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Kind of discouraged

  1. Sep 25, 2009 #1
    Okay, guys, I got a serious question for you:

    I'm really struggling to keep up in this physics class (first year calc-based classical stuff). I mean, this stuff is hard as hell to up with, I study constantly and I still feel like I'm not quite getting it. So my question is this: Does it ever get any easier? I mean, was it hard for you at first, or did it just come kind of "naturally"?

    If I can't keep my grades up by the end of the semester, I am really considering taking a good look at my options, maybe switching to something I can pass easier. Don't get me wrong, I love the challenge, and I LOVE physics, but I sometimes I wonder if I'm cut out for it. Sometimes it seems like a field left only for the true genius...

    Really, I'm just a little upset this week, I had a test, and I think I did pretty bad, but anyway, let me know how you felt in your first year.
  2. jcsd
  3. Sep 25, 2009 #2
    What material are you covering, and what do the tests/homework questions look like?
  4. Sep 25, 2009 #3
    It's a calculus based course, and it's really basic stuff, I guess. The test we just had was mostly on kinematics in 2 dimensions. It seems like it should be easier, but I don't know...

    The average in this class last year was a 49% so maybe that says something...
  5. Sep 25, 2009 #4
    No it doesn't get any easier it only gets harder. But you can learn to work harder and work smarter. You have to believe in yourself and you have to fight and fight HARD if you want to do well. A lot of degrees are a joke, physics is no joke.
  6. Sep 25, 2009 #5
    Sorry for the second reply but ask yourself seriously: am I really working as hard as I can? How hard would I work if my life depended on it? I am not joking or exaggerating, thats what it took for me to succeed. If your commitment is not on that level, get out fast.
  7. Sep 25, 2009 #6


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    What Phyisab**** said fits my experience. It doesn't get easier, but you will learn how to cope with the work load and stress.

    Have you tried getting into a study group? I'll be honest - those never really clicked with me, but they do help some people.
  8. Sep 25, 2009 #7


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    Here I must say something. I lost a full year because I didn't catch up with my "Physics I" and linear algebra (both first year courses). I didn't have a computer by that time so reading stuff online was out of my reach. Furthermore I wasn't a member of the library of my university because some papers were delayed (I'm from France/Canada and moved to Argentina, you can imagine the headache I'm still having with papers...).
    I had only one good friend to study with, but he went back to his country (Brazil) and I was alone.
    It was only the next year (2008) that I retook both courses and did pretty well in both.
    From then I could follow the next courses (harder ones of course) and my problems disappeared.
    Hence, it is possible that you are "sharped for physics" even though you're not doing well right now.

    A tip : Study from books, do many problems and ask as many questions (about physics problems and physics related questions) as you have to helpers at university (or here).

    Another thing : Good luck.
  9. Sep 25, 2009 #8


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    Yes it is hard. You are learning to think analytically and solve problems; most of your other courses (although some exceptions) did not require this intensity of critical analytical thinking. As much as is necessary, find help from people especially from your instructor. Others may help also, but often their time is limited and they cannot do all the thinking for you, so you may still be frustrated as may they be. This struggle which you should do is good for you; the material and the skills are difficult but they ARE LEARNABLE.

    Does your instructor have a mechanism to help struggling students might reach a passing grade by the end of the term so students may not need to drop nor take a grade of less than C? If so, he/she might not tell you this until later in the semester.

    Do you know what it is like to be in a class of starting size about 40 but with ending size of about 6 students? You might be in a position to find out what this is like.

    Do you want to become a strong analytical and problem-solving thinker? If so, stay in the course and study hard.

    Yes, later some of Physics becomes harder. Be sure that your Trigonometry knowledge and vector knowledge and first-year Calculus are very good for your fundamental Electricity & Magnetism Physics course.

