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Why is physics so hard?

  1. Oct 28, 2014 #1
    I would like to know why is that this course is so hard? I have never put so many hours and nights trying to understand a course and still feel very lost.

    90% of my college class (Physics 201) has failed the exam. My fellow students in my team have the best GPA 3.5 and up and they are getting tutors and/or dropping the class to retake it later. YET there are these couple of students who hardly study and they pass every test is given to them, they understand everything without studying. Why? does it have to do with right brain/left brain? or they are simply studying a lot and not telling.

    I would love to be aware of how people approach this course. I know Math is very "methodical and students practice and practice" and they pass, Biology is "memorization" and they pass, English as a second language is "exposure", what about physics??
    Last edited: Oct 28, 2014
  2. jcsd
  3. Oct 28, 2014 #2
    This is a complicated answer. Physics is hard because you don't put in the time, you have an inefficient study method, and most people have been exposed to physics only upon entering university. Some people have been studying physics since elementary school.

    There is more to your response, but physics is hard, generally. Study, and get over it. Don't quit!
  4. Oct 28, 2014 #3
    Thank you Eddie, no I won't quit
  5. Oct 28, 2014 #4
    Thats what I want to know Eddie, WHICH METHOD OF STUDY SHOULD I USE????
  6. Oct 28, 2014 #5
    I think you're looking at this all wrong.
    As you mentioned above, a couple of students pass the exam without studying, they're actually not studying. They're applying what they study. You just have to figure out what you can relate to physics regarding your daily life.
  7. Oct 28, 2014 #6


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    That depends on where you're having difficulty. Is it doing the math? Figuring out how to do the problem? Not knowing terms? Etc.
  8. Oct 28, 2014 #7
    Figuring out how to do the problem would be my issue. What formulas to apply, how to approach the problem
  9. Oct 28, 2014 #8


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    When I used to teach intro physics courses in college, the most COMMON reason why many students had problems doing physics was because they were weak in mathematics. I lost track how many times I had to go back and actually teach basic trigonometry because some students didn't know how to get the components of a vector just because the angle they were given was switched around! Yet, since this was part of a physics class, they think that it is physics that they were having problems with. As one progresses further into more advanced physics, we can immediately see that it is the mathematics that becomes very daunting. Try solving for the spherical harmonics in E&M classes, etc.

    The conceptual aspects of physics can be a challenge, but for most students, especially at the undergraduate level, it is the mathematics that they struggle with more often than not, not the physics.

  10. Oct 28, 2014 #9
    I'm a little busy with midterms, and other stuff, but I'll try to post an in-depth response as to why students in a physics course might not do so well.

    Cheers! =-D
  11. Oct 28, 2014 #10
    TA'ing some 3rd year physics majors and getting to know some fellow grad students from around the world, I've noticed a few things. Those do well on exams typically do not follow the syllabus to the letter and do problems beyond what is required of them through homeworks. The mathematical preparation I've seen is also holding many of them back. They may spend hours reading their textbooks but that does not build problem solving ability in the slightest.

    Physics and math are skills that have to be worked at consistently at a high level, and that means racking up a history of solving problems thoroughly and making many mistakes (and learning from them!). This requires a thick skin intellectually speaking, it is hard and uncomfortable to do a problem wrong. Hopefully you do this enough on your own time so it does not happen on homework assignments and exams.
  12. Oct 28, 2014 #11


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    My secret was to get other textbooks from the library (similar textbooks to what we were using) and go through all the examples and work as many of the problems I could. It was time consuming but I found that each book approached similar problems in a slightly different way and it helped me a lot to solve problems on my own.
  13. Oct 28, 2014 #12


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    • Most of the students have never done much analytical thinking before.
    • Some students either DID study but just do not say so; or are repeating the course after working hard the first time; or studied on their own before being in the current term's course; or a small few might be geniuses.
    • Physics success at least in the beginning rigorous course relies on following directions, analyzing the details which build a situation, and trusting your algebra & trigonometry.
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