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New strategy for upper level physics?

  1. Feb 3, 2013 #1
    I am a sophomore physics major and having worries about the junior/senior level optics class that I'm currently enrolled in (Optics by Hecht). The prerequisite for the class is only intro physics II which I had last semester but I fear that I still have some catching up to do. A lot of the notation and jargon is new to me, and I'm having trouble judging how well I'm doing with the material. Mainly, I'm just worried that I'm not going about learning the material in the most efficient way, and I think I need a new strategy for succeeding in upper level physics courses.

    In past physics courses I read before lecture and did all of the homework as soon as it was assigned. It was very straightforward what I was expected to know for the exams... Basically study the homework problems, problems covered in lecture, old exams, recitation problems and there would usually be no surprises on the exam.

    I fear that this optics class will not be quite this straight forward though. It is the first time this particular professor has taught the class and I find it to be pretty unorganized so far. I've been reading before lecture and rereading after lecture because he goes VERY quickly. Basically the entire lecture is just derivation of equation after derivation of equation with hardly any explanation whatsoever so the book has really been my friend. We have had two homework assignments so far and I finished them pretty easily for the most part. I had to look up the solutions to more than a couple of the problems but now feel that I understand them. The problem is, I have absolutely no idea what the exams are going to be like... I'm afraid that he could potentially put some complicated derivations on there, but on the other hand the homework problems are relatively simple. I tried asking him what I should be expecting and he just told me "it's very simple math, you should be fine" so I really have no idea...

    Any advice?
  2. jcsd
  3. Feb 4, 2013 #2
    What is covered in your physics II class? At my school that would be E&M and that would only really help you in the part of Hecht that deals with Maxwell's Equations. The prerequisite at my school for the optics class is physics III, which covers waves and optics, and that would be pretty essential to know before diving into Hecht.
  4. Feb 4, 2013 #3
    Yes physics 2 covers mostly E&M but the last unit is optics. We don't have physics 3. The third physics class is modern physics and that's mostly intro*quantum stuff.
  5. Feb 4, 2013 #4
    Physics 2, calc 3, differential equations, and some complex variables are prereqs for optics at the level of Hect IMO. My school had the optics prereq set at only physics 2 as well and most of the class struggled because they didn't have the math I mentioned.
  6. Feb 4, 2013 #5
    Sounds almost like the optics class I took one year ago. If so, you'll have a very easy first exam and a very hard final exam. ;)

    On to your question, you will just have to devote more time to the course. The chapters on wave propagation and adding waves were the only really difficult ones in my opinion. It involves a lot of math manipulation and clever tricks.

    As a general rule: expect everything to be on the exam, especially for upper level physics. You'll always have those tricky problems thrown at you that take a bit to think about. Derivations will be common: find a relation of this a function of time, for example. It's just going to take more effort than your introductory courses.
  7. Feb 4, 2013 #6
    I really appreciate all of your input guys.

    The complex manipulations are exactly what I mean when I say that I'm having trouble with the notation. I've been practicing them a lot and I think that I'm starting to get the hang of it. Also, I'm in differential equations right now and I'm beginning to make the connections with what I've been seeing in optics.

    Yes! Those are the chapters that we are covering right now and I've been reading and rereading the chapters like crazy trying to process everything. I've decided that I'm going to try working all of the problems with solutions/answers in the back, not just the assigned homework... Not sure if this is the most efficient, but hopefully it will pay off. Can you clarify what you consider to be "derivations". I'm afraid that he's going to throw something like "derive the 1-D differential wave equation from first principles (x`= x-vt)". Is that even reasonable? I guess I'm just fearing the worst.
  8. Feb 7, 2013 #7
    "Write the location an image appears when an object is placed distance x from so-and-so lens system." Things like that. Basically anything that tells you to derive some relation. It's essentially what was done in introductory courses, this time only variables and a bit more complex. I doubt you'll be asked to derive the 1-D wave equation, but you will most likely be expected to know the 1-D and 3-D equations by memory.
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