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Has anyone ever failed a Physics class before

  1. Feb 19, 2008 #1
    Sorry if this topic has been visited in the past, but I'm having an extremely hard time with Intro to Mechanical Physics and it's a pretty awakening experience. I'm 99% certain I will fail the first test tommorrow and the reason I'm writing this rather than studying is because studying doesn't seem to be much help in this case. I don't think it's a lack of brains, I did well and enjoyed some pretty hard Calculus classes that many of my buddies had to retake. I've never had less than a C in a class before and so far, I'm doing well in the 1 Credit lab portion of the class as far as grades and understanding the material.

    Below is a list of reasons why I think I'm failing/will fail.
    1. Teacher isn't very good
    2. I'm lazy/burned out/tired
    3. Can't find a tutor
    4. Took way too many other classes
    5. The textbook is TERRIBLE
    6. The class moves WAY too fast

    Notice that none of the above reasons include 'can't make sense of physics,' which is partially true. I actually understand enough of the concepts, I just can't keep up with them and the amount of homework from my other classes. I don't hate physics either and I'll definately be using the subject in future classes. I'll plan on taking it again in the fall, hopefully the subject clicks by then.

    Has anybody failed Physics, or another class in this manner before? - where you go to class knowing you'll fail, knowing there's little you can do about it, and not exactly knowing why you can't cope with the material that really isn't that bad?
  2. jcsd
  3. Feb 19, 2008 #2
    It sounds like you're keeping a pretty level perspective on the situation. It's scary to contemplate failing a course. I failed my first QM midterm - my grade was a whopping 20%, consisting mostly of pity marks. (This was later scaled up to 40% by some mysterious scheme.) After that debacle I buckled down and ended up with a B in the class. And now I am a physicist. Go figure. Anyways, the moral here is mostly that getting bad grades doesn't make you a failure. Also, there is still a pretty big part of the semester left to go and you still have a pretty good chance to get things under control!

    There are a few things you can't do much about (eg, the prof is useless), but there are a few other things that you could try to change..... You mention that you're "taking way too many classes"... is there something you could consider dropping? (It took me one overloaded semester to realise that I got better grades and enjoyed myself more when I only took five classes instead of six.)

    I'm not familiar with the textbook you're using but I would recommend trying to study by doing the worked problems in the book and from class. (This usually works better if the class follows the book fairly closely.) There may be a student solution manual with solutions to some of the problems in the book as well. If you get stuck, the next line is there in the book to help you out of your difficulties. If you really get stuck, you have something to take with you when you go to the professor's (or a TA's) office hours. And it's also never too late to start with this method! I bet you can chew through a couple problems this evening.

    Anyways, if you can do math, you should be able to sort out the physics!
  4. Feb 19, 2008 #3
    I took an accelerated modern physics course and ended up dropping it halfway through for similar reasons. To name a few: The book didn't correspond to the course, the professor insisted on reading from cryptic PDF documents for 50 minutes and then giving us graded quizzes on the material at the end of class, and above all used bra-ket notation without explaining what it meant. One could argue I got in the class by mistake (I was a freshman and opted out of taking the "optional" bridge course between mechancs/EM and this one), but a few of my classmates showed up in other classes that decided to stick it out and apparently the professor ended up having to curve the class by some ridiculous margin so that even a couple people got A's.

    Sometimes classes just turn out horribly. I ended up graduating summa cum laude and never had another class where I was simply set up for failure like that one.
    Last edited: Feb 19, 2008
  5. Feb 19, 2008 #4
    1, 3, and 6 screw everyone equally.

    2, 4 are your own fault. Fix 2 by getting some damn sleep and getting out once in a while. You're just going to have to live with 4 and learn not to do it again, unless there's one you can drop safely and it's not too late.

    5, get other books on the topic. There are usually several good options for topics in any undergrad course. Start with the library, since those are free and abundant.

    To add a 7th: you will fail because you think you will fail. Try to minimize preconceived notions about experimental outcomes, or you'll be likely to mess up the results. You've got a list of your problems, so come up with things to do about each issue, and try as hard as you can. Maybe you'll still fail, but you'll come out of it having learned much more and knowing that you did what you could. Failing a class once won't be the end of you.
  6. Feb 19, 2008 #5


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    Failing more than one course of your major field suggests that your major field of study needs to be changed. You should still try very hard to gain acceptable credit in the failed course through course repetition. Maybe eventually choose a minor concentration instead of the field as a major concentration.

    Be sure to recognize any faulty pre-requisite skills and concepts. Fix those before retaking the failed courses. Take fewer courses per term so you can concentrate more effort on each course.

