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Poor performance in first and second year physics...

  1. Jan 20, 2016 #1
    Hi all!

    Now I don't know whether the question I am about to pose is something that can be answered intelligibly. Maybe it is just a case about motivation...but I am not too sure at the moment.

    My question is: Does mediocre performance in first and second year physics present a possible disaster in third year? I have found both the physics and math subjects quite difficult in third year, and I even feel like I haven't really learned that much over the past two years of my physics studies. I mean, I can do the math, but when I go back to my textbooks, I seem to only barely grasp the physics behind the maths. I feel like I have tons of holes in my general physics understanding.

    So my conclusion: My physics ain't that great, and neither is my math. I am quite afraid that this will threaten my progress in third year.

    Now I know that physics must take time, and perhaps I just need to accept the fact that I haven't striven enough in trying to learn the physics. But right now I am on holidays, and I am wondering whether there is anything I can start doing that can help me plug the gaps or even start rebuilding my shaky knowledge of physics.

    Thanks for reading this long and convoluted passage! I am pretty desperate so any advice would be appreciated!
  2. jcsd
  3. Jan 20, 2016 #2

    Vanadium 50

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    You should be. Upper division classes build on the fundamentals you should have learned earlier. If those fundamentals are shaky, you have a problem on your hands.
  4. Jan 20, 2016 #3
    There's only one fix to this situation: go back and fix your foundations.
  5. Jan 20, 2016 #4


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    The math is there to model something physical. When you were going through lower division classes were you stopping to think about what the equations meant, how the results were derived, the physical significance of the results, etc.? That's a good way to learn the "physics behind the math."

    Since you're on break you should probably backtrack like Micromass suggests, and work through some old problem sets asking yourself those questions. One holiday is probably insufficient to make up two years of cheating yourself out of an education.
  6. Jan 21, 2016 #5
    Thanks for putting out your opinions straight up like that...I will see to it that I get started right away (knowing full well that this holiday ain't enough).
  7. Jan 21, 2016 #6
    Just one thought...which area of physics might be suggested as crucial? I have done only smatterings of classical mechanics and optics, and half-semesters of thermal physics, quantum physics, electromagnetism, and special relativity. Should my choice be merely based on my interests?
  8. Jan 21, 2016 #7


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    Now you're trying to find shortcuts and an easy way out.

    There is no such thing as "crucial" or not crucial. There is a reason a subject area is in the curriculum. They are all important, especially when you don't know where or what you will end up doing!

    Rather than diagnosing why you are not doing well in the first 2 years, and figuring out the solution, you're now trying to skirt the issue. Considering that the first 2 years should have been the easiest and an opportunity to shore up your GPA, you now have a daunting task of facing advanced level classes that require those earlier courses as the foundation.

    It is time you sit down and seriously consider your priorities.

  9. Jan 21, 2016 #8


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    You haven't said anything about how you are doing in other courses, what your career goals are, or why you are taking physics and math courses. All those are inter-related.
  10. Jan 21, 2016 #9
    If you're already struggling you should either learn the material that you could not grasp or switch to an easier major.

    What are your study habits like? Are you spending 30 minutes outside of the class studying per contact hour or are you spending 4 hours studying per contact hour? Do you have a job? Is that job interfering with your ability to study? Do you play video games? Do you play video games instead of studying and practicing your mathematics?
  11. Jan 21, 2016 #10
    Thanks for the critical comments. I will take it to heart. Thanks for spending your time reading.
  12. Jan 21, 2016 #11
    Thank you all again!
    Last edited: Jan 21, 2016
  13. Jan 28, 2016 #12
    I'd definitely take the time to brush up on some of the earlier physics. I feel as if the most important lessons gained from Physics I/II aren't necessarily the specifics of the subject materials (though obviously the specifics are not to be neglected -- for example, second law analysis is directly useful for a future statics student, magnetism and circuit analysis is directly useful for a future EE/CE student, etc), but rather the "soft" skills. The skills I refer to are the ability to think through algorithms, correctly and efficiently break up problem statements into more manageable sub-problems, and gaining a physical intuition that will help you decipher far more complicated concepts in the future (for example, having an intuitive conceptualization of momentum can help you much better understand the physics behind the drag on a plate or airfoil). Don't worry if you can't recall every detail of your early Physics education, as most people don't -- but do be sure to pick up those "soft" skills, as they will be the most important in the future. Good luck!
    Last edited: Jan 28, 2016
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