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So I failed. Now what?

  1. Dec 11, 2007 #1
    Just got done with my E&M exam. I can guarantee I won't be joining my friends next quarter in E&M2.

    I had studied the week prior and nothing was sticking in my brain. It culminated in me looking over my returned homeworks and exams and not understanding how I got my answers. The answers that I got correct.

    There's also a good chance I failed QM this quarter. This class was supposed to be a lot easier for me. I understood the material and did much better on the homework. Exams still kicked my ass. For some reason the questions just blind-sided me.

    So, now that I failed 1, maybe 2 classes, where do I go from here? I know some of you have dropped out and came back and shot to the top, but I just can't see myself doing any better next quarter. Physics exams have been a problem for me ever since I transfered over to this school from a Community College (I took 1st year Phys, Multivariable Calc, Linear Algebra, Diff EQ's over there). Studying actually correlated to higher grades over there for me. On the tests in the physics classes here I always miss something. There's always something conceptual I seem to miss when looking at the problem. After someone tells me, it's painfully obvious, but during the test for the life of me I can't figure it out. Even in my circuits class, people who couldn't hook up a resistor to a battery to save their life would score higher than me.

    I just don't know what to do. To top it off, I talked to a prof I work for about grad school (should be applying next year) and he said my grades should be good. A 3.0 in this school isn't that great, he said. Yeah. I wish I was getting a 3.0.
  2. jcsd
  3. Dec 11, 2007 #2


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    Don't quit if you want to do physics. If that looks too difficult, consider something in engineering.

    One could retake the courses. Also make use of PF to ask questions.
  4. Dec 11, 2007 #3


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    Don't panic!!!

    First talk to the tutor/course director and see what the rules are - can you resit, can you retake these exams next year but progress to the next year anyway, can you simply repeat a year ?
    Then talk to the lecturers/tutors for the course - did you just flunk an exam or do you really not understand the course ?
    Are these required courses or can you change your options to take slightly less mathematical courses and still get a degree?
  5. Dec 11, 2007 #4

    I remember undergrad QM I had a professor who refused to give partial credit. It was simply his policy-- if you made a mistake, you received zero points. He said that in the real world, one mistake makes it worth nothing.

    In the first three weeks (three hw assignments and a small quiz) I scored no points. Zero. Zilch. Nothing. I would make a careless error here, or a problem was too hard there. I joked with my peers that I couldn't do this if I was trying to. A normal student may have dropped the class. I refused.

    Well, when I got the third hw assignment back I decided (you shouldn't wait this long, btw) I should go to office hours. The professor was a man of very few words, and he has a habit of giving pep talks in class, at the end of class. I think he had to to make up for his zero tolerance policy. Well, at the end of the hour, after we went over some problems, he stopped me as I was leaving, and said, "Just keep trying. You'll do better. Keep trying, you'll score points," or something like that. Very brief, but it was a good pick-me-up.

    Just keep trying. If you do, in fact, fail the course, think how much easier it will be the second time around, and how much better you'll understand the material. Silver linings and all that. If you enjoy it, you've just got to keep at it.

    Now if you're not enjoying it anymore, that's a separate issue. Remember, though, that if you want it, you can do it, and besides, F's aren't all bad-- you can replace them at most schools for GPA purposes. Seriously, though, don't count your chickens; you haven't even got the test back. Maybe everyone else did equally poorly :-)
  6. Dec 11, 2007 #5
    I would consider engineering or comp sci, since I kind of want to become an engineer after I get my physics schooling done, but this is my 4th year in college already. Switching to a different major would require at least 2 more years of study if I took a lot of classes per quarter. That's what's stopping me from considering it.

    Especially since if I went to engineering or comp sci, I'd want to go get my Master's anyway. So tack on another 2 years.

    Repeating the course is the obvious solution. But like I said, I had major problems understanding the material the first time through, and I need a solution to stop that in the first place so I don't have to retake every course I take just to understand it.

    Unfortunately, this was E&M and QM, which are the core classes of the curriculum. Also needed for the GRE, etc. So I NEED to know this if I want to say I know physics.

    I did poorly throughout the quarter. I really didn't understand the course. I guess I could say the same for QM, actually. If you do poorly on all 3 tests in the class, that pretty much means you don't understand the course, right? Although I don't think I flunked any exam outright, I don't think it will be enough to pass the class in QM.

    I had a similar experience, actually. Multivariable calc. Got a bad grade on the first exam. Studied hard. Pulled off a 3.7 in the class.

    Last year in Math Physics, same thing. Did poorly on the first exam. Studied hard. Did much better on the 2nd exam. So did everybody else. Suddenly it didn't feel so good.
  7. Dec 11, 2007 #6


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    One might find that one understands the material the second time, and one can study in the meantime. But wait until the results come in and plan accordingly.

