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Physics and frustration

  1. Sep 20, 2008 #1
    I am a chemistry student at university and have finally hit physics. I have been able to handle the calclulus, chemistry, biology and other courses; however with physics I have had to put much more effort and time in order to master and understand the concepts.

    Is this normal? I feel consistently inadequate, I have never had to study so hard for such rudimentary skills. It's not even the calculus based physics either, its a prereq for calc based physics.

    I guess my question how natural is physics to you? Of course this is a physics forum so its probably very biased but I would still like to know.
  2. jcsd
  3. Sep 20, 2008 #2
    I feel your pain. The same is true for me.
  4. Sep 20, 2008 #3


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    gmunoz18 wrote:
    Yes. It is normal. You at least have the advantage that with Calculus and Chemistry courses, you have done some analytical thinking. You also are finding some overlap of topics.

    Just why are you in a prerequisite physics course instead of the actual Calculus-based physics course? Are you in Biological Science program, or are you in a Chemistry program?
  5. Sep 20, 2008 #4
    Chemistry; but the counselor recommended some physics before the calc based because I never took physics in highschool.
  6. Sep 20, 2008 #5


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    Good idea, learning some of the concepts before enrolling in the Calculus-based Physics series. You may well still find the first Calculus based physics course to be difficult to adapt to, maybe more difficult than the course you are studying now. Do NOT let this discourage you; just be sure that you restudy Trigonometry, and at least first and second semester Calculus before starting the calculus based physics series. During the first semester, you will basically need skills from intermediate algebra, Trigonometry, and a little bit of Calculus. That would likely be for the fundamental Mechanics Physics course (the lower division one - not the upper div. one for the Physics majors). Work hard in that first course; you will be developing your analytical thinking skills, which you could then use in other areas, INCLUDING Chemistry, and computer programming.

    You may want to consider taking a lighter load of coursework when you start the calc-based Physics course. Talk to your counselor about this.
    Last edited: Sep 20, 2008
  7. Sep 20, 2008 #6
    Yes, I was frustrated throughout my sophomore level physics classes, mostly due to the sheer quantity of subjects covered in the classes. In physics I you have motion in two dimensions (while most likely learning vectors for the first time), statics, rotational motion, waves, thermo, gravitation and in physics II you have even more to cover (so much so that I'm not going to list it).

    Taken by themselves the subjects are somewhat more manageable, but yes, I remember always feeling like I was behind in sophomore physics, especially physics II.
  8. Sep 23, 2008 #7
    For some of us physics is difficult when you first see it. It just takes time - I have to see things ~ 3 times before they really stick. Just keep at it.
  9. Sep 23, 2008 #8


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    Many times it's not the math or the concepts that give people trouble in physics, it is the fact that they are just not used to solving problems like they need to in physics.


    It is one thing to ask someone to find the dot product of two vectors.

    It is another to ask someone to use their knowledge of vectors to solve a kinematics problem.

    Don't give up. It'll come to you, you just have to realize that physics is more than math. Physics involves a method of problem solving you are just beginning to learn. As you practice problems, you'll get better at them, but you must do problems to get better at physics!

    This reminds me. I was trying to develop a problem solving tutorial a few months ago, but I have been too busy to work on it. Hopefully, I'll get that together eventually so it can help those in your position.
  10. Sep 23, 2008 #9
    I'd like to add just a couple things myself. Like G01 said, it's the type of problems that people are not used to. Not only do you have to know how to use a method, you also need to know which method out of several will yield the most effective, if not the only practical result.

    Also, some people might disagree with this, but I would say that learning calculus based physics from the get go (assuming that you have a solid calculus foundation) is the easiest method. You are able to see the applications of calculus, and truly appreciate learning how to differentiate and integrate, etc.

    That's just my two cents though.
  11. Sep 26, 2008 #10
    I'm not sure what level of physics you're taking, but if you need any help with some stuff, let me know, and I'll do my best, alright?
  12. Sep 27, 2008 #11
    I remember when I started physics... it was too much stuff to do at once. The problems were very intimidating. You get the hang of it eventually, and it becomes easier as a result.
  13. Sep 27, 2008 #12
    I'm of the opinion that the vast majority of those taking physics would actually do better in a good number of other courses. Physics is difficult. See, even the best of students have to put the work in.

    In line with what Howers says though, once you get the hang of it you'll find things come altogether more naturally and with far greater ease. Since you're coming into physics at some pre-calc level, i'd really recommend you spend a good chunk of your time looking at worked examples and solving your own problems in textbooks.


    I've noticed a lot of the American textbooks don't provide answers so that teachers can set problems from them. You'll find a good number though with sufficient hints and bottom-line numerical answers to give you the satisfaction in your work.

    Probably the best place to start practising is Classical Mechanics: Kleppner & Kolenkow spent a lot of time working through problems in their text and provide plenty of problems at the end of each chapter.
  14. Sep 27, 2008 #13
    I would have to say that different people come to different levels of understanding of the same material. They get an idea for the relationships of things within a specific example, and then memorize it's logical form so to speak. But when those concepts are applied to a different scenario (logical form holding), the floor falls out and they realize that they don't actually understand things in a dynamic sense.

    For example, the frictional force between the road and tires of a car driving around a corner, and gravitation between the earth and an object in orbit. Some people who took Physics I & II understand immediately what I'm getting at with this example, and others start scanning their equation crib sheet while scribbling vectors.

    A good chunk of one of my Psychology classes focused on learning, the types of learning, and how people could do it better. I especially liked the suggestions to associate thoughts. Really think about the concept being applied across multiple platforms and circumstances. Whether it's the "Trickle Down Effect" on a pool table/economy, or centripetal force in both a physical circumstance and calm "Persuasion of the People" in Philosophy/Political Science. Being able to metaphorically express yourself really helps in learning - likewise, the suggestion in my Psychology texts to help yourself understand by explaining a subject to someone else. Tutors often strengthen their own understanding by having the people they help prod the foundations of their comprehension.
  15. Sep 27, 2008 #14
    Feynman often caught many people, even physicists, that could not decipher a question that they should have been able to understand and answer, but since he asked a different way about how fundamentals work, they were stumped.
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