1. Limited time only! Sign up for a free 30min personal tutor trial with Chegg Tutors
    Dismiss Notice
Dismiss Notice
Join Physics Forums Today!
The friendliest, high quality science and math community on the planet! Everyone who loves science is here!

Doing poorly on my first Physics Test

  1. Oct 7, 2009 #1
    As a man in my late 30's returning to school, I have discovered how introductory physics in practice is actually a lot more challenging to me than I thought it would be. My assignments have been taking me forever to complete and despite the fact that the grades I receive on them are pretty good, I just finished my first test today and i know i did not do well. Even though I haven't got my grade on this test yet, i still know I didn't do well at all. I guess what I'm wondering is...has anyone in these forums actually ever failed a first year physics test? I mean, even those of you whom are really good at physics? I like physics...i enjoy reading about the nature of this interesting branch of science, but for some reason i feel like giving up on actually getting a good grade in physics. Has anyone ever failed a physics test and actually eventually got this stuff?
  2. jcsd
  3. Oct 7, 2009 #2
    I got a ~45% with a 10% or so curve on my first physics midterm. I made sure to never go into a test unprepared and I've been pulling a ~90% average ever since. I'm currently taking a Griffiths level EM course, and planning to take classical mechanics next term.
  4. Oct 7, 2009 #3


    User Avatar
    Staff Emeritus
    Science Advisor
    Gold Member

    Well, my first physics test was a loooong time ago, so I don't remember much of it. But I remember how hard that first class was. Yes, the homework problems take forever to complete (and that doesn't change, right through your senior year classes), so that's normal.

    Don't let a bad result discourage you - let it motivate you.

    Besides, you may have done better than you thought.
  5. Oct 7, 2009 #4
    Well...thank you both for sharing your thoughts with me. I am trying to look at this intimidating learning process and not doing as well on tests as i would like to as a chance for improvement in the long run... it just seems like others catch on so well sometimes...so quickly as it were...am i just imagining things?
  6. Oct 7, 2009 #5
    While I obviously don't know precisely what your homework load is, physics problem sets will always take a long time. 2-8 hours per class per week is normal for most people on homework alone. The variance is mostly professor dependent. For example, my E&M problem set almost always takes 6-8 hours per week, while my math methods homework rarely takes more than 2 hours (and even that's pushing it).

    As far as nearly failing a test - I got something like a 34 on one of my (honors) physics 2 tests. I took this as motivation to study very hard for all of my remaining tests and managed to salvage an A out of the class. My problem was that I got too cocky and didn't study at all for that test. Doing poorly on one test doesn't mean you will never get it. A mere year later, I know physics 2 material so well that I can derive various electric fields, capacitances, etc. entirely in my head. If I took that test I got a 34 on now, I have no doubt that I'd ace effortlessly. So, don't let one poor test score make you think that you'll never understand material.
  7. Oct 7, 2009 #6
    you might be surprised to learn that many of those that are seemingly picking up on things quickly are actually taking physics 1 for the second time. im in my first year physics courses as well, and i was discouraged for the first week or two, but found out that some of the people that are vocal and call out answers are retaking the course because they failed the first time or didnt like their grade.
  8. Oct 7, 2009 #7
    What is the key to getting really good at Physics for a beginner? Sometimes i think i should hire a tutor, but then i wonder to myself...well....if i need a tutor then maybe i'm just not smart enough to do it on my own...but i guess that's just me being somewhat critical of myself for having a tough time understanding intro physics.
  9. Oct 8, 2009 #8
    One of the worst destroyers of physics students is the attitude that "if I need help then I'm just not good enough."

    Everybody wants to be great at it without trying, and everybody hates the people who appear to be able to do just that. Behind the scenes, they study too--and often are ready and able to ask for help if they get stuck.

    What is a better use of your time--spending six or eight hours trying to figure out a problem you think you just 'ought to know', or asking your professor, grad assistant, or another student who might be able to nudge you in the right direction or help you overcome a false preconception?
  10. Oct 8, 2009 #9
    I do that and people don't hate me >:(

    I think what people hates are people who tries to act like they can do that, but can't. And I usually help others with their stuff, I like helping people! I often stay after classes to help people understand courses I have already taken etc.
  11. Oct 8, 2009 #10
    Thanks for helping me see things from a new perspective...i will work harder at learning physics, because i want to understand it better. I think it makes life more interesting the more you know about this fascinating branch of science. I will try to get a tutor to help me with my work soon as well.
  12. Oct 8, 2009 #11
    Hello Irishman.A few points.
    1.Try googling "study skills",you may find some strategies you can use to make your studies more effective and time efficient.
    2.There are many people who go through a topic thinking they understand it and then when they are faced with an exam style question..bang..they are stuck.It is important that you practise exam style questions as you go so get as many past papers and other relevant resources as you can and work through them.It would also be a great help if you could get copies of mark schemes.
    3.Get feedback on your test.Find out where you lost marks and ask for advice on how you can do better in future tests.
    4.A good tutor can certainly help but there are a lot of poor tutors out there.Ask around and try to find a tutor who has been highly recommended.
    Finally I wouldn't worry about your poor marks.You have been out of full time education for several years,I imagine you are relearning some of the basics and you will have to struggle more than your peers for a while.
  13. Oct 8, 2009 #12
    Thank you for the advice on study skills Dadface...hopefully my marks will improve as i need the good grades to transfer my credits from this CC to UBC (Canada).
  14. Oct 8, 2009 #13
    what was the point of this post? Are you really that desperate to impress people you don't/won't ever know?
  15. Oct 8, 2009 #14
    Yes, it was rather pretentious sounding wasn't it ? hmmm... However, perhaps that wasn't their intention at all...i dunno.
  16. Oct 8, 2009 #15
    My physics professor always said that if you are always getting A's then you're bored.