    Does one have an academic advisor in the physics department? If so, perhaps one could discuss one's options with him/her. Also, one can still take the GRE. It might be worthwhile to do so.

    What texts is one using for QM? IIRC, one used Giancoli one year and Griffith's during the current program.
    Last edited: Dec 11, 2007
  8. Dec 11, 2007 #7
    Well I agree it would be easier the second time around, but what happens when I hit EM2/EM3/QM2 or any courses next year? I need to figure out ways to study so that I don't have to retake classes to understand the material. It also won't feel right acing the class the second time around, because I have an unfair advantage over the rest of the class...

    My academic adviser is... not... competent, to put it nicely. I'd probably be better off talking to a professor about it, but I'd feel so ashamed to talk to the ones I know. I can't imagine going up to one of them and saying "Hey, I failed your class. What do I do now?" or "Hey boss, I failed a class. What do I do now?" for the professor I work under. It's likely I'd instantly lose my job under him. I'm not doing much, just a website for his current project, but I'd see it similar as "No desert until you eat your dinner."

    Griffiths Intro to XXXX for both QM and E&M. The text itself isn't bad, but I wish there were answers in the back of the book. The prof from QM gives example problems from the book and provides answers, which is as close as you can get, but the EM prof simply adds 1 or 2 more homework problems but only makes some of them worth points (and marks which ones those are). Nice for a test, but if I want to figure out how to do the homework itself, it would be nice to have easier problems to work up from. Also, I would get to decide which ones are easier, which would be the main benefit.

    I know there is a solution's manual, but I've been told you have to be a professor to buy it.
  9. Dec 11, 2007 #8
    Not true, at least not in practicality. Both of the textbooks you mentioned have solutions manuals available to download softcopies on the internet and purchase hardcopies on common internet market websites. A popular method of studying graduate-level E&M and QM in my department is to study Griffith's solutions.

    Edited to add: Unless it's against your department or course policy, I highly recommend obtaining those solutions manuals. Working his problems is great practice.
    Last edited: Dec 11, 2007
  10. Dec 11, 2007 #9


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    Why? They already know you failed if you did, so you don't have to explain or admit anything they don't already know about. Instead, they may be more impressed by a student who comes in and really wants to know how to correct the problem.

    Part of sitting down with the professor is to discuss those concepts you didn't remember or didn't grasp the first time. Were those based entirely on things learned in that class, or were they based on things you missed on some gap between your community college classes and what students in your current college are taught in those same intro classes? If that's the case, that can be remediated readily enough by going back and learning the stuff you missed.

    Or, it may turn out you aren't studying very effectively and need to find a new way to study.

    You need to find out WHY you failed before you can figure out how to deal with it.
  11. Dec 11, 2007 #10


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    Poop-Loops, if you have a problem with your academic advisor, get a different one.

    Go talk to the professors in whose classes you did poorly. When I was teaching, if a student came to me as a result of doing poorly, I was more happy to help. At least it shows some effort.

    I strongly suggest not obtaining solutions manuals or using them for homework, especially if homework is graded and the grade is part of the overall course grade. Copying homework solutions is cheating.

    In the real world, the answer is not in the back of book.
  12. Dec 11, 2007 #11
    hwo do you know you failed? In my computer architecture class I for sure thought I was going to fail but ended up with a C+ because everyone sucked hardcore in the class and the professor didn't want a bad review.

    I did very well on his projects/hw though and I think thats what helped me, he could see I just sucked at his exams but still understood the material.
  13. Dec 11, 2007 #12

    Chris Hillman

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    Poop-Loops: ditto some of the other comments.

    Sounds like you are very upset over what you fear was bad performance on a final earlier today. I say: have a nice vacation, do some stuff you enjoy, and most likley things will look better when you come back next semester, or at least not so dire. If it turns out that you really did do as badly as you fear, then if you still feel your current advisor has been offering bad advice, asking to switch advisors sounds reasonable. And by all means talk to professors you think you might have made a good impression on about strategies for getting the most out of your major; they may not be as pessimistic about your future as you are right now.

    Hope this helps!
  14. Dec 11, 2007 #13
    I know that the reason I failed is because I didn't understand the material in the class. Previous material is fine in my head.

    Finding a new way to study is kind of what I am asking. My problem was that I'd get stuck on part of a problem, then make the jump later, then get stuck on the next part.

    So if in an example in the book the author took 4 steps in solving the problem, I'd usually look at step 1, go "WTF???", look over it for half an hour, then finally sort of figure out what he did, then repeat in the next step. I never really figured out the principles of why he was doing those steps. I couldn't figure out how to apply it to the general case.

    There's only one physics adviser for the department. But talking to a professor is fair game, and should be the same thing, right?

