Tag Archives: summer prep for physics

What to do to prepare for taking physics: 1. Introduction

Over the next week I’ll be writing some posts about good things to practice and know before you start taking a physics class. This includes making sure your math is solid, and getting a head start on the basics before school starts. Each day I’ll post a short practice assignment. You can post answers here in the comments, or email them to me with questions.

Here’s what I’ll be covering:

1. Introduction (ie. this post 🙂 )

2. Are your math skills ready for physics?

3. What are significant digits and why are they significant?

4. Why does everybody think physics is hard? (An introduction to problem solving.)

5. SI Units and the Metric System

6. When should you start studying for the AP test, and what can you do at the beginning of the year to make that easier?

7. A head start on 1-dimensional kinematics (usually the first thing you learn).

In each of these, I’ll be giving links to resources (using them will be part of the homework) so that when school starts you’ll already have a ton of places to go to get extra information (plus you can always ask me questions here or on my facebook page.)

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What to do if you’re taking calculus-based physics next year and you haven’t taken calculus yet

Every year I have a couple of students who are taking calculus-based physics at the same time as calculus. Traditionally, you take calculus first, and then  you take physics with calculus. The calculus used in these introductory physics classes is usually simple enough that it’s not impossible to take them both at the same time, but it’s definitely a challenge. I wouldn’t recommend it if you can avoid it, but if you can’t there are some things you can do over the summer that will make next year go much more smoothly:

  • Recognize that you’re at a disadvantage. The worst thing possible outcome is that you end up thinking you’re bad a physics. Even if there isn’t much calculus in the course, a lot of the ideas in physics are covered in calculus. There is a lot of conceptual overlap. So, just keep in mind that everyone else who took calc last year has had a whole year to get comfortable with these ideas and to practice them. Also, you’re having to learn two challenging things at once. Not only that, but you’re having to put them together. It’s as if you just learned how to juggle and you also just learned how to ride a bike, but you’re forced to practice them both at the same time.
  • Get a head start on calc. I recommend Calculus Made Easy, which is actually the book I used to help me learn calc when I was in high school. Start at the beginning and work up through chapter 8. Take your time. Focus more on the ideas than on the math.
  • Work through my book Rates of Change. I feel like recommending this to you is a bit of a conflict of interest on my part, and I agonized over whether to include it in this post, but I really do think it helps make the fundamental ideas much clearer.

Lastly, once school starts, don’t hesitate to ask for help, either from your teacher, a tutor, or me.