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Enrolling into a course that requires Calculus 1, but I'm currently taking precalc

  1. Jan 15, 2015 #1
    Ok so long story short, I need to enroll into a physics course that requires you to have taken Calculus 1. I am going to try and enroll, and hope that my enrollment office doesn't check my course history.

    ASSUMING hypothetically that I get the option to actually enroll and don't get denied, how plausible is this idea considering I'm only in pre-cal? How hard is it to teach myself Calculus 1 along the way?

    My precalculus course description:
    "An integrated treatment of the concepts necessary for calculus beginning with a review of algebraic and transcendental functions including trigonometric functions. Topics also include the binomial theorem, analytic geometry, vector algebra, polar and parametric equations, mathematical induction and sequences and series."

    The physics class I'm trying to enroll in:
    "This course includes the study of measurement, vector algebra, one- and two- dimensional motion, Newton's laws of motion, kinematics, momentum and collisions, rotational motion and angular momentum, elasticity, oscillations and gravitational interactions, fluids, waves, temperature and the laws of thermodynamics. It also includes an appropriate laboratory program illustrating the principles learned in lecture. This course is primarily for physical science and engineering majors."

    Any help or feedback would be very much appreciated!

    Note: I just got done taking a trigonometry class, so I'm fairly confident in the basics of that. I'm not sure if this is something to take into consideration on the matter.
  2. jcsd
  3. Jan 15, 2015 #2


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    If your physics course requires you to have taken calculus, you can expect that a lot of the material will require knowledge of calculus to be fully understood and to work out the problems. It doesn't really matter if the enrollment office is less than diligent in checking your academic history, you're going to be dealing with a physics instructor if you somehow slide into this course, and he is not going to be so easy to fool.

    I don't know why you have to take this physics course now before you have done the pre-requisites. Is your school about to go out of business? But you have to ask yourself if your academic record can withstand possibly failing this course because you aren't prepared, and whether you'll have the opportunity to retake it should that sad fate befall you.
  4. Jan 15, 2015 #3


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    Honestly, in my experience if you have had a good algebra class and trigonometry. You are ready for calculus, a good algebra class has nearly everything you stated for precalc. If you haven't taken a good algebra class then I recommend precalc. In calc 1 when you are solving problems most of the time there is only 1 step calculus and 5-20 steps algebra. Without good algebra skills you will fail, and I wouldn't recommend taking the physics class without calculus. You won't be able to understand certain ideas without understanding limits, derivatives, and integrals. That takes time, just being able to solve the problems doesn't mean you understand the ideas. Just because you understand the ideas doesn't mean you can solve the problems.
  5. Jan 15, 2015 #4
    Thank you guys for the input!

    I think I'm just going to go ahead and not enroll into it based on yalls responses and some feedback I got from a friend.

    My last good algebra class was 2 years ago but those were in my days when I didn't care about school and didn't retain much info from the class.

    I'm familiar with the concept of limits and integrals, but not derivatives. I'm fairly confident with asymptotes and can write the asymptote in limit notation (I've only seen the basic form, unless there's only one way to write it?).

    So essentially I'm leaning towards just enrolling into either another math class or maybe biology.

    Since I'm looking to double major in physics and math, are there any math classes that would be of use at my current level of understanding? Since I'm not at the level of linear algebra, topology (I think?), etc., is there another math class you guys would recommend?
  6. Jan 15, 2015 #5


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    Don't you have an academic advisor at your school whom you can direct these questions to? After all, that is what his/her job is supposed to include - academic advising!

  7. Jan 15, 2015 #6
    Haha, I actually JUST got out of an advisor meeting. They're pretty remedial which can be a problem, but I figured they probably wouldn't have a better answer as to which math class is best for developing a better understanding of math itself compared to people who are currently on that path.