    I guess I'll have to swallow my pride... err... what's left of it...

    I would definitely not use it as a means to cheat the homework. Cheating the homework also shows up on tests. My idea was to first do easier problems and simply check if I got the answer right, because at the moment doing the unassigned homework is pointless. When I figure out the easier problems, I can then tackle the assigned homework.

    A lot of the homework was also made up by the professors, so solutions manuals wouldn't help much there.
  15. Dec 11, 2007 #14

    Sounds like you need a group. If you work on the problems with other people in your class, you'll gain more insight more quickly. Four heads are better than two, you know? Just be sure to find the people who want to learn, and not the people who want to get it done the quickest. Or at least not the ones who only want to get it done the quickest.

    Another suggestion would be to write down your questions as they come up about the steps the author takes, and go and ask your prof during office hours. Did you find you were habitually too late in doing the hw that you didn't have time to see him/her?

    My last suggestion would be to do more problems. I see the obvious difficulties with simply doing more until you do the above, but most profs won't mind helping you with unassigned problems as well. Your groupmates may not be interested, however :-)

    One last thing-- you made some comments in earlier posts:

    (Emphasis mine). There's no question that Physics can be competitive. Learning, however, is often a group effort. Why would you feel bad just because everyone else did the same thing? That's outstanding! What is an unfair advantage? If you find you have more knowledge, you'll be even more useful to your peers, and people will want to work with you more!

    It's not you vs every other student in the class. If you keep that attitude, it becomes about winning, being smarter, getting an A, getting a better A than the guy next to you, etc etc. Keep it about physics, find the fun again. Make it about learning.

    There's always someone smarter down the hall, so to speak.
  16. Dec 11, 2007 #15
    First of all, I want to thank everybody in the thread for helping me out. I posted it right after my exam was over and I was almost shaking. I feel a lot better now.

    Funny thing about the homework. QM homework was due Wednesdays, EM Fridays. So usually what would happen is from Friday to Wednesday I would do QM, then EM from Wednesday until Friday. Horrible setup, but I just could not break.

    Truth. And it's also true that many of my friends in my current classes would get together regularly and study. That probably helped a lot. But they live on or very close to campus, and I live an hour's drive away, so when they say they want to meet up at 8pm or so to study on a Friday, it's fine for them, but the buses don't even go that late.

    Anyway, my point is that me studying in a group isn't very plausible. I can't seem to find a good time to get together with others. I mean, even if I decided to stay until 8 o' clock and take a slew of different buses home, I'd still have to eat while on campus, and I don't have that kind of money. I already bring my own lunch, and that lasts me until around 2pm.

    I did get together when it was convenient, though, like right after class if people had time, or something.
  17. Dec 11, 2007 #16
    I also had some difficulties with EM and I'd suggest a few things
    - it is a tough course and you should put aside extra time for it. Try out extra books that are well known for the course and look over them to get a better grasp of the content. Some material may be better explained in one book compared to the other.

    Some great books for EM are
    * EM by Griffiths
    * EM applications by D.K. Cheng
    * EM by jackson

    - refer to lecture notes by different universities - the MIT open courseware is a blessing

    - Try the problems early on. I'm suprised that you left most of the studying till the last week. Thats an insane amount of material to cram in one week.

    Why not start from the first week and set aside a couple of hrs/week for the subject and slowly increase it during the semester. By the time you have 1week left till the final you should be pumping out past paper solutions

    - see the professor when you're stuck - you are paying for your degree, you should understand the content presented to you

    - try google , search for some solved problems, ask friends, form study groups.

    Our EM1 course wasn't so bad , but EM2 - applications of Electromagentic circuits (High and Low frequency) analysis for EE was what killed us, being considered the toughest course in our degree. Even with weekly study, finishing the book we still lost sleep 3 weeks before the final. I managed to pull a 75% on the final. The course had a 60% failure rate. So you see there are reasons why you should prepare early

    My advice right now would be to ask some friends for revision notes and solved problems and see if you can take a resit paper. If not then make use of these holidays to get a head start for next semester and use the advice above and put it to good use.

    best of luck
    Last edited: Dec 12, 2007
  18. Dec 12, 2007 #17
    Undergraduate advisers are administrators. They know the bureaucracy of getting you through your degree program, but not necessarily the guts of the actual courses. Talk to the professor whose class you failed if they are at all approachable. If other professors regularly teach the class, you might also talk to some of them. There is also probably an undergraduate faculty adviser (or some such title), namely a professor who is responsible for undergraduates, curriculum issues, and in general everything that's not the daily administrative ins and outs.

    If every physicist ever was able to make it through everything on the first try, there wouldn't be half so much worry over studying physics education. It sucks, but it's not necessarily insurmountable.
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