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Algebra vs. calculus-based physics?

Discussion in 'Pre-Medical - MD' started by GH253, May 28, 2010.

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  1. GH253

    GH253 7+ Year Member

    Mar 18, 2009
    Does it matter whether you take algebra-based or calculus based physics? Or is that more relevant to your major than your med school admissibility?
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  3. addo

    addo 5+ Year Member

    Mar 4, 2010
    It is more relevant to your major, and seeing how the mcat does not test calculus based physics, and if youre major doesnt require it, I would just take non-calculus physics. Youll have a much easier time getting an A, and like I said, calculus based physics will not give you an edge for the physics tested on the mcat.
  4. JoshuaGuit

    JoshuaGuit 2+ Year Member

    Jan 18, 2010
    Calculus based is easier and makes more sense... This is coming from someone at an engineering school though
    theriomorphos likes this.
  5. AUD

    AUD 7+ Year Member

    Mar 10, 2008
    I don't understand how its possible to learn physics without calc. You'd just be memorizing a set of equations and a set of rules to use them, as opposed to understanding the problem and the relationship between its components. Once you understand the latter, knowing how to solve the problem is easy.
  6. hobbes23

    hobbes23 7+ Year Member

    Dec 11, 2007
    You should take the Calc based one. You need to show that you can handle science at the level of a "for the major" class.
  7. LuciusVorenus

    LuciusVorenus Primus Pilus, Legio XIII Gemina 7+ Year Member

    Apr 14, 2009
    You might have an advantage if you take calc based when it comes to the MCAT. For example, if they ask you for the range/max height of a projectile and you've taken calc based you can really quickly derive that equation (and pretty much any other equation) off of a couple of really simple kinematic equations. For algebra based you'd have to memorize all those (sometimes obscene looking) equations.
    Last edited: May 28, 2010
  8. SweetRain

    SweetRain 5+ Year Member

    Jun 27, 2009
    I agree with everyone else. Applying calc to physics just makes your life easier. And it's not even hard calculus. It's just taking simple derivatives and integrals.
  9. mdbound1987

    mdbound1987 2+ Year Member

    Apr 4, 2010
    This is not true at all for physics. For bio, chem, and orgo it is true. That is why med-school only requires algebra-based physics. OP, if you are good at calc, then take calc-based physics if you think it will help you more. If you are not good at calc, don't risk getting a horrible grade by taking calc-based physics.
  10. Charles_Carmichael

    Charles_Carmichael Moderator Emeritus 7+ Year Member

    May 10, 2008

    A non-calc based physics class is a survey of physics at best. You can't really learn physics without calculus. I would recommend people take a calc-based physics course whenever possible if they actually want to learn the material.
    jb94mg likes this.
  11. NTF

    NTF PGY-5 Moderator Emeritus 7+ Year Member

    Jul 1, 2008
    If the only reason you're interested in physics is for pre-med purposes then the algebra/trig based physics is fine. You don't need anything deeper than that for what's tested on the MCAT.

    That being said, calc-based physics is a more interesting way to learn it. The physics and calculus illuminate each other. I ended up appreciating and understanding both subjects much better (especially the calc).
    jb94mg likes this.
  12. chman

    chman 5+ Year Member

    Jun 7, 2009
    I lot of people on here are in trouble then.
  13. tncekm

    tncekm MS-1 2+ Year Member

    Jul 18, 2006
    You can understand physics without calculus. And, for many people, it's easier to understand calculus "concepts" than it is for them to do the math.

    OP: Only algebra-based is necessary. MCAT physics is pretty basic in terms of calculations, so as long as you get the concepts you'll be fine.
  14. studmuffin

    studmuffin 2+ Year Member

    Jan 12, 2010
  15. Charles_Carmichael

    Charles_Carmichael Moderator Emeritus 7+ Year Member

    May 10, 2008
    That's the problem though. You can't really understand physics without calculus, imo. Algebra-based physics is much more about the math than calc-based physics is. In algebra-based, you memorize equations and learn about a restricted number of situations where you can plug-and-chug. In calc-based, the emphasis is on the concept and you gain a deep enough understanding to be able to apply what you learn to a wide variety of situations.

    I agree with you, that for the purpose of the MCAT, you definitely don't need anything beyond algebra-based physics. I was just saying that if you are truly interested in learning physics, the calc-based route would be the way to go.

