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physics w calc?

Discussion in 'Pre-Medical - MD' started by maggie griffiths, May 7, 2001.

  1. maggie griffiths

    maggie griffiths New Member

    May 2, 2001
    Hello everyone-

    First off, thanks to all who posted replies to my earlier "teaching old dogs new...medicine."

    Secondly, I am confused as to whether or not I should take claculus-based physics or general physics for admission to med school. Hypothetical situation: I get a B in cal-based physics and an A in non-calc based physics: which do you all think looks better?
    Sorry for my banality-- I'll think of something exciting to write in my next post, I promise!
    I appreciate your responses,
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  3. moo

    moo 1K Member 10+ Year Member

    Jul 4, 2000
    A general myth about calc-based physics is that it is harder than non-calc based physics. This is true only if you haven't had calculus yet. Calc-based physics allows you to understand the material better, as calculus and mathematics is an indispensible tool to the physicist. The more you know of it, the easier physics becomes. However, it is often not possible to take the mathematics courses before the physics. I've seen many mathematical objects in physics classes before having taken the math and in that way it's been a little bit difficult at times but I can usually get by. In short, if you are mathematically inclined, take it. If not, don't. In fact, if you are mathematically inclined, you might even do better (or the same) in both classes.
  4. omores

    omores sleep deprived 10+ Year Member

    Jul 2, 2000
    Just to clarify: calculus-based physics IS general physics; if it's algebra-based, it's usually called something like fundamental physics.

    A few schools specify that you must take general physics; most don't seem to care one way or the other, although some of the schools that don't specify calc-based physics still require you to take calculus itself. The MCAT does not require calc-based physics.

    I took algebra-based physics because I hadn't yet taken calculus. It's a trade-off. In my school, much of general physics is taken up with deriving formulas, but the concepts themselves are relatively de-emphasized.

    Conversely, in my school's algebra-based physics course, the formulas are taken for granted and more time is spent addressing the concepts themselves. This really helped me understand the material in a way that I would not have had I taken general physics.

    However, in some parts of the course, you need to understand calculus concepts in order to fully grasp the material. I was totally flummoxed by the graphs of simple harmonic motion, and some aspects of magnetic fields confused me as well. The next year, when I took calculus, I realized what had been going on in physics.

    For the most part, however, I was happy to spend more time with ideas than with mathematical derivations. Of course, your school's general physics class may have a different emphasis than mine did.
  5. Asteras1

    Asteras1 Senior Member 10+ Year Member

    Feb 12, 2001
    Chicago, IL USA
    My experience was that non-calc physics is much easier than regular physics with calculus. I should also add that I have taken a full year of calc too. Nonetheless, I attend a school with a big time engineering program. Most engineers take the calc-based physics course and really mess up the curve for those that are less mathematically inclined. In any case, my university constructs the non-calc based physics course specifically for Pre-med and biology students. They gear it toward the MCAT in other words and teach it altogether differently than physics with calculus. Check if your school does the same thing.
  6. electra

    electra SDN Moderator 7+ Year Member

    Apr 20, 2001
    look at individual med school requirements. Some schools require one semester of calc. If those are schools you are interested in, take the calc and physics together.
  7. docuw

    docuw Senior Member 10+ Year Member

    Feb 6, 2001
    none of the med schools that I know of require the calculus based physics. The U of Washington, like astera's school, offers the two programs. The Calc based physics is for Engineering students. Pre Med, Bio, and most other majors that require physics only require the algebra (I guess you could call it) based physics.

    The only difference is that the calculus based physics derives the formulas. The other simply gives you the formula on the "just take my word for it" basis. Both go over the exact same topics. My class and the calc based class were studying the same things at the same times (they might have been a bit slower).

    My advice: Do not take the calc based physics unless your major requires you to. Otherwise, you waste a bunch of time deriving equations. :cool:
  8. SistaKaren

    SistaKaren Displaced Tar Heel 10+ Year Member

    Apr 1, 2001
    Balitmore, MD
    I think this depends on the school. At my school, algebra-based physics is called general physics. The Calc-based classes are called mechanics and electromagnetism/optics.

