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Is it a good idea to test out of first-year mechanics and e&m?

  1. Jan 25, 2009 #1
    This fall will be my first semester at a university. I have a pretty easy schedule in HS so I'm studying the Feynman lectures and working Irodov's problems. Since the university doesn't give credit for University Physics I&II (Mechanics and E&M) for the AP Physics C exams, I'm planning to test out of University Physics I&II through a comprehensive exam administered either over the summer or during my first semester at the university. I really like physics so I figured this would allow me to jump into the more advanced physics courses early on.
    My first semester schedule will probably be something like this (15-18 credit hours):
    Linear Algebra
    Mathematical Structures or if I do well on the comprehensive exam, Physics III [Thermodynamics, kinetic theory, physical and wave optics, relativity, photons, matter waves, atomic physics] and Mathematical Methods in Physics I [Differential equations, linear equations, vectors, matrices, Fourier series, and numerical methods]
    Bio/Chem (second year)
    Humanities Course
    My question is should I try to test out of Physics I&II, and if so, is it a good idea to take Physics III and Mathematical Methods in Physics I (both must be taken simultaneously) my first semester or wait until second semester? Thanks.
  2. jcsd
  3. Jan 25, 2009 #2


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    So basically you want to challenge the exams for your first year physics classes so you can jump into the more advanced stuff right away.

    While I'm sure this is possible for a well-motivated, bright and keen student, I would not chose this path personally. The fact of the matter is that you're in high school right now. University can be a whole different can of worms. There are a lot of students who do very well in high school and then flounder in their first year or so of university for a number of reasons: study habits, more demanding time schedule, more social freedom that needs more personal discipline, social activities, professors that aren't as forgiving as high school teachers, and not to mention the academic high pass filter (most people taking physics in university are there because they're reasonably good at it and have an interest in it).

    By skipping the first year courses, you would put yourself into a situation where the material is far more advanced without first establishing yourself on the first year "proving ground" and thus run the risk of being stuck neck deep in a fast moving without a life jacket. If you find out you don't like it, have trouble adjusting, or maybe weren't as well read in physics and math as you thought you were, you run the risks of not enjoying the courses, not doing well in the courses (which can effect your cadidacy for grad school admission), and even giving up on the subject altogether. There's also a certain social factor to consider. By jumping into advanced classes as a freshman you won't be in classes with other freshment, but older students at a different stage of their schooling, which can make it more difficult to make friends. Also I don't see any advantage to taking the more advanced courses sooner - so you're taking a lot of risks without any real potential benefit.
  4. Jan 25, 2009 #3
    Thanks for the reply. I'll definitely take those factors into consideration.
    The thing is, I've taken AP physics B in high school and I'm in AP Physics C: Mechanics right now. Because I'm also self-studying mechanics and e&m right now, I feel like taking university mechanics and e&m would be redundant. In contrast, I'm guessing physics III and mathematical methods in physics would be more interesting and would also provide a lot more motivation.
  5. Jan 25, 2009 #4
    I do believe there is an advantage in taking advanced courses sooner. For example, courses like quantum and statisitical mechanics don't come until later years in the undergraduate curriculum. If you want to do research in areas of applied physics, these courses are crucial in understanding what's really going on in experiments. If you have a better understanding of the experiements then you'll be more likely to publish good research papers which will undoubtedly help in grad school admissions.

    Also, only you know your level of preparation. What Choppy said was a good thing. He was trying to discourage you from something that might be difficult later on. But I can't tell you how many times I've been discouraged from doing something that I was quite sure I was capable of accomplishing. So when you do make the decision make sure it's your own and not just wary people making it for you.
  6. Jan 25, 2009 #5
    I'll be in the same situation that you are in next year (except that I don't know whether Physics C will be accepted to the university that I attend). My plan is to work through Feynman to do Physics C and get a separate book on mechanics that I'll work through toward the end and during the summer, I'll probably skip mechanics but not E&M. I don't want to not do all the problems that will have to be done by everyone in physics I. I haven't looked into books too much but Kleppner looks promising (I've heard it recommended before and its used for MIT's 8.012 which is the challenging version of physics I).
    Last edited: Jan 25, 2009
  7. Jan 26, 2009 #6
    Thanks for the replies.
  8. Jan 26, 2009 #7


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    Here's my experience as a chemistry major (so it may not be the same). I took AP chemistry in high school and had a very easy time with it. In college, I had the option to skip the first semester of introductory chemistry, but I chose to take the honors version of the Into. chemistry course. Although some of the course was review from AP chemistry, I found that I learned a great deal from the course, even in areas which I had studied previously. First, professors connected old concepts from the AP courses to concepts that would be covered in more advanced courses (e.g. connecting the concept of chemical equilibrium to thermodynamics and ultimately statistical mechanics). Second, the honors course discussed a little about current research in physical chemistry and tools in physical chemistry research, which is something I did not learn about in high school. Furthermore, even when the material reviewed concepts that I had learned previously, the professors tested me much more rigorously on the material, so I felt that I perhaps gained a better grasp of the fundamental concepts than before. Finally, having a slightly easier class in my first year of college helped with the adjustment period. I went to school somewhat farther away from home, so having extra free time was useful for meeting new people and eventually the group of friends that I stuck with throughout college and afterward.

    So my suggestion would be to look for an honors version of the first year physics courses if available. If that is not available, I would lean toward retaking the first semester physics course, but taking the exam to test out of it would still be a good idea to see where you stand.
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