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Should I give up being a physics major?

  1. Jun 25, 2015 #1
    I'm currently (officially) a physics major with a double in math as well. Currently, I got two D's in my intro physics classes (that is, physics 221 and 222, classical mechanics and E&M, respectively). Should I still pursue physics as a major despite this huge shortcoming? I try really hard at physics but I get a D, while I don't try as much in math but I get a B or an A. Maybe this is obvious to some of you, but I still would like some input. Thanks.
  2. jcsd
  3. Jun 25, 2015 #2
    You have not really given us much information. The grade D is of course terrible, but it doesn't tell us enough. We need to know how come you have no more than a D. What went wrong? What are your study habits? Things like that...
  4. Jun 25, 2015 #3
    Micromass, I studied nearly 2 hours everyday for just one physics class. I did every homework assignment, but I got low scores on there too. My tests, horrible. I went to lab every week. Got okay scores there. The only thing I didn't do was go to a tutor because the tutors are only there for very few hours and it usually interfered with my time. By the way, the average score for the tests were 35 and 40, respectively.

    As far as study habits are concerned, I read the chapter before class to make sure I understand what's going on (though I only comprehend about 60% of what's going on). I do the homework in a span of 3 days because the homework is just too long and time-consuming. I also have a 'traditional homework' which is on paper, which is due the next week of the lecture.
  5. Jun 25, 2015 #4
    In your opinion, why exactly did you obtain bad scores on the tests and the homework?
  6. Jun 25, 2015 #5
    I can't really pinpoint it to one exact reason. I think it might just boil down to me not getting the material? However, I do feel that I understand the concepts and lecture didn't just fly over me. I understood the lecture, took notes, and things like that, but when it came to homework and tests, I just froze.

    Btw, the homework, tests, and lecture were completely unrelated to one another.
  7. Jun 25, 2015 #6
    Maybe it's your test taking skills? Did you get black-outs during tests? Or anxiety attacks? After the test, did you often feel like the test was easy while you didn't feel that way during the test?
    Or maybe you had a superficial understanding of the material due to bad study habits. Studying 2 hours is cool and all, but you need to study right too. So how exactly do you study?
  8. Jun 25, 2015 #7
    How many hours do you think one needs to study for physics? And how many days in a week? My study habit is like this:
    1- Read the chapter (at least most of it) on Monday before class (which was Tuesday and Thursday)
    2- Go to lecture to fill in any gaps.
    3- Try to see how lab can help me apply the knowledge I learned.
    4- Do the homework not later than 24 hours after the first lecture of the week.

    I study in 30-40 minute intervals and take a 10-15 minute break, and then do another 30-40 minute interval, and then I stop. If I feel up to it, I do another 30-40 minute interval, 10-15 minute break, and then 30-40 minute interval. After that, I feel that I can't focus on physics anymore, and so I move to another subject.

    Concerning test-taking skills, I did feel a sort of 'black-out' when I took the test, in that I didn't have any idea on how to tackle the problem. When I walked out of the test, I knew I didn't do good. I usually know when I do good on a test because I feel mostly confident.
  9. Jun 25, 2015 #8
    It's not about the quantity, but about the quality. Sometimes studying 30 minutes can be better than just memorizing stuff for 2 hours!

    You only do the homework? Do you do extra questions? Very challenging extra questions? Do you make up problems for yourself that you can solve? Do you ask why and how at every step in the textbook? Do you take out time to ponder on the material or experiment with the material.

    I have written a guide for how to self study mathematics. Granted, this is physics and this is not self-study, but a lot of the study approach should still be applicable: https://www.physicsforums.com/threads/how-to-self-study-mathematics.804404/ [Broken]
    Last edited by a moderator: May 7, 2017
  10. Jun 25, 2015 #9
    What about study groups? Studying with other students could have a huge benefit as you would explain concepts to others and conversely.
    Do you go to office hours regularly? Do you ask lots of questions during class?
  11. Jun 25, 2015 #10
    Admittedly, I do not go to office hours as much because my teacher had limited office hours. Some professors were just 'too busy'. As far as study groups are concerned, I was not aware of any in my class. I know my teacher did improve her office hours in that she took the two hours to an empty classroom so that more students can benefit from her help.

    Btw, I found your tips in the link very helpful! I actually follow most of the steps, besides just drawing diagrams and revising my notes (takes up too much time).
    Last edited: Jun 25, 2015
  12. Jun 25, 2015 #11

    Vanadium 50

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    I can. You say here that you didn't do the homework.
  13. Jun 25, 2015 #12
    V50, that's an old post. In E&M I did all the homework on Mastering Physics and 90% of the paper (traditional) homework. And to add on to it, I actually got a D- in it, as opposed to D+ in the physics class that I didn't do a lot of the homework in. Test scores differences were also comparably insignificant.
  14. Jun 25, 2015 #13
    90% is still not 100%. We stressed in the thread that doing all he homework is the bare MINIMUM. You need to go beyond.

    Besides, it's not an old post, it's 2 months ago. It means that 2 months ago, you had a bad understanding of physics due to not doing homework. That understanding of physics will not just come with you doing the homework for 2 months. You actually need to sit down and understand those fundamentals that you missed.
  15. Jun 25, 2015 #14
    I understand you guys are trying to make a point, and I get it, but I'm not sure why you have to be so forceful in getting it across...in any case, I think that 90% is still better than 0% or 10%. I really doubt that getting that extra 10% of homework done would've made my grade jump up from a D- to, say, a B or even an A.

