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E&M vs Mechanics

  1. Sep 10, 2003 #1
    I've just completed my first year of physics. I got A's in the first two quarters, but E&M gave me a hearty asskicking. Is electromagnetism supposed to be this difficult? Is it an aberration or the norm for physics classes from now on?
  2. jcsd
  3. Sep 10, 2003 #2


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    There are too many variable to say with certainty. Your teacher's skill, your book's clarity, your personal aptitude, your study habits, etc. all come into play in determining how difficult or how easy a subject is to learn. Just because E&M was difficult for you does not mean that anything else will be; on the other hand, just because mechanics was easy for you also does not mean anything else will be.

    E&M is, by most accounts, more difficult than mechanics, largely because it involves more difficult mathematics and does not deal with things you can see or feel with your own senses. You don't have much "E&M intuition" when you first walk into the classroom -- you just have to solve lots and lots of problems to build it up.

    This is my "algorithm:"

    Step 1) Rate the instructor. Is he clear? Does he explain in enough detail to make the homework only moderately difficult, or does he solve micky-mouse problems in class and expect you to solve problems a hundred times more difficult in homework? Does he seem to really care if you understand or not? If the instructor sucks, get another one and return to step one.

    Step 2) Rate the book he's chosen to use. Is it clear and thorough? Does it explain in enough detail to make its problem sets only moderately difficult? Does it seem to pull things out of thin air all the time? Does it follow along closely enough with your instructor's pedagogical flow? Your book should be a sort of glorified reference, and should be able to at least reiterate what your teacher said in class when you get stumped. It should complement his lectures, not provide an entirely different way of looking at things. If the book sucks, buy an additional, better one, and return to step two.

    Step 3) Build up your physical intuition. Solve many, many problems, until you can look at a problem and begin salivating (a la Palov) because you know exactly how the answer is going to look before your pencil hits the paper. If you look at a problem and don't have at least a good solid educated guess about how the problem is going to turn out, you should go back and do some simpler ones first.

    - Warren
  4. Sep 10, 2003 #3

    Tom Mattson

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    I am of the opinion that EM is in fact harder than mechanics, and the discrepancy in difficulty increases as you move up the ladder. It's not that the math is so advanced (conceptually), it's that the problems are so much more complicated when formulated mathematically.
  5. Sep 10, 2003 #4


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    It depends on the individual. I loved that part of it. I did excellant in it. I had a harder time with thermo.

  6. Sep 11, 2003 #5
    I always found E&M hard: the maths is difficult in addition to it being rather under-developed conceptually, for historical reasons.

    I've just finished my second year and I found E&M by Duffin to be a massive help. The publisher Wily released a book of the same name recently too, which is also pretty good.
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