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Should I take E&M next year?

  1. Mar 3, 2010 #1
    I am a junior in AP Physics (Mechanics).

    At my school, there are about forty seniors and two juniors in AP Physics C Mechanics and two seniors in AP Physics C E&M. The other junior isn't doing to well in mechanics; he is signed up for E&M but my teacher is trying to dissuade him. During my mechanics class, the two E&M kids sit in the back and teach themselves out of textbooks, the only "teaching" they can get is during my teacher's conference period, before, or after school. My teacher wants me to take E&M next year but cautions me because of its apparent difficulty.

    There are two classes, one of us juniors in each. At the beginning of the year, everyone expected me to fail. Now, I'm doing a lot better than most of the seniors in the class.

    I am in PreAP Precalculus now and I'm getting 95s and up, math comes naturally to me. My physics teacher says that since I don't have calculus under my belt, that only makes E&M more difficult. I LOVE math and physics, but I don't want to kill myself.

    What should I do?
  2. jcsd
  3. Mar 4, 2010 #2
    Honestly, I can't imagine that taking E & M without a solid foundation in calculus would go well for me. It's possible that you may have an easier time of it, though.

    Would it be possible for you to take a calculus course at a community college or something over the summer? If so, I think that would help out a lot.
  4. Mar 4, 2010 #3

    Both of the people who are in E&M this year are in the top 5 of the senior class (out of 650ish).
    One got accepted to MIT and one got wait-listed, they are both really smart.
    One took Calculus BC as a junior and is doing pretty well.
    One is in BC this year and is struggling.

    My school has a really good calculus teacher and she loaned me a college calculus book, so I've somewhat been teaching myself.

    I would take calculus over the summer, but I have neither the money nor the transportation.

    Did you take E&M in high school? Or do you know someone who did or is?
  5. Mar 4, 2010 #4
    My high school unfortunately didn't offer EM, however I do remember that when I took the introductory EM course as a freshman that calculus was used from the very first day of class. My guess is that the EM class at your school will be similarly structured, since it is at such an advanced level.

    Perhaps talk to the teacher of the class to see exactly what level of familiarity with calculus s/he recommends that you have before taking the class. It's possible s/he might even be willing to help you get up to speed in the meantime.
  6. Mar 4, 2010 #5


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    I took AP physics C, both mechanics and EM, my senior year of high school, a year after calculus ab and while simultaneously taking multivariable and linear algebra.

    The truth is, without a solid foundation in calculus, you cannot go much beyond an algebra based physics class. I suppose you can pick it up on the way (you must be already, if you're taking the mechanics portion of the ap physics), but it's certainly much more difficult and much less rewarding. You end up having to spend a lot of time drudging through (comparatively) simple integrals because you're simply not used to calculus.

    My point: What's the rush? Is there some class you want to take next year that you need to have done AP physics for? Really, there is nothing wrong with taking it slowly (for you, normal speed for others perhaps).
  7. Mar 21, 2010 #6
    I talked to my physics teacher. He told me that after AP exams this year, he'll let me borrow a calculus book of his and that he would help me. I'm trying to get into a good summer program (Harvard, Yale, Chicago, etc.) to perhaps take calculus.

    I'm not really in much of a rush, I just really like physics, and I don't want to go a year without it.
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