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Physics without Calculus

  1. Apr 6, 2012 #1
    Hey there,

    I plan on taking calculus-based physics in the near future, but the class requires a prerequisite physics class, which can be either one of two classes.

    One class is an introductory physics class. I looked at course catalog and the textbook that's needed for the course and noticed that it's really mostly just dealing with the algebra in physics more than anything, along with extremely basic concepts that I already know.

    The other class is an algebra and trigonometry based course that's slightly more challenging than the previously mentioned class. It doesn't include calculus.

    I used to be very poor at math because I never really had much interest in it and didn't give it a chance, but thanks to a new interest and a very challenging, but effective professor, and tons of work on my end, I am very comfortable and confident in my ability with algebra and trigonometry.

    So, my initial reaction was to take the algebra/trig based physics, but after looking around, I was a little disheartened at my decision. The general consensus from what I've seen seems to be that physics without calculus is relatively cumbersome and frustrating. It'll become fairly useless once I take calculus-based physics.

    I like math, but considering I need to juggle my time between other classes, I'd like to avoid something that'll be both time-consuming and inefficient.

    If that is the case, should I just take basic physics?
    Last edited: Apr 6, 2012
  2. jcsd
  3. Apr 6, 2012 #2
    I'm taking a ''calculus based'' physics class, and the question I'm wondering is where are the problems in the book that require calculus to answer?
  4. Apr 7, 2012 #3
    The algebra and trigonometry based course will introduce you to vectors, which will be useful to you in the calc-based version, so I'd recommend taking it over the other one. But, you can learn vectors later if you don't care to now. I don't think it really matters all that much.
  5. Apr 7, 2012 #4
    I'm not sure why you would have to take algebra-based introductory physics and then calculus-based introductory physics at your school. Are you a college or high school student?
  6. Apr 7, 2012 #5
    I've already worked with vectors and problems involving them, but it was back in trigonometry. I suppose it's possible the physics course may go deeper into it, but I have no real way of knowing that without taking the course... :p

    I'm a college student.
  7. Apr 9, 2012 #6
    Algebra based physics is good for understanding the basic concepts (acceleration, centripetal acceleration, friction).

    However, much of the material learned in algebra based physics is made more intuitive in Calculus based physics, where it is actually explained.

    For example, the basic equation F=ma. When I was learning this, this completely blew my mind. Physics becomes very exciting after a while.

    Force can be described as the change in momentum over the change in time.

    This is described by F= (dp/dt) with calculus.
    Since P=mv, it is now F=(dmv/dt).
    Mass is always a constant, so F= m(dv/dt).
    Amazingly, this becomes the common expression F=ma, with dv/dt=acceleration.

    Derivations like this become very important later in physics, especially with E&M and things like Gauss' Law. Many things are actually "connected" to each other, and are not to be solely rote memorized.
  8. Apr 9, 2012 #7


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    I think the most important thing you need to start on is calculus. Physics without calculus is limited to a selection of "simple" situations that can be solved without calculus, but don't really lead to anything more advanced.

    Think ahead, and check out the course catalog for your first calculus-based physics course when you get that far. Then go back to the prerequisites courses and check that you will not be covering some of the same material three times, if you know some of it already.

    Without seeing the course catalogs, personally I would suggest you go for the math course, as a step along the way to the first calculus course. The more math ability and confidence you can build up now, the better you will do in future.
  9. Apr 9, 2012 #8
    It's funny that when you start physics, algebra seems easy and calculus hard yet when you get towards the higher end, algebra will seem the harder and calculus the easier..

    In regards to your question, I'd talk to the lecturers about it. I'm sure they'd understand your worries about wasted time. Imo there's nothing in an algebra based course that isn't in a calculus based course (and if there is it'll be something you could teach yourself in < an hour), everything in the algebra based course will just require that everything is either fixed or formulas that you accept a priori.
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