Is it normal to really struggle in your first physics course? (Kinematics, energy, angular motion, etc.)

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Kalebh03
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I'm currently a freshman physics major coming into university from an early college high school, so I was lucky enough to have some experience taking college level physics courses before I came to university. I didn't think that those courses were rigorous enough in comparison to what I've heard is taught in a university level physics course, so I decided to start my physics "career" over by starting in the first physics course, and I was entirely correct. This course is way way way more difficult, and I have struggled more than I ever thought I would. On my first test (kinematics, force, and rotational motion) I scored a 39/76 (51%), and the class average was a 50/76 (66%). Is it normal for a physics major to struggle so much on an introductory course like this because I have never done so horrible in a class, and I'm worried about my ability to continue in physics if I am unable to even pass the first course.

Also, I have an issue where I am entirely unable to look a problem and know how to start solving it. In my mind, I can see everything that the problem gives, but I see no way to relate those given values to any sort of process for solving the problem. No matter how many times I practice different problems from each unit, I never know how to start solving, and I don't know if I'll ever develop an "intuition" for solving physics problems seeing as though I have 1 1/2 year experience in the courses, but still struggle. Does anyone have any advice for how to improve?
 

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  • #2
Vanadium 50
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Yes, many people struggle.
What did your Prof. say when you talked to him/her?
 
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  • #3
dlgoff
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Kalebh03
Have you ever thought about getting together with other class members when doing problem sets?
 
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MidgetDwarf
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I'm currently a freshman physics major coming into university from an early college high school, so I was lucky enough to have some experience taking college level physics courses before I came to university. I didn't think that those courses were rigorous enough in comparison to what I've heard is taught in a university level physics course, so I decided to start my physics "career" over by starting in the first physics course, and I was entirely correct. This course is way way way more difficult, and I have struggled more than I ever thought I would. On my first test (kinematics, force, and rotational motion) I scored a 39/76 (51%), and the class average was a 50/76 (66%). Is it normal for a physics major to struggle so much on an introductory course like this because I have never done so horrible in a class, and I'm worried about my ability to continue in physics if I am unable to even pass the first course.

Also, I have an issue where I am entirely unable to look a problem and know how to start solving it. In my mind, I can see everything that the problem gives, but I see no way to relate those given values to any sort of process for solving the problem. No matter how many times I practice different problems from each unit, I never know how to start solving, and I don't know if I'll ever develop an "intuition" for solving physics problems seeing as though I have 1 1/2 year experience in the courses, but still struggle. Does anyone have any advice for how to improve?
Yes, its normal. It can be a combination of things. The most common are :

1) Students lack proper study skills.

2) Students do not read ahead/work out problems before the lecture.

3)Students do not ask questions or come to office hours.

4) Professor may have high level of standards/expectations (which all professors should have, but many do not).

5)Students do not take advantage of the free tutoring services the university provides.

6)Students do not struggle with doing the hw, and just google search and look up early solution without putting in actual effort...

From 1 to 6, which ones define you?
 
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  • #5
vanhees71
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7) High schools don't adequately prepare students for the university anymore, which explains particularly item 1) in the above list. Of course, I can only talk about German high schools, but when I listen to the complaints of colleagues at other places of the world when it comes to the high-school education of their kids, it seems to be a translation-invariant phenomenon ;-).
 
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topsquark
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7) High schools don't adequately prepare students for the university anymore, which explains particularly item 1) in the above list. Of course, I can only talk about German high schools, but when I listen to the complaints of colleagues at other places of the world when it comes to the high-school education of their kids, it seems to be a translation-invariant phenomenon ;-).
American High Schools are generally bad for preparing students for constructive thinking. When I taught Introductory Physics I spent much of my time teaching basic problem solving steps. Not Physics, but things like "If you don't know how to start a problem, review the section in the text that the problem comes from" and things like that. I also had to stress that Professors are the most underused resource that a student has. My office hours were almost totally empty but my students kept complaining how hard it was to do the homework.

@Kalebh03: What is your major? When I went to school at Alfred University I found that the Physics department was almost subservient to the Ceramic Engineering and Science department. As such the Physics program was not as good as it could have been. No, 51% is not a good score on a test, but neither is the average of 66%. It should be around 75% or so (at least, that was my target when I was teaching.) I would guess that you have a hard professor and/or your High School didn't really prepare you well for the pace of College classes. (Neither is unusual.) Like the others above I'd recommend getting together with your fellow students and doing group work, make sure that you spend some time with your Professor in office hours, and make sure to plan out study time every day as soon as you get the assignment. The more you prepare the better off you will be.

-Dan
 
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  • #7
MidgetDwarf
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7) High schools don't adequately prepare students for the university anymore, which explains particularly item 1) in the above list. Of course, I can only talk about German high schools, but when I listen to the complaints of colleagues at other places of the world when it comes to the high-school education of their kids, it seems to be a translation-invariant phenomenon ;-).
Yes, the problem goes even further to middle school. I taught middle school mathematics (pre-algebra/algebra, geometry). When I first arrived, I received a lot of pushback from parents and students for requiring hw everyday. Something that no teacher assigned. Constant complaints, would not change my mind. As a result, the students adjusted to my system and preformed exceptionally well. It took a few bad quiz scores until it sunk in that they must study everyday. Eventually they began to like it, and wold willingly volunteer to come to the board to solve problems without prompting, group work was actually group work and not time spent chatting about trivial things, or come visit me early before school started to learn a bit more, or solve more interesting problems. It was crazy how teachers would allow rewrites for every test, so that kids could get an A without any effort on their part, so that they could get a nice Christmas gift. Heck, even the janitor received about 3,000 cash in donations for Christmas . This was of course at a private school.

What I gathered from this, is that the majority of parents are happy that their child gets good grades, without being taught anything. So that they can brag to friends/family about their Childs superficial achievement.

It was stressing having to sit in the same teacher parent conference. But the experience was fun watching kids go from being what Evers about mathematics to actually liking and enjoying it. My fondest moment was working a student with a learning disability, who although could not do well with others, always tried his best, came to office hours, and always had a smile on his face.

Or the one kid who would always chat in class and try to have daddy come yell at me, because I would not alter his grades without any effort. Eventually he understood, and he moved himself to the front of the class without my say so, and became one of the better students.

However, lesson planning, grading/feedback for daily hw assignments took a toll on my "free time." So I can see why teachers choose not to teach, or due the bare minimum, because the compensation is very low. But I am of a firm belief that there are a few things one should never BS and try to be the best when working in:

1) Religion
2)Education
3)Law
4)Medicine
 
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  • #8
BillOnne
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You asked for advice on studying. Didn't see anybody give a lot of advice on that.

Overall strategy: You are in a degree program. Figure out where spending your time will give you the most benefit. If you need this class, you should be spending a lot of time on it.

Be sure to read your text, at least as far as the sections you are working on. If part is not clear then make sure to get help from your prof. Or co-students or TA or the homework section here, or something.

I got a lot of mileage out of taking notes in class, then rewriting my notes in a cleaner way as soon as possible. My clean notes would have dates, textbook section references, etc. Often I would get the text and try to follow along with the notes when I was revising. If the prof skipped over something as "obvious" then I filled that in. The idea is, my final notes would have every step in a clean clear obvious *to me* way.

I got a lot out of practice problems. I would try to do all the problems in the text, at least in the sections we were doing. If I could not do a problem in the text, or at least see how to start, I would first ask co-students, then the prof. I would ask the prof for practice problem suggestions. These days you can search on the net for practice problems. If a problem is killing you, try the homework section here.
 
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