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Other How can I prepare myself not to fail again?

  1. May 14, 2016 #1
    So I failed a physics class for the first time ever, I just finished my junior year of college, and I unfortunately failed my Electricity and Magnetism class and will have to take it next spring which means that I have a semester to prepare myself to retake it.

    The class is the junior level E&M which means that it deals with all the concepts in 3-dimensions and involves all the gradient functions and things like that. The class covers electrostatics and magneticstatics.

    I was wondering if anyone could suggest any good resources (e.g websites, books, etc) to prepare myself over the summer and next semester so when I retake the class, I can do well in it.

    My academic advisor told me that a lot of students fail this class their first time around, but this was the first class I have ever failed, and seeing that F on my transcript really hurt me. Part of the reason why I struggled was because over the course of the semester, I became depressed and exhausted, and began to push all my friends away; as a result, because I am typically social person, I became even more depress, I then spent the last quarter of the semester rebuilding the friendships that I destroyed and saving the grades of classes that I could. I got counseling and it helped.

    But ever since I began as a physics major 2 years ago, a part of me always keeps wondering if I am smart enough to actually do this; I'm afraid that I will reach a point where I will be over my head and I will fail miserably. Has anyone ever dealt with the same kind of thoughts, and if so, how did you get over them?

    Any help is appreciated. Thank you so much!
  2. jcsd
  3. May 14, 2016 #2


    Staff: Mentor

    Physics classes get harder when you get beyond the introductory survey classes. You need to make sure your math is solid ie Calculus III level, Differential Eqns, Linear Algebra and Vector Analysis.

    My suggestion is to first go back over your notes, tests and homework and review the problems you got wrong and find solutions to them and make sure you understand each step then go back through the course again using your book and redo the reading the prof assigned.

    You could also work with a classmate that took the same class and go over the material with him.

    A Schaum's Outline might help too but definitely going over your work and identifying where you were unsure or confused or just plain wrong.
  4. May 14, 2016 #3


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    jedishrfu or anyone else
    Not intending to distract; but is success at the beginning E&M Physics survey course related to success at the kind of Physics E&M course that Dopplershift discusses?
  5. May 14, 2016 #4


    Staff: Mentor

    Thats a good question. I don't know the answer for sure. In the survey courses they present specific formulas for students to use in specific cases. Problem solving then is to identify what formula applies to the given problem. In the more advanced courses, you derive those formulas by applying the boundary conditions of the problem. Doing well in those courses can surely help in deciding if your answer makes sense but you still need to start at first principles to get the answer.

    For me, I was always confused by the curl of a field and couldn't conceptualize everything but I did well enough to get through the course. Our prof gave us 60 problems to work out at the end and said that 5 of them will be on your test. We had 12 students so we divided them up and shared solutions. I lucked out because I got assigned the relativistic ones (there were 2) and both were on the test and were arguably the toughest to solve but since I did them already it was a cinch and the remaining three were far simpler.

    Now I understand the curl a little better after I read about it here:


    It may be that a solid understanding of Vector Analysis would help you with EM theory overall.
  6. May 15, 2016 #5


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    My favourite is https://www.amazon.com/Essentials-Electromagnetism-MacMillan-Physical-Science/dp/1563962535.

    Junior year EM is essentially the same as Freshman EM (say in Halliday and Resnick or Young), so make sure you know your freshman EM well. The only difference is that you add Stokes's theorem to your mathematical tools. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stokes'_theorem (or depending on terminology, one sometimes learns 2 versions, one called Stokes's theorem and the other called the Divergence theorem).

    Depending on the instructor, you may also have to learn some horrible special functions like spherical harmonics. But as far as I know, those are just horrible things you remember for the exam, like in a biology course. Everyone looks them up in a book when they need them in real life.
    Last edited by a moderator: May 7, 2017
  7. May 15, 2016 #6
    Thank you! I will definitely check out the book!
    Last edited by a moderator: May 7, 2017
  8. May 15, 2016 #7


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    I think most first-year calculus based intro physics courses in the US use only the integral formulation of Maxwell's equations (Gauss's Law etc.), i.e. no div and curl. Also, examples and exercises are mostly ones with enough symmetry that the integrals turn out to be trivial from a mathematical-technique point of view (what I call "Geico integrals" - so easy a caveman can do them).

    At least that's the way I learned freshman physics (using Halliday/Resnick) more than forty years ago, and the way I've taught it (or seen it being taught) at the admittedly limited number of US schools that I have direct experience with (one big university and two small colleges) since then. It's a long way from Griffiths level, although it's nevertheless helpful to come into a Griffiths-type course with that background.
  9. May 15, 2016 #8


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    Yes, I was thinking of a freshman course with only the integral formulation. Then if one has the divergence theorem, one can see how to get the field of a point charge both ways, and essentially everything will be the same. Then one can go through the same exercise for Ampere's law and Stokes's theorem. In this way Junior EM can be reduced to Freshman EM :biggrin:

    Maybe the partial differential equations are a bit harder than the differential equations in elementary mechanics, but I think they are not essentially different. I personally feel the partial differential equations in physical chemistry :oldruck: are much harder than Junior Year EM.
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