Preparing for Physics

I’m one of those who didn’t have a math intensive high school curriculum and it tapered off after that. I need to prepare myself for Physics (and chemistry as well) by essentially taking all those HS and undergrad math courses again.

I’m going to start with “Practical Algebra” and I decided on a 4 month goal to complete the book. I have no idea if that’s realistic or not, but it’s meant to reflect a semester. I’ve heard that I should follow that with geometry and trig next.

For those who’ve completed their pre-reqs/MCAT, is this a logical progression? If not, what self paced books or courses would you recommend? I’m working full time right now and I want to prepare for the post bac pre med by self study, I don’t want to enroll in actual classes prior to then. I’m actually giving myself a generous amount of time (for other reasons) and plan to start my pre-med in the fall 2012 semester.

My wife and I homeschool our kids, and we used Saxon Math for a long time. Still do for some of them. My kids did well in Saxon Math, but the oldest didn’t like it, so he went with a different program (don’t remember the name right now) that he liked better. All these materials are available for a relatively small price, and may even be available at your local library for an even smaller price :).

I check the local Universities website - look up the course number and then search textbooks they list for the course.

Then I like reading reviews at amazon, and pick up the book at the library if available else buy it.

In my opinion 4 months sound pretty good for algebra if you set a couple of hours aside to work through the book problems everyday.

I don’t know that it’s necessary to spend much time on geometry. I’ve completed all of the pre-reqs, and have only encountered a few instances when I needed to draw upon something from geometry that wasn’t touched upon in trig. The only thing that comes to mind are the special triangle rules and stuff like adjacent angles of congruent are congruent… If none of that sounds familiar, by all means study up on the geometry, but don’t waste any time practicing proofs and postulates. Just learn about angles.

If you’re taking the physics that matters, which is the calculus based physics, then you have to have the calculus down. When I got to physics in college, I was weak on my calculus (C in the course), and it hurt my grade in physics too. It wasn’t understanding the concepts at all, it was being able to prove it all on paper that was my problem.

Rather than self study, I’d take a more directed course. MIT offers some great on line courses, but I’m not sure if they offer any math. Here’s the link:

Have you considered getting a tutor? I hired a grad student, met once a week for about 4 months to get enough algebra and trig for chem and physics respectively. It worked out well. He assigned problems based on what he knew I would need, and I worked at my own pace. We even had a couple of weeks left where we got into the basics of calculus, which was fun, but ultimately never needed it to get through the post-bacc work.

Thanks everyone for all the suggestions.

Great suggestion. This will help me narrow down my studying as well as getting the pre med adviser to confirm if I’ll need these as pre reqs to my pre reqs. I’ve already been able to search and find the pre calc textbook they are using for Algebra. Ironically, one of the general physics courses describes itself as “a non calc intro to physics” while still requiring the pre calc course in Algebra.

Great resource of information, thanks.

If you do decide to do some self-study, here’s my suggestion:

I’m in physics and chem right now, and it had been a LONG time since I had taken any math (high school in 1999). So I decided to do my own review of math last summer before taking those courses. My strategy in choosing books was to check out several different ones from my local library. I went through each of them briefly, scanning them, noting how they taught the math concepts, how many practice exercises they offered, etc., and then picked out which one seemed to be the one best suited to my learning style. Then I bought that one from my local bookstore (so that I could keep it as long as I needed, could mark it up / highlight, etc.).

Best wishes to you!

Are you taking algebra based or calculus based Physics?

What made you decide to pick one or the other?

Which one is better for MCAT study? Would you know?

I’m not sure if the previous question was directed at me but I’ll take a shot at it …

I’m taking algebra-based physics (called “college” physics at my school). From the research I’ve done (and from what my pre-med advisor told me), it seems that most med schools don’t require you to have taken calculus-based physics. Taking the calc-based class just seemed unnecessary, and while I am pretty confident in my math skills (and did very well when I took calc way back when), I find that physics alone is hard enough – without adding the whole calculus bit in! Also, the physics you need to know for the MCAT is algebra-based physics. Another reason to stick with that course. Hope that helps!

A general note – physics seems to scare a lot of people … and in the past, I would have put myself in that camp. But I’m really finding that it’s not so bad, if you stick with it and do LOTS and LOTS of practice problems. My professor assigns maybe 10-12 problems per week as homework. But I do WAY more than that on my own (the answers to the odd-numbered problems are in the back of our textbook, so that helps to show me if I’m on the right track or not). I do so many problems in part so I can really get the concepts down, but also to practice for speed – on our last exam, we had 7 problems to do in 50 minutes. That’s less than 10 minutes per problem, and many of the problems had multiple parts! So if you get stuck, or have to think too long and hard about anything, you’re in trouble.

So whichever class you choose, PRACTICE is my word of advice.

Best of luck! Let me know if you have any more questions.

I am one of the camp that finds physics daunting! It’s probably because I am horrible at math and have to try very hard to do well at it. They only offer “Physics” at my university, how do I find out if it’s algebra or calc based?

Rhonda: I’d check with the physics department or e-mail the professor who teaches the course.

Thanks for sharing info Terra. I will start in Spring 2011, but not sure which courses I will take in Spring 2011 … as it depends on if I will quit my job or not.

Good luck on your post-bacc.