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Schools Highschool Physics VS University Physics

  1. Oct 29, 2012 #1
    Hello, i am currently taking physics 11(first highschool physics course, i'm from canada i don't know what level that is in the states or UK) i am doing well i have >90% but the thing is i find it extremely boring... the class is going way too slow for me so i teach myself every chapter which is not in the curriculum. I guess where i find it boring is that we are using this book http://www.abebooks.com/9780133647495/Conceptual-Physics-High-School-Program-0133647498/plp which has next to no math( i really love math ).

    being bored i have started to teach myself python, and will be teaching myself calculus in January after my precalculus 12 course.

    my question are:
    1) should i just master the basics i.e. newton's laws of motions, memorize all the formulas, read the textbook 20 times... i have heard that the laws and formulas will keep coming up through out university that i will have them embedded in my mind.

    2)Also, what other things can i do to maximize productivity? i have a tendency to push myself way beyond my limits and eventually burn out so nothing TOO advanced

    3)I will be attending university Fall 2013 so i am wondering the difference between highschool physics and university physics. obviously there will be a lot of math(which i am extremely excited about) but what else can i expect and prepare for what is coming up?

    i guess my questions are all kind of related, but anyways thanks and i look forward to hearing what people have to say!
  2. jcsd
  3. Oct 29, 2012 #2


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    Education Advisor

    1)Well, the better you are at understanding the basic laws of physics the better off you'll be when you see them again at the undergraduate level. Understand the concept and see how you can relate them different problems.

    2)I like to keep things simple. One step at a time. Learn the concepts, learn the math. Right now this means keep mastering the algebra approach to physics, then at the same time learn the concepts in calculus. Once you learn derivatives and integration, you'll be ready to revisit physics again from a slightly different (but most similiar prospective.)

    3)Honestly, not much. At least not at first. The general physics course that science majors take is 'calculus' based, but you'll find 90% of all your problems will still be Algebra related. The Calculus will be there to explain how the equations can be derived and explain some more concepts in depth and maybe add a new type of problem into the mix, but in the end it'll be a lot of algebra. As you move on, you'll find more math, more theory and more focus on understanding the ideas at a deeper level and less on solving numerical problems.
    Last edited: Oct 29, 2012
  4. Oct 29, 2012 #3
    1) I agree with MarneMath, though keep in mind that simply memorizing the equations is not the same as increasing your understanding. I'm of the opinion that even basic physics cannot be understood completely without at least a qualitative understanding of calculus as well.

    2) If you're enjoying programming, that's a great thing to be comfortable with down the road. Just explore and see what kinds of interesting programs you can write.
    As I mentioned, it would also be good, and probably relatively easy for you, to at least learn about the idea of derivatives and integrals conceptually (and think about how they might describe physical situations). Then just focus on the elementary power-rule at first, which is one of the most simple cases of taking derivatives and integrals. Just knowing what calculus is about qualitatively will help you understand physics more intuitively.

    3) As MarneMath said, the difference for intro courses will not be too staggering... although I never took a non-calc based physics course, so I can't say that with 100% certainty. Most of the derivatives and integrals you need to do will not be very difficult compared to your pure calculus course; they are more about mathematical intuition than tricky calculations. Since you will have already taken some calculus, you probably don't need to worry about the math overwhelming you.
  5. Oct 30, 2012 #4


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    Hey jimmyly.

    With regard to productivity, I would suggest you find something that you really want to become good at and stick at: if you are trying to be productive just so you can say you "were productive" then you will burn out quickly.

    Also another tip is to find something where you can actually produce completed things that you can retain and use later. Programming is a good way to do this since you can always load up your code later on and not only look at later, but make use of it later on as well.

    The last thing you want to do is do something that you can't actually see tangibly in some way: even though code is just 1's and 0's, it is like a novel in some ways and produces something of some kind of value (even if only to yourself in the beginning stages) and that is absolutely critical for continuing to be productive and also to be motivated.

    Another thing: back up your work if you do a lot of programming. I have lost a tonne of all my early work because of fried hard drives, computer crashes, ruined floppy diskes (yeah we actually had those) and just really stupid errors.

    If you are just starting out, start small and then the skies the limit.
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