    Btw, when I said I didn't do the homework (or a lot of it), I was talking about the mechanics class, not E&M.
  16. Jun 25, 2015 #15


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    If you're taking classes that use MasteringPhysics-based textbooks, then something already feels off to me. I would probably get a D in those classes too, just as a function of getting bored or frustrated with the low quality of the books.
  17. Jun 25, 2015 #16
    Pmr, I do feel that Mastering Physics contributed little to nothing to my understanding of the subject. I honestly felt like it was more of an intellectual exercise or a computer game instead of actually learning physics.

    To add to the discussion, I used the book by Randall D. Knight (Physics for Scientists and Engineers 3rd edition).
  18. Jun 25, 2015 #17
    I guess I'm a bit cranky because you didn't mention the previous post of yours which feels like a necessary background to understand your issues now.

    I didn't say that you should do 10% more homework. I said that the homework is the minimum you should do. So you should do way more than 100% of the homework.

    They are interconnected. A lot of understanding from E&M comes from mechanics.
  19. Jun 25, 2015 #18
    Micromass, you say that I should do way more than 100%, then what is the point of the homework? If the homework doesn't help me to get at least familiar and some depth in the subject, then it means that the homework is useless, and that I should just rely more on exercises I pick out from the book. Is that what you're saying?
  20. Jun 25, 2015 #19
    Homework is a way for the student to see how he's doing in the class and what kind of questions he is required to solve. As such, it did its intended purpose: since your homework was terrible (as you say), it showed you that you had an inadequate understanding of the material. To response to that should be you seeking out other sources and make sure you get the extra understanding. It does not mean relying on homework alone and doing nothing else.

    Also, if you feel the book is terrible, then you should get a better book with more challenging problems.
  21. Jun 25, 2015 #20
    Micromass, what kind of material would enhance my understanding instead of just doing more and more book problems? I have thought about reading some of the Feynman lectures (6 Easy Pieces, etc). Also, this could probably help indirectly, but I tend to also read just popular books or books that talk about physics, philosophy, history, etc. Not sure if those help in any way. For example, if I am still a physics major, does reading philosophy of physics help me? I also learn foreign languages (I know, side point), but does that supplement me in anyway? Does it add to critical thinking or help in being more logical in science? I have read an article a while back that says that learning foreign languages can help in scientific thinking (in fact, there are many articles online that have made this claim). Any tips would be appreciated.
  22. Jun 25, 2015 #21
  23. Jun 25, 2015 #22


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    Anosh 88,

    What is your plan for moving forward from this point?

    In summary, it sounds like you've had some serious stuggles over the last year. As you've been told, D grades aren't going to cut it if you want to continue as a physics student, so you need a plan for correcting this and moving forward. Without a plan for improving, you're really just going to be wasting your time. But you can certainly recover from where you're atr.

    So now you have a summer in front of you. One part of a plan might be to review the material in the classes you struggled with. One key feature I see in successful students is that when they don't get a perfect (or near perfect) mark, they take the time to figure out where they went wrong even though the course is over and the grades are in. They understand that learning the material is not over when the course is completed. They go back and revise and figure out their errors. Without doing this a student risks building on a faulty foundation.
  24. Jun 25, 2015 #23
    Choppy, I have decided to just settle for a major in math. And while I am doing math, I will review the physics book I have and do the problems at my own pace. When I get to the level of master's in math, I might think about getting a degree in physics if I am feeling up to it. This is the only sensible thing I can do for the moment as, like you said, I don't want to waste time and money. I feel that at this moment it is too late and hectic to recover. There would be too much reviewing to do.
  25. Jun 26, 2015 #24
    I know I'm not a major Physicist - just someone who deeply wants to learn it. Granted, my two cents here might be null and void in the Academic Department as I myself am desperately seeking Physicist friends to help guide me forward, but I do know a little something about giving up.

    Don't back down just because something is challenging. Who cares if you got a D in those classes? If you want to succeed, you will. Just try again. And again, after that, if you need to. It might seem childlike to say something like that, but if you truly are a scientist and are passionate about what it is you're doing, you won't let something like grades stop you. Just do the concept until you get it right.

    One thing I notice is that you read the chapter prior to taking the lecture. I don't think this is a good idea at all. For one, it doesn't give your brain ample time to rest and absorb/comprehend the concepts you've just learned. You should either read it first thing when you wake up or the night before (or BOTH), take notes and hilight what you don't understand, and then go to the lectures.

    If there are words or rationales that just don't make sense to you - Hilight them. It means that the building blocks are lost. You may have to go back to the basics to understand them, but there's nothing wrong with that. Do what you gotta do.

    Also, get tutors. If you're struggling, you NEED that one-on-one time, otherwise, you'll never be able to untangle the frustrating knot of learning concepts at your own pace. It might be expensive and it might be difficult as hell to get one, but do it.

    I know I'm not qualified to make any presuppositions or assumptions on Physics. But I do know that you don't just give up because something is difficult, hard, or challenging. That's total bullshit. Sure, someone else might be better at it than you - but they had to learn it. They had to learn it and so do you. Maybe the concept was easier for them, but I'm sure you know things that come easier to you than others. Everyone learns differently and everyone learns at different paces. Be patient with yourself and do not give up. If you're not passing a class, take notes and write down why, what, and how you think you'll get better. If you fail a class. Oh well. Take it again.

  26. Jun 26, 2015 #25
    Indi, thanks for the encouragement, but I think that for now the wisest thing to do would be to go for math and then get back into physics when I feel ready. I might need to go in my own pace before I can go for a degree in physics.
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