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Your Hardest Undergraduate Course

  1. Jul 21, 2013 #1
    So I'm curious which course(s) PF found the most difficult during undergrad, whether it's a math course, physics, engineering or art history!

    Difficulty is subjective as well as it's definition. It doesn't matter if it was your lowest grade or what you spent the most hours studying for, or some other ranking system entirely. Make sure you explain!

    Why was it the hardest course for you?

    What advice do you give to similar students taking the course?

    Feel free to answer if you haven't graduated yet :approve:

    ~

    Personally, it's 3rd-year Quantum Mechanics (still non-relativistic, dirac notation, 3D schrodinger, hydrogen atom). It was more mathematically intense than previous physics courses and Dirac notation confused the heck out of me. I lost sight of it as a physics course and forgot all those kets and operators were physical things. I lost motivation because of this and learning the subject became dull.

    I took some great advice and started reading different textbooks on the subject (Feynman's Lectures III is my favourite) and after reading like 5 different sources, I finally started to understand why things were being done the way they were. It seemed to me that each author was leaving something out that didn't complete the picture for me, and it required all of them together to do it. I came out loving the subject with more motivation than ever.
     
    Last edited by a moderator: Jul 22, 2013
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  3. Jul 21, 2013 #2
    Grad math methods for physicist.

    I was completely unprepared for the material and it moved very quickly.
     
  4. Jul 21, 2013 #3

    WannabeNewton

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    I haven't graduated yet but I took a course on formulating Lagrangian and Hamiltonian mechanics through the language of symplectic geometry/symplectic manifolds and it was a rough class -shivers-. Who knows, maybe it gets overshadowed by some other course that I take in the years to come xD.
     
  5. Jul 21, 2013 #4
    My focus is abstract algebra, and I struggled at first with my Analysis courses. I put in the time and came to love them though. Complex analysis is especially fun. I took a graduate course on Algebraic Topology last semester as an undergraduate student. I was the only undergraduate and the professor had a thick accent, but with lots of work I ended up doing quite well- but it was probably one of the toughest i've done.
    I am taking a 600 level course on Structure theory for Lie algebras next semester, in my final year of undergraduate (5th). It will probably be one of my most difficult, but most rewarding class. Often the two go hand in hand
     
  6. Jul 21, 2013 #5
    Organic chemistry has been my most difficult class so far. There was so much information to learn in such a short time-frame. I remember flipping through the text before the first term started and thinking to myself, "there's absolutely no way I can do this." Then I busted my butt, studied long hours, and ended up doing very well all three terms (quarter system, lab is in the third quarter along with a bit more book work).
     
  7. Jul 22, 2013 #6
    Before I switched into mathematics I had the luxury of taking Organic chemistry. I actually really liked it, it is a very visual subject. Unfortunately Like many courses, it is a course that seems to be taught for rote memorisation. Yet it was one of the first courses that gave me room to be at least 'visually' creative. Can't say I was a fan of labs. My two left hands and my anxiety never helped with that.
     
  8. Jul 22, 2013 #7
    Mathematics: Real analysis
    Physics: Electronics

    Electronics was difficult primarily because of the language barrier between the students and the professor as well as the marathon course sessions (90 minutes lecture followed by 180 minutes lab). Real analysis was just totally different compared to all the other mathematics I had taken.
     
  9. Jul 22, 2013 #8

    Fredrik

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    The first calculus course. The math course based on Rudin's "Principles of mathematical analysis" was also very hard, but we were better prepared for it.

    Our first calculus course was very difficult, mainly because the problems were really hard. We had to work pretty hard just to learn how to integrate lots of different functions, and even a perfect knowledge of that would only give you 4 points out of 32 on the exam, where we were supposed to need 16 points to pass. There were no easy problems on the exam. And we were a pretty lazy bunch of students. Out of 72 people who took the first exam, the best four people got 13 points. (The teachers decided to lower the requirement for a "pass" to 13 points, and to make a special exam for those who got at least 10 points).

    But passing the exam wasn't enough. We also had a list of 45 theorems that we had to learn how to prove. They were divided into three groups of 30, 10 and 5 theorems. After passing the written exam (about a week later), we had to prove one theorem chosen at random from each of the three groups, on a blackboard in front of the teacher.

