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Studying Struggling a lot with physics but not mathematics.

  1. Nov 25, 2017 #1
    I'm currently in my first year of a physics program and keep finding myself enjoying mathematics more simply because it makes more sense. I understand everything the teacher goes through but when it's mechanics in particular I simply keep coming to a stop when doing practice problems. I simply find the problems in physics to be very difficult compared to what we go through in mathematics.

    What should I do? I want to become better in general and I'm willing to put a lot of hours and energy if needed.
  2. jcsd
  3. Nov 25, 2017 #2


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    Science Advisor
    Education Advisor

    A few of the Usual Suspects:
    1. Sometimes when people excel in on area and not in another in their first year classes is because of their high-school preparation or lack thereof. Is it possible you need to spend more time reviewing basic concepts that your professor is treating as "assumed knowledge." Did you do well in physics in high school? What's different between now and then?
    2. How much time are you putting in right now? Sometimes getting better is really just a matter of time in. Study techniques that can work in high school, such as cramming the night before the exam, or sitting down to do the homework without seriously reviewing lecture notes, don't work as well in university.
    3. Can you get more specific about things that you're struggling with? Do you understand the professor? Is the textbook the problem? A common solution to these issues is to get the basic material from the lectures and then independently read up on it with a resource that works better for you.
    4. While counter-intuitive for someone who is doing well in mathematics classes, is the problem the math? Sometimes with co-requisite courses physics professors can assume that certain topics have been covered before they actually are. So even if you understand the math you've covered well, you might struggle with the stuff you have yet to encounter. Solutions to this include: discussing the math with the professor or TAs during office hours, and identifying what needs to be covered and reviewing it independently.
    5. Is it a time of day thing? Are you a morning person with an 8:00am math class, who's exhausted for your 6-9 marathon physics lectures? Or the other way around? If so, you might want to look at transferring sections or auditing a more convenient class, if possible.
  4. Nov 25, 2017 #3
    1. I did somewhat well in high school physics, my biggest weakness then was mechanics and we didn't have any exams on it thus no incentive to study it back then.
    2. The last week I didn't study a lot, now however I put about 80% of my free time into my studies. I study so that I have around 1-2 hours of relaxation every day, that is several hours of studying.
    3. I understand everything the professor goes through and when I'm stuck I try to ask for clarifications which always does the trick for me. The book we are using has little theory and very difficult problems, makes it hard for me (a lot of my classmates are also struggling).
    4. The math has never been the problem, quite the opposite, it's the easy part. The problem is thinking in 3D, to simplify a system and solving it. To know how to begin when approaching a problem in physics, what methods and why etc.
    5. Not sure about this, we have minimal amount of lectures in my country, at least 50% of what you go through, including theory, is done at home. I can study effectively whenever I want, even at night or early morning. I really like physics and math, makes me energetic (mechanics makes me sad).
  5. Nov 25, 2017 #4
    Can it be that the math you "excel in" is only of the computational variety? Ie., you have a problem and you know what formula to use due to repetition and memorizing how said problem solution should look like without understanding the why?

    Are you reading your book? What book are you using?

    Are you ok with vectors and their properties?

    Are you ok at implementing Newton's Laws?

    Can you construct useful force diagrams with all the appropriate forces most of the time?

    Are you doing a lot of problems, without looking at the solution or answer key, before giving said problem an honest try?
  6. Nov 25, 2017 #5


    Staff: Mentor

    To add to what @MidgetDwarf said, being able to think in 3D, and to simplify and solve a set of equations sounds like math, to me. In the math classes you have had, wasn't there some class where you graphed surfaces in 3D space?

    Also, in another thread you said you had some trouble with mathematics, particularly linear algebra. You mentioned that you weren't having as much trouble in an analysis course of some kind.

    Two things that strike me from other threads you've started, are that 1) you might not be studying enough -- 3 hours isn't really all that much, especially in classes like physics, and 2) you might not be studying in the most effective way. If by "studying" all you mean is reading the material, that isn't the best way to do things. Reading something and deciding it makes sense is not at all the same as working problems.
    Last edited: Nov 25, 2017
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