Does it take time to "get used" to physics?

    I'm new to physics - I'm a high school junior who is taking AP Physics (which is college introductory physics or something like that) and I have never taken a physics class in my life. I don't really understand physics right now although I would really really like to (my goal in life is to be a geek [which is actually harder than it sounds]); I guess I'm just terrified that I won't or am somehow incapable of understanding physics.

    For example, it took me a hours to understand two-dimensional kinematics and how to solve problems and even now, I'm still a bit iffy. I overanalyze EVERYTHING and make stupid mistakes and even when I do get it, I feel like I don't (maybe that's because I'm new?).

    With that said, does it just take time to get used to physics or am I just dumb? I kind of BSed my physics summer assignment (I didn't have the textbook yet) and I found it confusing; school started about 3 weeks ago and I get it so far because it's introductory physics. However, I'm worried because I looked ahead into my textbook (Physics 3rd edition by Walker [is this a good textbook?]) and couldn't get what the book was saying: I know the teacher is supposed to teach it, but I'm worried that I'm still not going to get it.

    For all you physics geniuses out there, did it confuse you at first too? Did you have to get used to it first? Sorry for kind of ranting and thank you very much for answering.
  2. jcsd
  3. Sep 3, 2011 #2


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    Re: Does it take time to "get used" to physics?

    I'm no "physics genius" but it always took me time to get a lot of concepts. In fact, I don't know anyone who ever really understood most concepts the first few times. To take it a step further, I have instructors who claim that in reality, 1 out of 100 students after their first year or so of physics understands the equations as anything more than just equations that need to be handled with mathematics correctly.

    Physics is something you don't see in every day life in the form it is presented and certainly there's an extremely slim chance that students had any hint of a physics education before high school (and even during high school for the most part). So you shouldn't feel bad that it doesn't click immediately.
  4. Sep 4, 2011 #3
    Re: Does it take time to "get used" to physics?

    Its not just you. When I first took my physics class in college, I thought it was complete hell. The concepts were easy to understand but when it came to problem solving, I was completely stuck. I managed to get pass my first physics class (barely) and I guess I am in your position now. I want to get better at physics because it interests me. I think a lot of starting students who take physics have a hard time with it. That or maybe we are both just dumb :P
  5. Sep 4, 2011 #4
    Re: Does it take time to "get used" to physics?

    You will get used to physics gradually. Just try to understand and go by equations and experiments, even if they seem contradictory to common sense.
  6. Sep 4, 2011 #5
    Re: Does it take time to "get used" to physics?

    You can have a go testing the equations out, to get a feel for them. In absence of that, you can look up YouTub videos of others doing the demos for you....

    ...but are you really going to pass up the opportunity of building a giant catapult to test projectile motion equations?
  7. Sep 5, 2011 #6
    Re: Does it take time to "get used" to physics?

    yeah it definitely takes time to get the hang of it. people have the same concerns you have and they quit before they've given it a proper go. if you stick with it long enough to get to a more advanced level you'll realise the stuff you are working on now is straightforward stuff, it just seems hard at first. I think having good teachers is the most important factor.
  8. Sep 5, 2011 #7
    Re: Does it take time to "get used" to physics?

    That's normal. There's a reason why there are 3 mechanics classes (introductory, classical in undergrad and graduate school) that physics students take. It takes a lot of revisiting to really strengthen one's understanding of these subjects that can get quite complicated.
  9. Sep 8, 2011 #8
    Re: Does it take time to "get used" to physics?

    I would have to agree with a lot of this. I would also like to add a few things I've personally noticed when studying physics/engineering:

    First is that it always seems like I'm a couple years behind on actual understanding. Its not that I can't go through the motions to solve said problems and get the grade. It is just that until I would encounter the material or harder material more often in later classes that I would look back and it would suddenly make sense and seem simple. This is especially true with math. It is a lot easier to learn the process of how to solve a differential equation than have to derive a differential equation for a system and know what it physically means.

    Second is that the speed of learning is not so important. Yes, you can't take forever to learn concepts either because of the speed of classes. But the learning process for new material isn't instant. In fact it is supposed to be somewhat challenging. You can't just pick up a textbook and read/learn it at the same pace you would a regular book. For instance I tend to learn things at what I feel is a slow pace, but this is because I'm usually trying to understand the material at a higher level. Granted it can be frustrating when your asking little questions trying to understand the details of a problem and your friend wants to just go through the motions and get it done.
  10. Sep 9, 2011 #9
    Re: Does it take time to "get used" to physics?

    I´ve always held the best way to understand laws in physics is to try and break them. Then you´ll see they work!
  11. Sep 9, 2011 #10
    Re: Does it take time to "get used" to physics?

    I was just saying to my labmate yesterday about physics, "anything worth learning needs to be learned at least 2-3 times". Just do your best to understand and be able to answer the questions required for your course. Then keep coming back to the interesting topics later.

    Many professional scientists and engineers don't have a deep grasp of some very fundamental physics concepts, even some academics. Caring enough to keep thinking about the basics is definitely a bigger factor than your innate skill level, although that of course matters as well.
    Last edited: Sep 9, 2011
  12. Sep 9, 2011 #11
    Re: Does it take time to "get used" to physics?

    When I first took physics, it was a calculus-based intro class in college. And just like you, kinematics hit me like a freight train. Then forces hit me like a freight train. Then energy and rotation and E&M hit me like a freight train. But wait.. forces, energy, rotation, and E&M all require kinematics, eh? By the time you're working on them, kinematics seems easy. By the time you're on energy, forces seem easy. By the time you're on rotation, energy seems easy. By the time you're on E&M, rotation seems easy. Your brain naturally lags behind the concepts. Luckily physics is so interconnected that everything you do tends to support everything else. It's a great way to practice.
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