    One possible problem with learning physics well is any inadequate mathematics achievement or lack of mathematical conditioning, or both. In any case, if you repeat the course and work hard, you may possibly earn B or A; but note, you need to work very hard. You failed it the first time, so make absolutely sure that you learn everything well the second time. Since you already spent a big effort studying it once, you should expect yourself to learn much better the second time.
  7. Feb 19, 2008 #6


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    Get thee to the homework help forums!

    Seriously, if you think part of the problem is you aren't being taught the material well enough (bad teacher, bad text, no tutor), then it's time for you to take responsibility for your own learning. If there are concepts you don't understand from lecture or the text, use the HW forums to ask about them. If there are problems you're getting stuck on because you don't understand all the concepts, use the HW forums to ask about them.

    As Asphodel pointed out, there's nothing stopping you from getting another textbook (or 2 or 10) as a reference to help fill in what your text is lacking.

    And, if the problem was the teacher and the textbook and the pace of the class, everyone would be struggling equally. I think you need to look at excuses 2 and 4 more carefully for the sources of your problem.

    Afterall, the only remaining solution is to decide you really are going to fail the class and either drop it if it's not too late to do so, or take your F and focus on your other classes so you can keep your grades up in the ones where you still have hope. I think the first exam is a bit too early to throw in the towel if it's too late to drop the class though. Fix problem #2 and you can still pull yourself up.
  8. Feb 19, 2008 #7
    Hmm, I wouldn't say that. You definitely need to take a hard look at the commitments you're undertaking at one time and how well you've mastered your fundamentals, though.

    Learning physics doesn't mean you have to be a genius, just extremely tenacious. If you run into trouble, find a way to continue to push forwards (even if slowly) instead of deciding it's insurmountable.

    Same goes for most things, really.
    Last edited: Feb 19, 2008
  9. Feb 19, 2008 #8
    I finished my first grad quarter in comp engineering, with a 4.0 (about 12 credits or 4 classes). I failed around 3-4 physics/pre-req classes back in undergrad and had to re-take them. I got into a decent grad school with a 2.45 GPA under conditional department requirements.

    So there is still hope for those who fail. Like me... :approve:
  10. Feb 20, 2008 #9
    Thanks to everybody’s responses. The test today wasn’t that bad. I still probably scored in the 50s or 60s. After taking some of your suggestions, and obtaining a solutions manual and other textbooks, I studied well into midnight and a lot of the concepts started coming together.
    Lesson learned: If I’d made a point to start learning the material earlier I definitely would’ve been better prepared for today’s test.
    Excuse: Because I took too many classes, which is my own fault, adequate study time was taken by calculus, chemistry, and lab reports. I couldn’t manage time well enough to handle the breakneck pace of the class.
    All in all I’m not too bummed because after getting brutalized by the physics test, I headed to calculus where the class received back our first test grades. I cringed when the teacher announced A) the class ave was 66% and B) there were only two A’s. Then I about fell out of my seat when, receiving my test back, it read 92%.
    The morale of the story: If I just make more time for physics and take a reasonable load next semester I should pass the classes and learn the material well enough to apply the fundamentals to upper level courses.
  11. Feb 27, 2008 #10
    I never completely failed a physics class, although anything C+ or lower felt like it.

    I did, however, fail (the first time): Calc III, Diff EQ, Organic Chemistry.

    In all three cases, it was due to total burnout, stubbornness, and unwillingness to seek help (due to the "smart people don't need help" syndrome).

    All of the "help" programs at my university were geared toward helping peple who couldn't hack it in their Education and PE majors...so, I didn't really have support.

    If you're REALLY failing or close to it, do the following (my advice):

    1. Set up a meeting with the professor to discuss your problems. Lay it out for him/her, and ask for advice and help. Have your other workload in mind (along with study needs for other classes, work schedule, etc.) and with you to discuss if the "just spend 18 hours a day studying for my class" advice pops up.

    2. Talk with any support/tutoring/guidance personnel on your campus, asking the same general thing you asked of your professor. Take in any advice your professor gave, and any reasons why it does or does not work for you.

    3. Be prepared to withdraw from the class if #1 and #2 don't work. Yeah, you'll waste the money you spent on tuition, but the "W" doesn't look as bad as an "F".
  12. Mar 1, 2008 #11
    you failed 3 classes in college. I'm not trying to make fun of you at all; I just want to know if you were accepted into a grad school with marks like that on your transcript. Because I have been in a similar situation and I am a physics graduate hopeful.
  13. Mar 1, 2008 #12


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    I failed first year 3rd term physics two years in a row.
    The instructor sounded like a high pitch voiced Jerry Lewis and had a french accent.
    Listening to him was like hearing nails run across a chalkboard.
    I took it summer term with another instructor and aced the class.