    THEN if you think Physics is too hard, change your major. At least, one of the lasting effects will be that you developed analytical problem solving skill. No Kidding.
  10. Sep 25, 2009 #9
    Thanks for the responses guys, it just gets discouraging at times. I really thought I was ready for this class going into it, but once we got about a week in, it just started to make me feel... well, dumb. I am going to keep working at it.

    So just to be clear, some of you guys who are in advanced physics now, it was difficult for you at first too right? I really love physics, and it's what I want to do with my life, I just get afraid that I just might not be cut out for it, so to speak.

    Also, I know, it doesn't get any easier, per-se, but it seems like from your responses that learning the material becomes easier as you get more used to studying this kind of field.

    Again, thanks a lot, and I look forward to more responses.
  11. Sep 25, 2009 #10


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    I think the only thing that has gotten easier is the realization that it just gets harder and harder, but it material can be learned at some point.
  12. Sep 25, 2009 #11


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    One other thing I thought of...when I started studying physics in earnest, I looked around at my classmates and realized I'm not in the top quartile of the smartest in the room. In fact I may not even be in the second quartile...but I was somewhat sure I wasn't in the bottom (at least I would have liked to think that :redface:).

    But you know what? Lots and lots of those top quartile people didn't make it through the 4 year program. And a surprising number of the low quartile people did make it.

    Inherent braininess helps, no doubt about it. But it does *not* determine your destiny.

    The real question is, how badly do you want it?
  13. Sep 25, 2009 #12
    I don't believe in "naturally" good (or dumb) at physics or any subject for that matter. If you are good at something, it just means you have done it b4 (perhaps in a different variation/form) and are interested in it.

    conversely, if you are doing bad at something it means you have not made enough input and/or are not interested in it. But since you say you like Physics, second case is ruled out.

    What i can suggest you is to work on it even harder. By which i mean, study more, go to classes, get help from TA and prof, ask for help here. At one point, you'll "adopt" to Physics and then perhaps you won't have to try as hard. You'll still need to study though...but you'll catch Physics stuff quicker.
  14. Sep 25, 2009 #13
    A key thing to remember is that you should study smart, not hard.
  15. Sep 25, 2009 #14
    You know, really I think that's my biggest problem. I have some bad study habits, I tend to get distracted pretty easily.

    I'd like to set up a different study area in my room further away from my computer, cause right now, I always stop and start messing with my computer...
  16. Sep 25, 2009 #15
    Quantum when I started taking physics courses last year I posted a very similar question here. I think you will find that once you get used to the sort of thinking that is required in solving physics problems you will find that while the material doesn't get easier, you will be better equip to deal with it.
  17. Sep 26, 2009 #16


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    The first test in a first-semester university intro physics course usually shocks a lot of students. It's part of becoming aware that college/university is different from high school (in the USA). Don't jump to conclusions yet, but try to adapt to the new level of expectations.
  18. Sep 26, 2009 #17
    There is an interesting parallel with pilot training, from my personal observation from all sides, from below and from above. Many hotshots, who make it through selection training easily, suddenly tend to flunk unexpectedly when the going gets really tough, while many of those who just hang in there, keep hanging in there all the way.

    Our explanation was that the hotshots with high initial abilities were not challenged and they were not used to steep 'learning curves'. So when that 'learning curve' intersected and overtook their abilities, it was too late. No chance to adapt anymore and really start to learn.

    Those who had to fight to hang in there would not experience such a moment, since they are way too busy learning and learning. So perhaps this puts some question marks to 'inherent braininess'.

    But most certainly, the motivation to reach the desired end state is definitely the most important factor.
  19. Sep 26, 2009 #18
    Thanks again guys. I am going to keep trying as hard as I can, and I think you guys have boosted my confidence a little.
  20. Sep 27, 2009 #19
    No, they certainly did, just much earlier in the process.
    That's the spirit, and if it doesn't feel like it gets worse when you get to the harder classes then just go on and on since that means you are making progress.
    Last edited: Sep 27, 2009
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