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How important is High School Physics and Chemistry

  1. Aug 1, 2010 #1
    I am wondering how important is Physics and Chemistry (one subject, Physical Science, here in South Africa) at High School in comparison with Mathematics, if you consider going into Physics and Math at University. I am asking this, because sometimes I don't do so well (not too bad, I just miss an A) in my Physics and Chemistry exams but extremely well in my Mathematics. So do I really need to work harder and focus more on my Physics and Chemistry?

    I still love Physics and Chemistry, even though I am not so good in it. I understand the material. It is just that in the exams I make stupid mistakes (probably because of the stress and time constraints).

  2. jcsd
  3. Aug 1, 2010 #2
    I don't know how things are in South Africa, but in the USA college science courses are taught from the beginning, as if you had never even heard of physics or chemistry before.

    They do expect the appropriate math skills, however.
  4. Aug 1, 2010 #3
    I actually do think that it is important. In retrospect the intro high school physics and chemistry classes might not necessarily leave a student with a knowledge of either of those subjects, however what they do serve to so is develop intuition when it comes to physical sciences.

    A really big problem today in physics is that there are too many people looking at physics from a mathematical background. True, there is a lot of hard math however at the very root of the subject is something *physical*. A lot of people today are too caught up in thinking too abstractly to actually realize the results that they obtain when utilizing mathematics.

    This is why I say that introductory high school physics and chemistry are important. At that level it is mostly the concepts that are taught, without any particularly difficult math. The lack of math enables students to think about the physical concepts that are really at the root of the problems. This is opposed to your typical introductory college course where the mathematics is emphasized much more heavily. In fact, mathematics is so heavily used that at in intro level, one doesn't need to actually know any physical concepts to do well -- it's simply a glorified math class in itself.

    Sure in a classroom you might be able to get away with simply using mathematics to solve a problem but you will not have gained any deeper understanding of the subject than that. At my school math majors typically go over some of the abstract algebra used in quantum mechanics however if you ask them any of the theory behind problems that they can solve you will find that you will not get very far.
  5. Aug 1, 2010 #4

    I disagree with everything you said. Did your university physics classes not have a lab component?
  6. Aug 1, 2010 #5
    Yeah, the Universities here also start from scratch, but somewhat accelerated. And some Universities only require you have mathematics if you go for a BSc, however some also require you to have Physical Science.


    The main purpose of this thread is, must I focus more on my Mathematics and do somewhat well in my Physical Science or must do I need to focus more on the latter, but still do good in Mathematics.

    Lets say I do extremely bad in one exam for Physical Science and get 60% average but I get 80% for Mathematics, will this be negative for me on University.

    Also, it would be great if someone can give some tips to do better in Physical Science, and to stress less when writing exams.

  7. Aug 1, 2010 #6
    I came into college (in the US) last year with a weak high school background. I had one intro class in Physics and one in Chemistry, and my math only went up to Algebra II. Still, I decided to double major in Physics and Mathematics. I got an A in both Calculus I and Physics I my first semester. There was no real expected knowledge for first year courses in the subjects, and wherever I was weak I just learned as I went. It took effort, but was quite rewarding and certainly doable. I don't know about South Africa, but I was fine here in the US.

    As for doing better in the high school classes... just practice studying, and practice the material. Don't just do the homework, make sure you clearly understand the homework. Practice your speed, and learn how to analyze a problem to figure out the quickest way to attack it. There's no real magic solution - just practice. I try to get myself excited for exams, and ready to test how well I can do. Worrying doesn't solve anything. Proper attitude and preparation do.
    Last edited: Aug 1, 2010
  8. Aug 1, 2010 #7
    At my school, if you did not take highschool chemistry, you have to start at an "intro to chem" course. I would take it in highschool simply because it's one less course you would have to take anyway (for me at least).
  9. Aug 2, 2010 #8
    Then what you need to do is not ask how important the subjects are, but find some way to improve your grades. If you think you have a good understanding of the course, then it's a case of improving your exam technique.

    For instance, if I were to tell you that they weren't important, would it make any difference? I imagine you want to do as well as you can no matter what the response is.

    Make notes on exams/homework you get back - where did you go wrong? Was it because you didn't check your work properly? How many errors were fundamental problems in understanding?

    Get into the habit of checking your answers to every question, and checking them properly. It is very easy in physics and chemistry exams to look at a question, remember what you wrote down when you answered it and assume you have it correct - because you know you understand the material.

    If you're getting A's and B's, that's fine. Just make sure you refine your approach so that all of your understanding is able to shine through onto the exam paper and you'll be fine.
  10. Aug 2, 2010 #9
    Yeah I see where you are going. I think I should have made the thread into some advice to exceed further, than to ask how important it is. Because, as you stated, I already know the importance of the subject.

    The problem is, in the exams I make the stupidest mistakes, that I would normally would have right. In the exams (and this is mostly only with Physical Science) I have some sort of subconscious stress or fear that I can't do better than a certain point. So I make all these stupid mistakes, like if there is 3 carbon bonds then I write pent-, which I normally won't do, but in the exams I do it subconsciously.
    Last edited: Aug 2, 2010
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