    Some of that material is very difficult, and if you can't understand the instructor(or have your fingers stuck in your ears like I did), there's going to be a problem.
  14. Mar 1, 2008 #13
    Glancing over this nobody mentioned some people aren't cut out for physics. Many people just aren't very good at putting things together the way you need to in a physics course, but may be intelligent in many other fields including mathematics. I am starting graduate studies in the fall and have tutored and TA'd for years during my undergrad, and honestly I didn't believe this at first, but some people simply can't do it.
  15. Mar 1, 2008 #14
    Have you really ever met somebody who was really good at math who couldn't do physics? I find this really hard to believe.
  16. Mar 1, 2008 #15
    You need to get some sleep, gather a few resources even if it means wikipedia, and read/do problems/look at the pictures or whatever it takes to understand the material. Put a weekend aside or something, you don't have to fail this class, teachers are especially forgiving if you make a mid semester turnaround.

    I got a C in chemistry first semester because I never did the work, read, or go to class. I gave up on the class after the first test, but in retrospect I could have easily pulled together a B or A if I had put in some time. I'm going to chemE grad school now
  17. Mar 1, 2008 #16
    I'm kind of in the same situation. I'm probably going to end up with a B or lower in physics and I haven't scored higher than fifty percent on any physics exams yet (but so do half the class!). I could also give similar excuses for not doing so well this term--taking too many classes, horrible textbook, don't like the professor's teaching style, etc. I recommend not stressing out about it. I'm sure that you probably feel defeated when you get below the class average on a test (I know I do), but don't let that discourage you, consider that a sign that you're not studying the right way, you're not putting enough time into it, or maybe that subject just isn't for you. Also, if you really feel that you're taking way too many classes, maybe it's time to drop a class (if your school is on the semester system, you should have a bit more time to drop a class, I think...). A physics study guide that is helping me survive Electricity (second quarter physics course here) is Portable TA, by Andrew Elby. Volume I is Mechanics and Volume II is Electricity. They really help with problem solving and understanding concepts (both of which can be difficult).
  18. Mar 1, 2008 #17
    I know someone that is quite good at pure math (e.g. proofs), but is not so good at computation. So, yes. I don't see what is so hard to believe about this, as they involve different skill sets.
  19. Mar 2, 2008 #18
    If you don't understand something, start from the beginning and work your way logically through each missing piece...until it's not "missing," anymore.
  20. Mar 2, 2008 #19
    That works great for sufficiently large t.

    But given sufficiently large t, you might also evolve into a telekinetic starfaring superbeing.
  21. Mar 2, 2008 #20
    Yes, I was accepted to grad school. Among other things, I pulled myself together and earned a 3.5+ in my last 60 undergrad hours, plus retaking two of those three courses and passing just fine. I didn't retake organic chem, because I didn't need it for my degree plan.

    Still, it does hang over my head, and if I apply to a physics Ph.D. program in the future, I will probably feel the need to give a short explanation of my temporary undergrad meltdown. I think my master's in physics and my (currently underway) master's in education will provide some compensation for those undergrad mistakes.

    My advice to you, if you aspire to a Ph.D. program /soon/, is to consider enrolling as a master's student and cleaning up any deficiencies you might have from your undergrad. Depending on the programs you apply to, some may be willing to do this directly, and agree to consider you for the Ph.D. program upon successful completion of the master's; others, you might have to take a master's elsewhere and then apply to a doctoral program. In your situation, I would probably have a direct, fully honest talk with an advisor in the program you want to enter, lay it all out on the table, and ask how to get to your desired goal from where you are now.
  22. Mar 2, 2008 #21
    Maybe the buried treasure is in the missing material?
  23. Mar 2, 2008 #22
    You wouldn't consider computation part of math?
  24. Mar 2, 2008 #23
    Um, I think one of the posters did mentioned that some people aren't cut out for physics. I somewhat agree with this. I think most of the time the reason why some students decide to change majors or failing at physics is becase they aren't willing to take the time to look over and correct their mistakes they made on their exams or homework or they just are not interested in physics enough to commit to doing their physics homework and/or studying.

    I don't think , well with an exception of a few physicists within the physics community are born good at physics. I think most people who become well-respected physicists because they worked at mastering physicists. I think even a few geniuses work hard at being a meticulous and tenacious physicist, even though physics may come natural to them. It is said that einstein sleep 4 hours each night and the remaining 20 hours, he did physics.
  25. Mar 3, 2008 #24
    Wow. That's crazy - only 4 hours of sleep.
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