    I kinda have to agree with him. Being in a class where you are always doing great, leaves no room for brainstorming. But with a little bit of struggle, the feeling of figuring out something that at once seemed impractical is the best feeling in the world.

    Also, whenever the struggle is to much and a bad grade is received, there is more room for improvement. Going from a C to an A- is always more motivating than going from an A- to A+. Don't get me wrong, being the best is great too, but being better than before is, well, better. :)
  17. Oct 8, 2009 #16
    Well, I am not quite as old as you, but I also a freshmen taking my first physics class.

    What has helped me alot is banging my head against more advanced problems then we are currently talking about in class.
  18. Oct 8, 2009 #17
    Do most eng/phys students feel like they're in a constant state of stupidity? Is this normal throughout college?

    I'm embarrassed to admit this, but I just spent a good hour trying to understand a free-body diagram problem. I guess it was a little jump in complexity, the net force on the objects in the system was not zero, so it was accelerating. I was still trying to set all the equations equal to zero like in previous problems, not -(m*a).

    It felt good to figure out what I was doing wrong but, geez, I literally thought there was no light for me at the end of the tunnel for physics during that hour.

    FBDs are really rough on me for some reason.... I guess I just have to work really hard to make it more intuitive.

    Maybe sometimes I'm just not in the physics state of mind. I dunno.

    This probably doesn't help, just trying to relate. ^>^

    I'm off to beat my head against the wall!
  19. Oct 8, 2009 #18
    Also, I have this little theory about people that struggle in academics...

    Would it be right to guess that people that struggle early on eventuall become better learners because they had to learn how to learn. This way, if they tried to learn anything later on that wasn't intuitive it would be no problem, because they could find where their misunderstanding was more easily then say someone that skated by on their intuition for their first few years.

    I don't know if this makes sense. I think it's kinda of like the idea that the best coaches are the ones that struggled the most as an athlete.

    Meh, it might just be wishful thinking I guess.
  20. Oct 9, 2009 #19
    Yeah, the point is that you don't feel smart when you are thinking about things you don't understand yet but you can't learn about new concepts without thinking on them. So if you aren't feeling stupid then you aren't learning anything, the only way is to accept that this is how it is.

    So in essence just grind through the problems you hate doing since that is what you actually need to do, doing easy problems do not lead anywhere except that it might help you find things that you thought you understood but didn't.
    The point was that what he was saying was wrong in my opinion and I wanted to correct him. What is the point of your post now again? Is it really that important for you to point out to people you don't know that in your opinion they are pathetic? Now I am not stupid enough to think that people on the internet gets impressed by such information, mostly their reaction is similar to yours, so it is mostly to add a side to the discussion that I thought was missing before.

    The problem is that whenever someone on the net says that they are good at anything then everyone gets suspicious, thinks that he is just being pretentious or something else like that. But I did start college a few years late, I am extremely lazy meaning that my achievements outside academia are non existent, I have a strong relationship phobia so I have never had a girlfriend and it seems that every friendship I have had dwindles out into nothing after a few years. With that I want to say that I don't care what people think about me. I do not think that I am better than others except in a few areas where I excel and that only started after years of people constantly telling me, but overall I am probably worse than most.
    Last edited: Oct 9, 2009
  21. Oct 9, 2009 #20

    Vanadium 50

    User Avatar
    Staff Emeritus
    Science Advisor
    Education Advisor
    2017 Award

    Many people.

    I think the key is to figure out why you did poorly on this test and address it. Was it a problem with your math background? Recalling equations? Careless mistakes? Whatever it is, you need to identify it and concentrate on that. The difference between a good student and an average student is that the good student asks himself "why did I get this wrong?" and works on not making the same mistake twice.

    In some sense, an early bad exam is actually a help - it can expose many areas where one needs to work at once!
  22. Oct 9, 2009 #21
    I think that can help a lot, trying to work through a challenging problem,even if you can't come up with an answer, can give you a much better understanding of the principles involved.It can also be fun but take care,it can be time consuming.
Share this great discussion with others via Reddit, Google+, Twitter, or Facebook