    Sorry for the hijack!
  16. tncekm

    tncekm MS-1 2+ Year Member

    Jul 18, 2006
    Calculus puts math to the concepts, or brings the concepts to life via math. But, you really don't need the math to get the concept. So, you don't need the math to understand the physics. JM.02

    Now, if like you said, someone REALLY wants to get deep into physics, then sure... take the calc-based physics.
  17. Caclulus-based is harder, and I only took it because it was a requirement for my major. I would suggest taking the algebra-based physics, you're likely to get a better grade and I don't think ADCOMs know the difference. They certainly didn't care that I took a more difficult course than the rest of the pre-meds!
  18. eablackwell

    eablackwell Not Fast Enough Moderator Emeritus 5+ Year Member

    I'm pretty sure ADCOMs know the difference ;) Whether or not they care though depends on the school.

    Calc-based is definitely not required, but I took it because I'm non-trad (and good at calculus) so why not show I can handle it? I've heard from several professors that while it's not required, ADCOMs like to see that you took the most rigorous science possible.

    So no, you're not going to get turned down because you take algebra based, but taking calc based might give you a slight boost in the eyes of some ADCOMs.

    As far as algebra vs. calculus as a whole, when we had a complex manipulation to make for a problem my physics prof would always say, "Look, it's worse than calculus- it's algebra." :laugh:
    jb94mg likes this.
  19. snorlax

    snorlax 2+ Year Member

    Feb 15, 2009
    Algebra based physics = high school.

    Why waste your tuition money studying something we learned for free in high school?
  20. mdbound1987

    mdbound1987 2+ Year Member

    Apr 4, 2010
    If someone is not good at calculus, then they should still take calc-based physics because they took algebra-based in high school? No. It all depends on if the person is good at calculus or not. I don't think the adcom is gonna say, "he/she got a D in physics 1 and 2, but that's ok, he took calc-based so i'll cut him/her some slack." Adcoms will take an A in algebra-based over a bad grade in calc-based every time. However if the person is good at calc they should go for it.
  21. Evergrey

    Evergrey 7+ Year Member

    Dec 27, 2008
    How do schools know whether it was calc-based or not? My school only offered calc-based, so I didn't have a choice about it.
  22. eablackwell

    eablackwell Not Fast Enough Moderator Emeritus 5+ Year Member

    On my amcas I submitted the name of my class, which was "physics with calculus." I think the naming differs school to school. If you went to a tech/science school (which i'm guessing you did if they didn't offer gen physics), they'll probably know by the name (or by your major even, physics, chem, etc majors need calc based).
  23. Drrrrrr. Celty

    Drrrrrr. Celty Osteo Dullahan 7+ Year Member

    Nov 10, 2009
    If thats the case then I'll have fun in physics even though I took it freshman year...
    Lol that class was such a joke..
  24. wagmanager

    wagmanager 7+ Year Member

    Jun 11, 2008
    Last edited: Jul 11, 2010
  25. mdbound1987

    mdbound1987 2+ Year Member

    Apr 4, 2010
    So true.
  26. thesauce

    thesauce Senior Member Gold Donor 10+ Year Member

    Aug 5, 2005
    I think it depends on the school you go to. The calc-based physics at my school was awful. I honestly learned nothing. I wish I had taken algebra-based. You might check if the same is true of your school.
  27. hopki099

    hopki099 2+ Year Member

    Mar 5, 2010
    If you're honestly very good at calculus then fine, take the calculus based physics. Most likely though it will be much easier to memorize and manipulate equations than it will be to stare at integrals if you do not understand the calculus.

    Besides, who says you can't understand the physics without understanding the calculus?
  28. zeppelinpage4

    zeppelinpage4 7+ Year Member

    May 16, 2009
    Don't mean to hi-jack but are some of the posts implying that performance in calculus can possibly be a predictor of performance in analytical physics?

    I didn't do so great in AP Physics B in high school and managed a 3 on the AP exam but I did really well in both Calc I and Calc II in college.

    TS I'm in the same situation and opted for the Calc based physics (for the time being), it supposedly has an amazing professor and I think that's also something worth considering. I'd rather take the good professor for calc-physics rather than a bad professor in algebra based.
    It also leaves more options open if I want to switch to a chem or biochem major. It's more difficult but if you're borderline, there may be some other perks worth considering depending on your school.
    Last edited: May 30, 2010
  29. mrdrdrjp

    mrdrdrjp Ph.D in Bastardology 2+ Year Member

    May 5, 2008
    Forest City, NC
    I say go ahead and take calc based unless you absolutely just hate math. physics in a way is applied math so learning it with calculus may help things fall together in your mind better. you're not just having equations thrown at you and told to memorize them and use equation A in situation A and blah blah blah.
  30. ArkansasRanger

    ArkansasRanger 2+ Year Member

    Feb 9, 2009
    Or if you just flat suck at math, always have, and always will.....don't.
  31. MossPoh

    MossPoh Textures intrigue me 7+ Year Member

    Apr 24, 2006
    Tally/Willkillya County
    I took both and honestly, I didn't notice much of a difference...