    The only way to prepare for a course like this is to work very hard. Make sure that you know every trick in the book for how to integrate functions, every convergence test for series, etc., and do a lot of exercises where you have to use all of these tricks. Study the proofs very carefully. When you encounter a theorem, first spend some time trying to figure out the proof on your own. If you don't see it, read the proof, and don't feel bad about not being able to figure it out on your own. The first person to prove it probably had several years more experience than you, and may have spent weeks on the problem before he found the trick. When you feel like you understand the proof, put the book aside and try to prove the theorem. Imagine that you're explaining it to someone else. Then read the proof you've written. Would you understand it if you hadn't written it yourself? Are there ways to improve the proof or the explanation you imagined yourself making? If there is, do it again until there isn't. Don't stop until you can close your eyes and do the proof in your head.
     
  10. Jul 22, 2013 #9
    I'm going to say my most difficult course has been Applied Mathematics (engineering mathematics). Fourier series, partial differential equations, and a whole lot of other difficult mathematical topics. On top of that we had a pretty tough professor
     
  11. Jul 22, 2013 #10

    lisab

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    Upper division Electricity and Magnetism pretty much floored me.
     
  12. Jul 22, 2013 #11
    I would have to say my hardest math course was the first abstract algebra. Man i worked really hard in that class. Fortunately i had one of those moments where it all clicked when i took the second abstract algebra and the first week was a review of the topics in algebra 1.
     
  13. Jul 22, 2013 #12

    D H

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    Same here. I managed to get an A, but that was mostly sheer dumb luck. I got a 54 out of 100 on the midterm. The professor was one of those nasty ones who saw his job not as teaching but as showing us students how dumb we really were. He loved ridiculously hard problems such as "An electrician mistakenly wires a transmission line in the form of a Mobius strip. Describe the transients on the line."

    That midterm: He had posed two seemingly impossible problems on the test. My 54 was by far the highest score. The class average was 27. I saw that by rewording one of the questions and treating it as a freshman physics problem brought me just shy of a solution. The E&M finished it off. Then I saw I could do almost the same with the other impossible problem. My A was pretty much sealed with that stupid midterm.


    Other classes that were problematic for me were organic chemistry and European intellectual history, and I did not get an A on these.

    Organic was the pre-med bust-out course at my school. The competition to get a top grade was incredibly fierce. I managed to get a B, but it took over the 4 hours of study time per hour of lecture. (Apparently the pre-meds typically put in 6 to 8.)

    I took European intellectual history as a senior. Three years of technical classes had trained me to read extremely slowly and carefully. This did not jibe with the reading list, ~200 pages per week. The midterm wasn't a test. It was a paper. The final: a longer paper, and a test. And the term paper: It wasn't just a paper. It was a PAPER.
     
  14. Jul 22, 2013 #13

    462chevelle

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    I have a professor like this. but luckily he doesn't do it on tests. so I kind of like it. keeps me on my toes
     
  15. Jul 22, 2013 #14

    WannabeNewton

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    Last edited by a moderator: May 6, 2017
  16. Jul 22, 2013 #15
    My organic chemistry class would also be considered my favorite class in college so far. I loved every day of it. My professor was thankfully extremely gifted in teaching the material -- his class mainly relied on understanding the material rather than memorizing it. Of course there was still memorization involved, but not as much as I had assumed there would be.
     
  17. Jul 22, 2013 #16

    George Jones

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    My wife took a course that used this. My upper-level E&M courses (2) used Jackson,
     
  18. Jul 22, 2013 #17

    WannabeNewton

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    Jesus that couldn't have been fun lol. Was there a lot of coffee involved?
     
  19. Jul 22, 2013 #18

    D H

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    Last edited by a moderator: May 6, 2017
  20. Jul 22, 2013 #19

    WannabeNewton

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    Yeah I've heard from quite a few people that the classes that use that text are insanely brutal and one of the hardest of the physics courses in the undergrad program. At least the silver lining is it feels like heaven once you finish the course :p
     
  21. Jul 22, 2013 #20

    mathwonk

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    Many people agree that the hardest course was analysis. Most mathematicians of my generation took this as their first year "calculus" class, so we tend to say that first year calculus was the hardest, i.e. we all had a Spivak style calculus course first semester. This tends to be the same course as the real analysis which non honors students meet in junior/senior year, only we met it without the background of a computational calculus class. Hitting it freshman year, with only a high school algebra and geometry background, was definitely a wake up call.

    After that, the next hard course was graduate algebraic topology (Spanier), and the next one was graduate algebraic geometry (Hartshorne). In comparison, everything else was easy, except philosophy, which was such BS it was hard to figure out what they wanted to hear.
     
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