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What should I expect from 1st year physics?

  1. Aug 5, 2017 #1
    I just graduated from high school and uh welp, despite the fact that I didn't do well this year, I loved physics way too much to not continue with. If everything is hard in uni and will make me feel like I'm dying, I might as well like how I'm dying :p.

    Anyways, I was wondering what to expect from first year physics. I'm a little worried because my physics teacher didn't finish the curriculum with neither my class, nor the class I audited during my spare. Yikess.

    I have a friend who just finished first year uni and is taking physics over the summer. He sends me problems because he knows I enjoy solving them and uh grade 12 physics really didn't cover much at all.

    If I end up solving the problems, it's because I was able to make out connections between the units given, and my logic worked, but never because I've learnt the basics behind those concepts. Usually he sends me questions related to electricity and magnetism which we didn't get to this year. So I'm usually looking at the questions going, "oh crap, I'm going in knowing nothing...".

    I no longer know what to expect. I've been told first year is similar to high school physics but from what I've seen so far, it's a jump from what I've been exposed to. I'm not sure how to brace for it. How much of a disadvantage am I at with not having learnt everything this year? Would doing AP physics off of edx be useful? I won't be getting my textbooks until classes start and I know what I need and don't need. Just a tiny,tad bit worried. :/ :(
  2. jcsd
  3. Aug 5, 2017 #2
    Picking up some details from elsewhere is all well and good, but you're going to do your best learning under the pressure of the course. It's not overwhelming if you really work hard.

    Here's what I suggest:
    1. Pick up your textbook early and try out some of the problems from chapter 1 and 2 (dimensional analysis and vectors/kinematics). If your algebra is solid, these problems are usually very intuitive. If not, ask for help here :)
    2. If your lecturer is lacking, find some supplementary lectures on youtube. I recommend Walter Lewin.
    3. When your class starts, try to do the HW as soon as it's assigned, and go into office hours to ask questions to your professor if you can't figure something out. Don't use solutions manuals.
    4. Use our homework help section to get help if you can't reach your professor for some reason :)
    5. Don't lose heart. There will likely be a bit of a curve, but you should try your best to be the one setting that curve.

    Good luck.
  4. Aug 5, 2017 #3


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    First year university Physics, if the fundamental Mechanics and Electricity & Magnetism for the science & engineering students, requires you have good - really good basic and Intermediate Algebra skill and at least some basic Trigonometry (to begin) knowledge. You then need much stronger Trigonometry knowledge and at least one year's worth of college level Calculus to be able to deal with The E & M course.

    An opinion: If you do really really well (like earn a B and deserved it) in the E & M course of your fundamental Physics sequence, then maybe you could choose Physics as your major field if you wanted. Otherwise,some OTHER part of science or Engineering could be a better choice.

    Do not worry so much about the difficulty of learning Physics. Just take the earlier posted advice given, be sure you have more than enough of the perquisite Mathematics taken care of, and study hard. Make decisions about major field choice as you progress.
  5. Aug 5, 2017 #4


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    Don't psyche yourself out.

    First year physics classes tend to get everyone on the same level. Some people will have covered a lot of the material in high school, others less so. So, you might be on the lower end of the curve as far as having covered the material formally before. But the professor should still cover most of it in the lectures. And sure, you might have to put in more time than average to cover the material, but the task is not insurmountable.

    When you're struggling it can be very tempting to fall back on excuses: my high school curriculum never covered this, my high school teacher was horrible, etc. In time that can lead to a self-defeating mantra. Instead, look at this this as an opportunity. You have the advantage of establishing your foundations in physics under the tutelage of a professor. Take advantage of that. You also won't have to correct many bad habits you may have otherwise picked up, and you certainly won't feel bored with having to review material you already know or ripped off because your paying however much money to do the same.
  6. Aug 7, 2017 #5
    I never thought of it that way but that's a great way to look at it! I was so scared that I was screwed for next year, but I'm gonna keep this in mind and hopefully it'll make a difference!

    As for the professor, that's a really big plus! My professor is reallyyyyy good. I was at the university for a mock lecture for my program and he was going over superposition (something I didn't touch again after gr11), but he taught it sooo well, actually explained some of the rules my physics teacher threw at us and his diagrams were amazing. I didn't have as much math as everyone else in that room,but I was able to keep up with what was going on because of how well he explained everything. Amazing professor!
  7. Aug 7, 2017 #6
    Not sure how bad the trig gets but it was my favourite unit in high school math :). (I'm Canadian so we don't have a trig course in high school (at least in my province), we have advanced functions where we learn trigonometry and the trig functions) and then in calculus we learn its derivatives.
  8. Aug 7, 2017 #7
    I've tried looking to see if I can order textbooks but the book store for my university only has one of my courses listed and doesn't have the materials required listed for that course :( so there's no way I can start early, but I picked up a gr12 physics textbook when they were giving them away at school, so I'm slowly going over grade 12 physics again, get myself into problem solving mode because It's been 7 months since I've done physics and uh things aren't looking too good .
    I was fortunate enough to go to a mock lecture and my professor is amazing,so good! My physics teacher gave us some rules but didn't explain them which this prof cleared up and despite the fact my math wasn't at the same level as those kids in that class, he explained stuff so well I was still able to understand what was going on and understood some of the math going on.

    Really need to work on asking questions, I never did in gr12 because I was afraid of my questions being stupid- like I've asked questions in that class but people who got it right away would comment on how stupid it was so uh I stopped and tried to figure things out on my own instead. (Aka here because people were really helpful and offered great feedback!)

    Thank you so much for the tips! Need to work on a lot of them actually, but I'll manage :)
  9. Aug 7, 2017 #8
    You mention not wanting to ask questions in lecture in case others think they're stupid - first of all, I doubt that's the case (others probably have the same question), but if it really bothers you just go to office hours. It sounds like your professor is good, so I'm sure he/she will love to take the time to answer your questions.
  10. Aug 7, 2017 #9


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    You might then have enough Trigonometry already studied in order to start some Physics - except for the possibly missing university level Calculus. You would best want to start with either PreCalculus or "elementary functions" or two separate courses of College Algebra and Trigonometry; to be taken AT your college or university. Some students from high school are not prepared, even if they had a combination Math course containing Trigonometry, and a year of Calculus; but need to do college level courses at their college or university so the stuff sticks better.
  11. Aug 7, 2017 #10


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    starstruck writes in topic discussion:
    Be aware of two things.
    Taking a summer-session course in a 'hard science' is usually a bad idea, unless the LENGTH of the course is the same as during the regular Autumn and Spring semester terms. Too short a time length does not allow for a student's needed development time.
    Fundamental Physics - Electricity And Magnetism is often much more difficult than the previous Mechanics course, at least and beyond the fact that the level of Calculus and Trigonometry needed is much greater. You almost certainly did not have that much studied yet from high school. You therefore may be worried unnecessarily.
  12. Aug 8, 2017 #11
    The reason why I was afraid was because of people in my class saying my questions were stupid :p so I completely stopped but my professor is really nice, spoke to him during the open house and such, was great with answering any questions I had :)
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