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Huge dilemma about what physics to take. introduction with algebra or

  1. Jun 19, 2014 #1
    I am in a huge dilemma. I dropped out of high school in 9th grade so I never have taken a science class. I have never seen biology, chemistry, physics. I started with arithmetic at the local community college. Fast forward and I am now taking calculus 2 in the fall. I am extremely ignorant of science. My cc offered to wave the pre rec for calculus based intro physics based on transcripts and track record of getting things done.

    Now I do not know anything about physics. The Physics material presented (topics) are exactly the same. I am of the type that I like to understand what is happening and why when I learn something. Should I take algebra based intro physics to get familiar with the material or just dive in into calculus based intro?

    I do not remember much of vectors because I have not needed to use them since I took pre - cal and the teacher kinda glanced over this instead focused more truth tables (logic) because the class where not doing so good on word problems. Taking algebra based physics will not prevent me from transferring slower. I am a math major because that is the only thing which I know of due to my ignorance of the subjects that I can can do. Who knows I may like physics or engineering the more I learn about the natural word.

    Sorry for the wordy post.
  2. jcsd
  3. Jun 19, 2014 #2
    In your case it might be better to take algebra based Physics first, to see if you even like Physics at all. Calculus is better learned separately, and not learned "on the go" alongside Physics.

    I recommend that you should study calculus in your own time, it's quite useful in many areas of further education.
  4. Jun 19, 2014 #3
    I mostly agree with TheAustrian. Though normally, as you have already taken Calculus 1, you can take calculus based physics. But as you are doubtful about your ability to comprehend physics (and science in general), I suspect you might be too unfamiliar with these things.
    So a no-risk approach will be to go for algebra based physics.

    By the way, if somehow you can check on both the books recommended for your algebra and calculus based physics courses, perhaps you will be able to make a better comparison yourself.
  5. Jun 19, 2014 #4
    The book for algebra based physics is physics by Giancoli. The calculus based one depending on where I take it (different school same cc district) uses a version of knight, giancoli, or serway (this is the honors). I am in the honors program (3.67 gpa). But of course I would probably not take the honors because I chose to take the most difficult math teacher in the department ( had him for cal 1). I pulled a b because his test where really hard but I learned a lot from him and it was fun.
  6. Jun 19, 2014 #5

    That taking the honors course will also not affect me because I just need 7 or 8 units of honor coursework, which I could do in other stem (cal 3, other physics etc) or even poly science, english (she is a pushover).
  7. Jun 19, 2014 #6
    For studying Physics, it's best to first build a very solid mathematical background (this can take years), and then study the Physics once the maths is known well enough. So I'm not sure how it is exactly in the USA, but try to take as much maths as possible before doing the physics classes. (Where I am, there are no choices in what classes to take, students get a timetable from the university, which then must be adhered to)
  8. Jun 19, 2014 #7


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    You should take the calculus based introduction to physics courses, it just makes more sense from a learning standpoint. It doesn't matter that you haven't seen physics or science before. The course will be more or less an introduction, especially at a junior college.

    Glance at an introduction to linear algebra text beforehand. Vectors will be single handily the thing you use most throughout physics.
  9. Jun 19, 2014 #8
    Can you recommend one? I was looking online on amazon for an intro linear algebra book and found the one by dover. The author is Charles Cullen https://www.amazon.com/Matrices-Lin...ition-Mathematics/dp/0486663280/ref=pd_cp_b_2.

    Not sure if I would get enough insight from this by not having completed my calculus series.
    Last edited by a moderator: May 6, 2017
  10. Jun 19, 2014 #9


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    Well, if you can find out what book you'd eventually use for your inevitable intro to linear algebra course that would be the best one to buy.

    Actually thinking about it more, first course of physics texts have all you need to know about vectors. So I'd just recommend you find out what text you'll need for the fall course in introduction to mechanics and read up on the vector section some, googling anything you're stuck on. There are lots of free resources and texts out there so I wouldn't recommend purchasing a book you might never really need again.

    Good and clear texts are university physics, 4th edition of H&R, and eventually you might want to pick up Kleppner/Kolenkow. Buy older editions of university physics if it isn't required and save some money. Again, there are tons of free resources out there, so don't burn your money if you don't need to.

