Does anyone know if it’s better to take calculus based physics or regular physics? Would you be more prepared on the MCAT having taken the calculus one vs the regular physics? I am taking Calculus now and doing really well. I need to start my physics series next semester and wasn’t sure which way to go. Any advice would be appreciated. Thanks!

I don’t think that Calculus-based physics will give you a leg up for the MCAT. Having a calculus background might help elucidate the origin of some of the physics formulas.

For whatever reason, I’ve seen a number of advisement offices and sites that officially recommend pre-meds take calc-based physics. I don’t know that there’s necessarily any benefit to doing so.

The end result: go with whichever you think you’ll understand the best. If calculus helps things make sense to you, you may want to lean towards the calc-based. Otherwise, the non-calc is generally considered a touch easier, despite being equivalent for all of the med school pre-reqs I’ve looked at.

This is an interesting question; I’d like to know how strong your math background should be before taking physics. I’m currently taking algebra at a cc to review, but I have my doubts as to whether that is enough.


i specifically asked this question at my University and they said it makes absolutely no difference to med schools which physics you take, so long as you complete your physics requirements and labs.

I started taking calc-based physics and had to drop it because I needed surgery and am now currently enrolled in non-calc based physics (PHY2053) and I can tell you that the difference is really negligible. For example, in calc based physics, you’re asked to find instantaneous velocity taking the derivative of a motion function. In non-calc based physics, you find the slope of the tangent line of the curve using algebra. It’s essentially the same process, just arrived at using different means. That being said, the form of the questions are a “slight” bit easier in the non-calc physics. For example, you’re asked a lot more trig based questions, so brush up on your trig if you are rusty with it. If you can remember the law of sines, law of cosines, unit circle, etc. you’ll make your life much easier.

I am kind of surprised how a little bit of calc DOES show up in “non-calc” based physics. It’s really impossible to study physics without calc, because calc is what makes physics tick.

But I find that for me personally, it seems to help seeing the algebra behind the physics as well because it seems to show a “nuts & bolts” approach to finding what information you’re asked to give. The calc based side of things is simple, just take f’(x) for velocity, take f’’(x) for acceleration (instantaneous in both instances) and wham-o, you have your two answers without really knowing how they were found and what you actually did. Now, if you DO indeed know what you did and you don’t need to dwell on that fact that the derivative really is the slope of the tangent line of a curve, then great. But I would recommend you take the “less calc” based physics, I wouldn’t fret it a single bit and wouldn’t lose any sleep over the fact that you didn’t take a physics with calculus course.

Just my 2 cents.


Hi justin,

Thank you for you detailed response. It really helps. It’s really easy to do math problems, get the right answer and not really understand the theory behind it. I can easily find the derivative, but it sounds like the non calc based physics is the way to go. Thanks!