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Having Issues in Physics II

  1. Sep 7, 2012 #1
    Having Issues in Physics II :(

    Hi all,

    This is my first post on these forums, although I have lurked here for a little while here and there and I have to say I greatly appreciate the helpful topics you guys post! I have used them to get more than a few problems done... haha.

    Anyway, the problem I am currently having is this... A few days ago I took my first test in Physics II. This is a general physics course and I am taking it to fulfill a core requirement. We got our test grades back today, and I did quite a lot worse than I expected. In fact, I did so poorly that I am wondering if I perhaps filled the scantron out wrong by putting the wrong test version number or something. (I am a bit embarrassed to report the exact percentage, but it was below a 40%, which is highly unusual for me in any subject.)

    I am obviously going to email my professor and try to get this straightened out. I am not really sure why I am even typing this right now, because I know I need to review my homework over and over again for these tests (a lot of the problems were based off of our Mastering Physics homework) but obviously I am pretty depressed about this right now and I think I need to have someone talk me through what could have gone wrong. The test covered optics (both wave and ray), and I was feeling decent going into it after doing homework problems over and over again, but my grade was nowhere near what it should have been. I felt like I could have made a low B or a C on the test, which would have been fine for me once all the other grades were factored in. I am in no way planning to be a physics major, as you can probably tell from my username :P , so it's not like this is a life-altering issue for me or anything.

    Anyway, I guess I am wondering if you guys think I should maybe tough it out just in case it is not a grading error. I feel like I am a reasonably intelligent person, and I hate to give up so fast. The test weighting system is basically that all three tests together make up 45% of the final grade, with each one counting for slightly less than 18%. This is all verbatim from my professor's syllabus. My professor said she will shift the weight of the worst test grade to 9%. From this I can infer that it probably won't make a HUGE dent in my grade and a B is still achievable, but I am worried that the next two things we cover (electricity and modern physics) will be even tougher than optics. In that case, I am definitely screwed unless something changes.

    Sorry for blabbing on, but I feel so much better now that I have written this all out and had an opportunity to gather my thoughts. I look forward to your advice!
    Last edited: Sep 7, 2012
  2. jcsd
  3. Sep 7, 2012 #2
    Re: Having Issues in Physics II :(

    Do you know why you did so poorly? What was your preperation for the test? How many problems did you make? Did you make problems other than the homework?
  4. Sep 7, 2012 #3
    Re: Having Issues in Physics II :(

    I thought way more about your question than I should have, and I came to a few conclusions:

    1) I feel like I concentrated too much on memorizing procedures on how to solve problems without understanding the conceptual reasons. It is possible that I was tripped up by some tricky questions in this way, but I really thought the questions were straightforward. Maybe they were deceptively simple.

    2) I studied a lot more than I normally would have, seeing as this was the first test of the year and all. I had 30+ problems that I was just going through regularly and doing over and over again, combined from the lectures and the homework... but again, the way I was going through them was definitely not the best idea.

    3) To improve on my performance, I probably should focus less on rote memorization and more on conceptual understanding. I guess I'm still in shock that I was able to get away with (for the most part) memorizing procedural ways to solve problems in Physics I, and it just didn't seem to work this time.

    I should also note that my professor was actually out of the country in the days leading up to the test, so she was unavailable; the study partner/tutor system at my school is not completely up and running yet; and I have a feeling my professor doesn't explicitly tell the TAs what to go over, because my TA will work problems that have nothing to do with what we've learned in lecture. It's like he and the professor aren't synced time-wise.

    I am hoping that all of this is a moot point and there is at least a small glimmer of hope for a grading error... I am fairly sure I wrote down the correct test number and those minor details, so it is a very slim chance. I am meeting with her fairly soon to discuss this and test-taking strategies and so on.
  5. Sep 7, 2012 #4
    Re: Having Issues in Physics II :(

    What was the class average? My physics professor regularly gave out exams that the class did poorly on. I once had an exam where the class average was in the 30s, in Physics II I do believe.

    This isn't the humanities. Professors like to challenge you because there is only one right answer to a physics problem, and it's important to get it right. Physics I and II professors especially like to challenge you because the point isn't to make you learn physics, but to make you learn how to do physics - a skill that can be applied to your entire life, or at least anything that requires a careful, logical, and methodological approach.
  6. Sep 7, 2012 #5
    Re: Having Issues in Physics II :(

    The class average was somewhere in the 60s, so it was not great by any means, but I was still way below the average. I am starting to gain a new respect for just how hard I will have to work in this class, haha. All I can do is try to improve for next time! Thanks for your input... I will take it to heart!
  7. Sep 7, 2012 #6
    Re: Having Issues in Physics II :(

    Does your professor give the test back to you? Go through the problems again and catch as many mistakes as you can. Then march into his office hours and ask him what went wrong on the others.
  8. Sep 7, 2012 #7


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    Staff: Mentor

    Re: Having Issues in Physics II :(

    Many students do have more trouble with the second semester of "general physics" than with the first semester. The first semester usually covers classical mechanics, in which you can often relate the equations to phenomena that you've actually experienced, which helps you assimilate them. The second semester usually focuses on electricity and magnetism, where this isn't the case.
  9. Sep 7, 2012 #8
    Re: Having Issues in Physics II :(

    This doesn't seem like a good idea. Of course, studying a lot and doing problems are very good things to do. But don't make the same 30 problems over and over and over again. Once you know how to do a problem, it is practically useless to do them over and over again. Try to make all kinds of new (challenging) problems.

    Yes, memorization doesn't get you very far. I'm not against memorization, sometimes it is necessary. But you should memorize as little as possible. Certainly don't memorize all the steps in a problem or all the derivations of formulas. Try to learn the concepts and try to learn why you are doing things, instead of memorizing steps.

    Yes, you should certainly talk with the professor. Try to see what went wrong and how you can improve.
  10. Sep 8, 2012 #9
    Re: Having Issues in Physics II :(

    OK, thanks for the additional input. I don't know if this changes anything, but I made sure to do the problems over and over again with different numbers each time. I do now realize, though, that was an awful strategy for test preparation because even with different numbers, I was still just essentially memorizing "which variable goes where" and going about the thing with a plug-and-chug mentality.

    I will let you guys know how the talk with the professor goes, should it yield any new information or insights! She didn't hand the tests back when we got the grades, but I believe she said she would eventually be handing back the paper copies.
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