    Understanding vectors though is half the battle to intro to mechanics.

    Really don't waste your time with the life science physic intro courses, their only difference is the inclusion of calculus; which sometimes leaves things more confusing and less clear.
    Last edited by a moderator: May 6, 2017
  11. Jun 19, 2014 #10

    There is next to no actual calculus in the serway book. I used that book when I took the physics sequence. I mean the book derives the equations using calculus and then it's mostly plug and chug. Calculus 1 is sufficient for serway, assuming you are talking about his physics for scientist and engineers book. That book is also available freely on the web if you search, it's from a legitimate source before anyone complains. Anyway download the book and see if the math is too much for you, I suspect it won't be though.
  12. Jun 19, 2014 #11


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    I agree, but a student needs not only a solid background in math -- a solid background in basic science is also required.

    OP, my background is similar to yours. I dropped out of school early, but later in life I dropped back in :biggrin:. At age 19 I had to start with "Introduction to Algebra", which is usually taught in the 6th or 7th grade. I eventually earned a BS in physics, so I know you can recover from early mistakes.

    But it's a hard road. You need a solid foundation, and there are no short cuts! If you've never had a science course, you need to start with the basics. Take the algebra based Physics course. It will give you a good idea of basic physics.

    If you have time and interest, I recommend a Chemistry course after that.
  13. Jun 19, 2014 #12
    Thanks for the post. Yeah I'm going to take biology for the life science instead of anthropology or psych.

    I got zumhdalls(I think that's how you spell it) introductory Chemistry book. Although I think I won't have time because I need to start my computer science sequence. Schools want me to take up to c++ BUT ucla and the likes want 2 classes of c++ so that is 4 or 3 computer science classes. As well as 3 more spanish classes to meet the foreign language requirement.

    I can always self study and I'm sure the more classes I complete the better my thinking and time management will become. I am very curious with learning and that is probably why grade school was not for me. I would rather tolstoy, london,hemingway, and certes instead of doing my actual classwork.
  14. Jun 19, 2014 #13


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    Are you transferring out from a California Community College?
  15. Jun 19, 2014 #14
    Yes in the Los Angeles community college district.
  16. Jun 19, 2014 #15


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    The first REAL science courses of any of the natural sciences are tough. Which branch of science you begin does not really matter much. Take the Physics 1 Mechanics course which is Calculus-based, if you really did well (LEARNED WELL) in your Calculus 1. The beginning physics courses for science & engineering students require some mathematical maturity, but about the only way to get this maturity is to get into situations in which you use mathematics (like Calculus, Algebra, and Trigonometry). Physics courses for the science and engineering students will do this to/for you.
  17. Jun 20, 2014 #16


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    I also transferred from a CCC, so maybe this will be of some use to you.

    Do you know about assist.org?

    If your school offers data structures > c > c++ route, that is what I would do.

    To be competitive for UCLA, you need at least Calculus based mechanics (to even be considered), and probably ideally, the entire Calc based physics series. Another option instead of the life science series is to see if they offer a Calc based physics prep course.

    You will also need to complete either the other physics courses, or Chemistry (General Chem which is an option also has a pre-requisite course for students who didn't take chemistry in high school), or Bio depending on what's offered at your school.

    Ideally, you want all the pre-major requirements done first, suggested requirements second, and general ed/language third.

    Taking the algebra based series will without a doubt add to your time at CC, but so would failing Calc based mechanics. I guess go with what you feel most comfortable with.
  18. Jun 20, 2014 #17
    Yes I know about assist. The algebra based physics at my school has 2 options. 2 courses for medical school students transfer or 1 physics intro algebra based to prepare students for physics 101. I would still be on time. Some schools require I take intro statistics and one other class. I'm going to take stats just in case I can't get to a UC and have to go through the cal state system. So I can fit a physics course with the stats.

    Spoke to my math professor about it this morning. She stated that the math would be super easy both the algebra and calc based physics. She insisted I take the algebra based physics, so that I could familiarize myself with conversions, simple theory, and learn how to do the diagrams. She even took me to the department chair (her friend) and he insisted I take him in the fall for intro algebra for the same reasons she stated. Hey I even got the free book lol.

    So intro it is. Thanks everyone.
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