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Studying Just another lost undergrad noob fishing for advice

  • Thread starter DippyMcGee
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My apologies if i'm doing this wrong, or posting this in the wrong place. Very new here.

So anyway, i'm a sophomore physics major at tOSU and BOY OH BOY am I lost. I'm a high school drop out, and when I dropped out, I realized I liked physics and needed to know math to get to physics. I spent 3 years just working on math before applying to college, but had no chance to really study physics. But now i'm here! And for my first two physics classes freshman year, I had no clue what was happening.

I seemed to be the only one in the entire class with no physics background! I did get a B+ and A- for both intro classes respectively, but I blame grade inflation. I learned... NOTHING.

Unflappably positive, I told myself it would surely get better next semester. But now it's over a month into the first semester, and I feel completely outclassed. I literally just learned the very very very BASICS of torque, I.e., that it's force times length of the lever arm. I am a sophomore and I literally just learned that.

Damn me if I don't want to pull through this and do what I came here for. Chasing physics by teaching myself math from the 4th grade level to the start of calculus 2 was the first and last thing that has ever made me feel happiness. I know, because of that experience, that i'm capable of learning. What I don't know, however, is how to do it in a traditional school environment, with the subject of physics.

Why i'm posting this, i'm not even sure. I'm hoping some of you at least won't feel like i'm as much of a jackass as I rightly am. I've spoken to my professor about this, and told him my background, and he seemed baffled, then irritated, then sad. I'm not certain of what he actually thinks about me but, I want to make it through this more than I've ever wanted anything, literally. That's for better or worse; I would probably run my GPA into the ground and ruin my chances of grad school for non-physics things long before giving up physics. Hoping for some honest feedback and advice! Don't be afraid to roast me.
 
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For the basics of physics checkout the Khan Academy videos stat. While physics can be very logical, there some things that are quite non intuitive for which the only solution is to go back to the math and convince yourself it’s true.

Veritaseum did a great video on the wingnut effect that glories in the magic of angular momentum effects.

 

gleem

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I realized I liked physics ................
So how did you come to like physics?

I did get a B+ and A- for both intro classes respectively, but I blame grade inflation. I learned... NOTHING.
What was the nature of these intro courses e.g. non calculus based? And your evidence for grade inflation? (everybody got A's and B's?) If one has learned nothing then there is no way to bet a passing grade. I will assume no significant grade inflation and that you know more than you think. Based on your grade I would assume that you were relatively successful with homework unless you didn't have homework. I will also assume you you did well on tests. The question is why do you think you know nothing? What do you mean by not knowing anything?
 

symbolipoint

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gleem's comments and questions are/seem very realistic.

How's your Mathematics? Proper sequencing of Algebra 1 through Calculus 1/2/3?
How was or is your Physics courses sequencing? "Elementary Physics" followed by Fundamental Physics Mechanics, followed by Fundamental Physics Electricity & Magnetism, followed by what-next maybe?

If done things right, then nothing is not what you learn.

Sometimes, practical skills, knowleges, experiences, could help. Any engineering or vocational courses? Any practical technical or craft skill?

At the very minimum, much of what you learn in Physics 1 (Fundamental Physics: Mechanics) becomes understandable, either during the semester with hard work, or shortly after if one reviews very intensely.
 

vela

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What I don't know, however, is how to do it in a traditional school environment, with the subject of physics.
Physics is a subject which, I think, tends to expose poor learning skills. Techniques that worked in other classes won't necessarily work in physics, and as a result, many students struggle. Your school likely offers resources on how to study effectively. You should check those resources out and commit to trying some new methods out since your old habits don't seem to be working.

Don't be too hard on yourself. A lot of students find themselves in your situation. At least, you've recognized the problem and have asked for help. That's the first step. Now you just have to follow through.

I'll also second @gleem's comments and questions. I find it highly unlikely you managed to earns A's and B's in courses without learning anything. You might have some unrealistic expectations of what you should have learned. Part of the learning process is having repeated exposure to concepts. Perhaps learning how to calculate torques didn't stick the first time, but do you think you're going to forget it now?
 

Dr. Courtney

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It is hard for most students to provide a decent assessment of their math abilities. An ACT or SAT math score can be useful, as can an assessment with something like an ALEKS pre-calc score. Course grades are meaningless since they are often gifted. I often felt how you feel and ended up at MIT for grad school. One student I mentored did not finish high school and is starting grad school at Harvard this semester. I had some real weaknesses in math, but when I entered college, my abilities were strong enough to overcome with hard work.

I've had a hard look at the physics program at tOSU, since some students I mentored have applied there and I taught for several years in the Ohio system. As far as I can tell, it is fairly rigorous. Earning an A- and a B+ in the intro courses likely indicates more ability that you take credit for.

You probably would do well to find a faculty adviser who has experience working with students with weaker math backgrounds. Many faculty take a "sink or swim" mindset toward weaker students and don't care much if weaker students change majors. You need to find someone with experience advising weaker students toward success. I had a role like this at the Air Force Academy. But you and that faculty member both need a good assessment of your math abilities, you need to build improved study habits, and you're probably looking at needing to study 40+ hours outside of class, most of that with your pencil moving. If your pencil is not moving, you are wasting most of your study time.
 
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It's difficult for anyone here, myself included, to really gauge what you're going through and the extent to how you feel 'outclassed' within this course... But you said something that resonated with me:
I want to make it through this more than I've ever wanted anything, literally.
I'm from the UK; and here when you're 16-18 years old, you will do 'A-Levels' prior to university; they setup the courses you can apply for at Uni. Now, my physics teacher told me there is no point in doing physics at A-level, because my math wasn't good enough.

Fast forward 6 years; I'm doing a PhD in Superconductivity at the University of Cambridge; full scholarship, after achieving top of my year in my Physics Masters here. I wanted this more than anything, and I can assume I was in a similar position to you. I remember when I first started university how hopelessly outclassed I felt; I called my mum crying - "Mum, I'm so dumb" lmao. I was confident I was going to drop out. I scraped a 2:1 in my first year, and eventually pulled through with a First after 3 years of under sleeping, working every single day, pestering my lecturers, professors, lab assistants; anyone who had an edge on me.

Just like me, you probably feel like the dumbest, hungriest person in the room. You're actually in the best position for success, not the worst. Work your ass off, and you can do it!

Feel free to message me if you want to talk more
 

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