    There were a couple areas where it did, but I suspect that was because we were talking about taking the derivative of something before I covered it in my calc class and integrals were foreign to me.

    Seriously though, I found I used most of the same equations. Actually, the algebra was harder for me because the tests were far more conceptual instead of number driven.
  32. Damia

    Damia 5+ Year Member

    May 18, 2010
    Last edited: Aug 16, 2011
  33. link2swim06

    link2swim06 7+ Year Member

    Dec 14, 2007
    Take calc physics if you want to compete with engineering students for your place on the curve....or just take the one everyone else takes and rock the curve
  34. Shaq

    Shaq 7+ Year Member

    May 31, 2010
    if you don't like physics don't take calc based physics. its a waste. do what you like and what you are enthusiastic about. if you take a class just for the sake of taking it you will not do as well and you will be miserable.
  35. STAT EKG

    STAT EKG 7+ Year Member

    Jul 1, 2009
    Definitely take algebra-based physics. Med schools don't care which one you take and (at least at my school) calc based is much much harder... so why add extra stress to your already stressful schedule.

    It's honestly a no-brainer and don't listen to people who tell you otherwise. Another point is... when are you going to use calc-based physics in med school? Answer - never.
  36. boaz

    boaz shanah alef 7+ Year Member

    Dec 31, 2007
    bachelor pad
    If you're an idealist, you'll like calc-based physics. In the real world there is really no such thing as "algebra-based physics" (nature rarely behaves linearly). Otherwise, if you just want to fulfill the prereq and get it out of your way, go with algebra.

    In terms of difficulty: it can be argued that in principle calc-based physics is easier because you better understand underlying reasoning. But in reality, most calc-based courses are harder because they are intended for physics/engineering majors, who are expected to know gen physics real well.
  37. wanderer

    wanderer 5+ Year Member

    Dec 14, 2008
    Also, in terms of the MCAT, there is likely zero difference in that mastery of algebra-based physics can get you a perfect score in the PS, provided you have the other necessary components to get that score.
  38. fisticuffs

    fisticuffs MS1

    May 28, 2010
    The importance of a good GPA far outweighs the potential benefit of taking calc-based over algebra-based physics. I'm assuming that your GPA is much more "visible" to adcoms than which physics course you took. All things being equal (say, getting an A in either class), obviously the more difficult class looks better on a transcript than an easier class. However, in my experience, my engineering friends who took calc-based worked their butts off for a B while I studied half as much for an A in algebra-based. If you are adept at calculus and are confident that you will ace the course, go for it. Otherwise, do yourself a favor and take algebra-based.
  39. foofish

    foofish 7+ Year Member

    Apr 23, 2006
    Also, in the grand scheme of things (i.e. learning and practicing medicine), whether or not you took algebra- vs. calculus-based physics is all but irrelevant. Case in point, less than 10% of US med schools require calculus itself, never mind calculus-based physics. The math (and physics) you use in clinical medicine is straight-forward and algebra-based.

    Certainly, take the class to be challenged or for your own education, but don't do it because you think you need it for medicine or because you think that's going to be the make or break part of your application. Physics is certainly relevant in medicine, but if you're looking to advance yourself by taking tougher courses, advanced biology and biochemistry courses would be more applicable to your career (and probably your application as well).
  40. riceman04

    riceman04 10+ Year Member

    Mar 21, 2005
    Los Angeles
    shut you don't!


    Nevertheless, I will agree Calc based physics makes sense whereas algebra-based involves memorizing equations and not understanding their foundation (this usually applies in physics...but not always)
  41. Encephalectomy

    Encephalectomy PGY-0 5+ Year Member

    Apr 14, 2010
    I took one semester of each due to a scheduling conflict, and at my school algebra-based physics was easier, but more difficult to get an A in due to a really competitive curve. This was because the calc based class was almost all engineers and physics majors who had tons of other work and weren't nearly as neurotic about grades as premeds, while the algebra-based class was almost 100% neurotic pre-meds. Moral of the story, if you are trying to pick the easier class to do well in, make sure to do your homework. In general though I'd agree that physics makes more sense with calculus and is less memorization heavy, but that is only if you are comfortable with calculus.
    jb94mg likes this.
  42. BeastfromthEast

    BeastfromthEast 2+ Year Member

    Apr 26, 2010
    so how much calculus do i actually need to know in cal based physics? after talking to my advisors im thinking about using ap credit to exempt from calculus 1 and 2 in freshman year. by the time i take physics in soph/junior year, ill probably forget everything (except for derivatives and integrals).

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