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Physics trouble

  1. Nov 6, 2013 #1
    Hi all,

    I'm writing this post feeling very embarrassed because of the situation. So, here goes:

    I'm a math major at a well known school, and it is my last year (graduating early). I decided, to take introduction to physics because I wanted to see what else is out there. I'm currently in part 1 (so it would be mechanics), and I'm really struggling. I averaged a C on the first midterm, and I just took another one a couple of days ago, and I'd be really lucky to get 20%. The math is very simple so that's not the issue; rather, it's understanding just what the heck is going on, and even more so, applying that to tests (where my professor goes a bit crazy). The thing is, it's a freshman class and these guys are all really good at physics. I mean, like, they seem to know exactly what to do, whereas I'm left reading a problem, struggling to find just what the heck it's asking for. Shouldn't I be good at this if I'm a math major (or even more, as someone who is about to graduate)? I really don't know what to do. I mean, I'm taking the class as a "pass or no pass" class (which doesn't affect my GPA), but I would still like to pass it and do alright in it.

    The other problem is that I spent a while studying for this midterm and neglected studying for another one, and I ended up bombing that one too. So basically, I really don't know what to do anymore. I'm stressed, I can't sleep well because of that physics midterm, and I'm at a loss. I want to eventually go to grad school for math, but I know not passing a freshman physics class is horrible. So that's causing even more stress.

    Could I get some advice on what I should do?

    Last edited: Nov 6, 2013
  2. jcsd
  3. Nov 6, 2013 #2


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    Homework Helper

    Can you give an example question, I think that would help.
  4. Nov 6, 2013 #3


    Staff: Mentor

    Was this an intro course for physics-majors or was it conceptual physics for non-physics majors?

    Physics-major courses use Calculus throughout whereas the conceptual ones rely on algebra and specific formulas for specific problem types.

    Have you talked with the professor about your difficulties?

    Maybe you're over-thinking the problems.

    Have you checked out any problem-solving physics review books?
  5. Nov 6, 2013 #4
    Math majors spend most of their time doing something completely irrelevant to physics, and so having spent 2-3 years studying math won't make an introductory physics course a breeze. Some intro physics courses are designed to weed out students and are unusually difficult anyway.

    Fully understanding example solutions and homework solutions is important here.
  6. Nov 6, 2013 #5


    User Avatar

    You might enjoy working through Spivak's Physics for Mathematicians. But I'm surprised you haven't had to learn to work physics problems as part of learning differential equations, complex analysis, and Fourier analysis at the very least. Or have you somehow skipped those things?
  7. Nov 6, 2013 #6


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    Science Advisor
    Gold Member

    Quick get a copy of "Thinking Physics":

    Each page has a problem, a cartoon, with the answer explained on the next page. The first half of the book is mechanics. I often recommend it to grad students - it helps prepare them for their oral qualifiers in physics!

    It teaches you how to think about physics ... which has very little to do with mathematics in many cases. The book has no math beyond high school algebra - but the problems invoke critical thinking skills.

    Once you understand how to _think_ about physics, you will have little difficulty working out the solutions; just remember that physics is NOT mathematics; mathematics is a tool used by physicists. Mathematicians focus on definitions, logic, proofs ... physicists don't sweat the fine points: every function is smooth, continuity is assumed (unless it isn't!) - whatever works is good enough. Just so long as it agrees with experiment ...
  8. Nov 7, 2013 #7
    Hi all,

    It is a calculus based physics class. I really don't know what it is, but during that test, I just blanked completely. I have worked with "work" and of course, the infamous dampened bead on a hoop, but not in the terms of this class, it was more ODE based. I'll go over the book and rework out examples and choose homework problems to rework out. Furthermore, I will also check check out Spivak's and Epstein's book. Thank you all for the suggestions!
  9. Nov 7, 2013 #8
    I'm in the exact situation as you are. I'm in physics 1 and it's calculus based. I too have no issues with the math, the math is a breeze.

    I just don't know, my professor isn't really that great and we have a lot of engineering students in the class. Our last two test averages was a 75%; however, I failed both midterms sadly.... and I put a lot of time studying for both.
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