    Anyways, I've got stuff all figured out pretty much, but the previous input certainly helped! Thank you guys.
  8. Jan 15, 2015 #7
    Unless your school does enrollment via paper and not on the computer, then you likely won't even get to click the "finish" button since you don't have the the pre-requisites. You would likely need to fill out an over-ride form of some sort and submit it to the physics department. That being said, it was my experience that you an understanding of vectors was more important than an understanding of Calculus, of course, I had the calculus and not the vectors when I took it a few years back.
  9. Jan 21, 2015 #8
    Depends how good you are at trig/algebra and what physics book your class is easy. Integration and derivatives can be learned fairly easy. Using a book, like say, giancoli or serway is light on the calculus. However, it is not advised. It is recommended to be at least 1 math class above the physics class taken.

    Take another requirement and take physics after calculus 1.
  10. Jan 24, 2015 #9


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    I think that if you have decent intuition about the math you'll be fine. Physics doesn't require that you understand the math, just that you know how to use it as a tool.

    So here's what you should do to prepare. Read and understand a bunch of problems and solutions in your physics text (or an equivalent one, or online) before you start the class. See how physics problems are modeled using calculus, and see what calculus operations must be used. If you can understand that, you'll be fine.
  11. Jan 25, 2015 #10


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    I respectfully disagree, not understanding the math will only hurt you. I don't think it's possible to use it as a tool without understanding.
  12. Jan 25, 2015 #11


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    I also disagree. One could certainly take a long day and learn enough about the mechanical aspects of derivatives and integrals to do well in a first semester calculus based physics course, but without really understanding what derivatives and integrals are, one will not learn as much as they should. Even simple concepts like acceleration being the derivative of velocity, which is in turn the derivative of position are going to be simply taken for granted and not really understood geometrically. I don't think it's advisable to take calculus based physics while one is still in pre-calc. Calculus is a prerequisite for a reason.

    If you were somehow able to take it, you would be catching up a lot of the time. The professor isn't always going to work through calculus portions of problems step by step. It's going to be assumed that you know and are comfortable with the calculus. Sometimes a complicated integral can take 10-15 minutes to properly work through and can involve rather complicated methods of integration that aren't even covered until calculus II, which you are intended to be taking alongside physics I.
  13. Jan 26, 2015 #12
    Well, there is a student who started in our Calculus track who was able to skip Pre-Calc II, and another who skipped both. The first student has managed to adapt (with a lot of help from us + self-study), but it was rough for him. The student who hadn't taken either, dropped out of the program being unable to cope. Myself, I had been out of school for awhile and took Pre-Calc I and Pre-Calc II before Calc I, and I literally flew through the classes due to my recent exposure to the material(the concept of the derivative actually appears in pre-cal, it just isn't obvious at that point). Taking prerequisite courses isn't just about memorizing certain formulas or knowledge, it teaches you how to reason a particular way. I was set a year behind because of it, but in the end it was pretty good decision.
  14. Jan 26, 2015 #13
    In general, taking physics courses without a solid math foundation is something you should actively avoid. If your math is weak, you end up spending your time trying to understand the math and you miss a lot of the physics. It's like trying to listen to understand a lecture on, say, psychology, when the teacher is speaking in a foreign language. That's not to say it's impossible, but in my experience people really struggle with physics classes if they don't have the proper math prerequisites. If you need to do this, I would definitely recommend putting a considerable amount of effort towards self-studying calculus at the beginning of the semester. If you can take calculus first, that's a much better option.

    Also, if your school doesn't let you do this, don't be upset at them. They're really just trying to help you. My school is the opposite: they pretty much let you take any physics course you want, even if you're missing important prerequisites. The result is that some people do very poorly in classes because they just didn't have a solid enough background. My classical mechanics class was particularly bad. They let a bunch of people in who hadn't done differential equations, and the grades followed a very clear bimodal distribution: there were the low-scoring students who hadn't taken differential equations, and the high-scoring students who had. I feel bad for the students who hadn't, because they didn't get much out of a key foundational class.
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