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How difficult: First year calculus-based physics without Grade 12 physics?

  1. Jul 20, 2011 #1
    Hey everyone,

    I am going to McGill University in the fall, and I want to major in Physical Chemistry second year. However,I didn't take physics in highschool because.... well, when I was 16 years old and out of Grade 10, I didn't know what I wanted to do for a living, and not taking physics costed me a lot.

    I did take Grade 12 chem and calculus. I am currently doing Grade 11 physics in the summer. So far I am enjoying physics very much, especially the challenging questions, and I am getting 100% in the course. However, I'm not sure if my luck will persist through Grade 12 physics (which I did not take and is presumably a lot tougher.) How hard would first year calculus-based physics be (required for physical science majors) if I skip a year of physics in highschool? Is it doable? Any advice? Help is appreciated. Thank you all in advance,

  2. jcsd
  3. Jul 20, 2011 #2
    I don't know anything about a major in Physical Chemistry. But I think it would probably be best to take the course. College classes are harder I think because the professors don't seem to spend a lot of time on material and if you don't get it, then it's kind of on you. I don't know, I'd rather be safe than sorry.
  4. Jul 20, 2011 #3
    Well if you had calculus then you're in much better shape than I was. I self studied Calc I and Physics I on my own before taking the classes because I never formally took anything past Algebra 2 until last year. I thought I did pretty good, I got an A but rotational dynamics were a bit tricky for me.

    Get the book early and start learning the material now, it can only help. Good luck.
  5. Jul 20, 2011 #4


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    Usually grade twelve physics is a prerequisite for university physics. If the course isn't on your transcripts when you apply to university, you can't take the course unless you get special permission. This is possible of course, but be prepared for a little more hastle than simply signing up for the course.
  6. Jul 21, 2011 #5
    The only prerequisite for Calc-based Physics 1 at my school (a US community college), is Calculus 1. My high school did not offer Physics in grade 12, but select students were allowed to take classes at a local CC in grade 12.
  7. Jul 21, 2011 #6
    Thanks everyone :) Well, technically I am not allowed to take PHYS 131 (Calc-based first year physics) because I don't have Grade 12 physics. However, I talked to an academic advisor, and it is required for Physical science/engineering majors. Anyone who wants to transfer to the physical science stream MUST complete this credit first year, so I might as well do it now.

    Also, I have another question. There are 2 streams of physics at my school, PHYS 101 (Introductory, no calc) and PHYS 131 (With calc). Apparently, the two courses teach the exact same concepts and the only difference is calculus. Yet, the average for calc-based physics is significantly lower than that of introductory physics. What's so hard about calculus based physics? Are the concepts also a lot harder or is it JUST the math?

    Thanks in advance.
  8. Jul 21, 2011 #7
    The concepts are about the same, but IMO calculus makes them easier, not harder, to understand. If you don't know calculus, you pretty much have to take the formulas on faith and memorize them, but with calculus you can derive them from a few first principles.

    If you did well in calculus, the math in freshman physics shouldn't be a problem --- most calculus-based freshman physics texts are designed to be used with students who are learning calculus at the same time. Probably the reason for the difference in the two classes is because the calculus-based physics is a weed-out course, i.e. they intentionally make it harder to ensure that the students who go on to more advanced classes are smart and motivated.

    Nothing you can do about that, but it sounds like you are smart and motivated, so don't be afraid of it, just work hard and do your best.
  9. Jul 21, 2011 #8
    Thank you for the advice and words of encouragement. Really appreciate it!

  10. Jul 22, 2011 #9
    As someone who did not take high school physics before taking calculus based physics (Halliday and Resnick book), I can assure you that it's quite doable. Mostly the problem is that your peers have a level of physical intuition and problem solving ability that you do not. You have to compensate for this by being very careful and very analytical in your work. You have to seek help more often than the others, but I think you come out of it with a stronger sense of physics than those who are simply taking it again with added calculus flavoring.
  11. Jul 22, 2011 #10
    I think its fine. You wont have anything that you need to know prior to starting the class. Taking it in HS would have just given you an introduction to the topics and some practice in solving the questions.

    I didn't do anything in high school physics and by the time I did it in college I dont think I knew or remembered a single thing (except maybe newton's laws)
  12. Jul 22, 2011 #11
    I think you'll be fine. If this were a more theoretical course using Purcell or a similar book, you should probably be worried, because people there would probably know a lot of physics and math already.
  13. Jul 22, 2011 #12
    Thank you everyone, it is a relief knowing how many of you have successfully completed the course without prior exposure to physics. Then again, the average intelligence of the users on Physics Forums is pretty high. No doubt you would find calculus-based physics doable, or even, easy. So I wouldn't be too relaxed right now. Hehehe, Still. Great help!
  14. Jul 26, 2011 #13
    I'm one of the few physics majors who never took physics or calculus in high school, and am currently a senior with a 3.9 GPa. Just be ready to work hard and you should be fine. High school preparation becomes increasingly irrelevant as you progress through college.
  15. Jul 26, 2011 #14
    Wow, you're my inspiration. It's nice knowing someone who went into Physics without letting a mistake that they made in high school hamper their future career. (Or perhaps for you, it wasn't a mistake?) If you managed all that, I'm quite certain that you are very smart and diligent. How did you find first year calculus-based physics without any physics or calculus background?
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