    But back to the topic: yeah, I'd take non-calc based physics. Even if the med school you want to go to requires calculus, I think if you're just learning it for the first time you may as well just take it separately. It may be easier in the long run.

  9. I have a BA and MS in Physics. Having TA'd and tutored both classes I would recommend taking the non-calc based class if you are not planning on taking higher levels of Physics.

    A calculus-based class usually is missing some topics that are on the MCAT such as fluid mechanics, boyant forces, and sometimes nuclear Physics. A calculus based class will go into further detail on the main "meat" of Physics - mechanics, E&M, and Optics.

    If you are interested in Physics and think you may want to major, minor or even take an upper level class or two, take the calculus based class. The non-calculus based class is a dead-end at most places. If you want to continue, you would have to retake the calculus based version.

    I wouldn't shy away from the Calculus based class simply because you are worried about Engineering students raising the curve as was mentioned in a previous post. Most pre-engineering students I taught are much less concerned with grades then the population of pre-meds in the non-calculus based course.

    Hope this helps some.
  10. Hopkins2010

    Hopkins2010 Banned Banned

    Nov 5, 1999
    Baltimore, Maryland
    I'm an engineering and premed and on the whole I'd say its the premeds that tend to ruin curves, not the engineering people.

    Besides, most engineering people will take this course either their first or second semester in college, so its not like they have lots of engineering or calculus courses in their pocket by the time they take it.

    Alot of professors in calc physics dont really test you on the calculus portion of it. They might go over the proofs in class, but I'd say most do not test you over those proofs on the tests. Of course there are some that do.
  11. HomerJ

    HomerJ Senior Member 10+ Year Member

    Mar 20, 2001
    I say go with the non-calc based physics if you do not need calc-based for your degree. Unfortunately at my school we are required to take calc-based physics and calc-II. And this was for a degree in biology! We spent an excessive amount of time on derivation and detail, it became difficult to get a general understanding of physics. Unless you are mathmatically inclined take non-calc phys.
  12. shmoo

    shmoo Junior Member 7+ Year Member

    Apr 27, 2001
    There should not be such a question of what to take? Which one better prepares for the MCAT? Do people score 10's on a physics MCAT section having taken Fundamental's?
  13. hermanshermits

    hermanshermits Member 7+ Year Member

    May 1, 2001
    In our school it was the math majors whom took physics after having alot of math and those going into physics who ruined our curve.
  14. Jamier2

    Jamier2 SDN Hillbilly Moderator Moderator Emeritus 10+ Year Member

    Mar 22, 2001
    A's always look better, they don't have to be explained, and you never get a second chance to make a first impression :)
  15. Asteras1

    Asteras1 Senior Member 10+ Year Member

    Feb 12, 2001
    Chicago, IL USA
    Yes many pre-meds do ruin a lot of curves. And yes, I know many rather lazy yet very intelligent engineering majors. But what I was getting at was the fact that your average engineering student is probably more mathematically inclined or skilled or whatever term you want to use than your average pre-med student. Most pre-meds that I know are bio majors and have taken at the most, only one semester of calculus. I attend the University of Illinois where most engineering majors are already taking math courses like Diff Eq. in their freshman year along with taking General physics. (U of I is ranked right with MIT and CalTech in engineering). These people may have an easier time learning physics with calculus due to their math ability as well as their familiarity with it. After all, physics is probably the most mathematically based science followed by Chem and then Bio. This isn't to say that there aren't some pre-meds that will do just as well as engineers but I am talking on AVERAGE.

    Personally, because I am not as mathematically inclined as most engineers are, I'd rather be given the equations rather than be forced to derive them all. I understand calculus since I took a full year of it before taking physics. I will say that having taken calc helped a lot even though the physics class I took did not make very much use of it. It was especially useful in understanding how certain concepts worked.
  16. Hopkins2010

    Hopkins2010 Banned Banned

    Nov 5, 1999
    Baltimore, Maryland

    I agree with your assessment. Personally I think the difference between calculus-physics and algebra-physics is somewhat minute, but if someone doesnt have any calculus experience they should probably not take it.

    In the end, it really doesnt matter one way or the other. I seriously doubt med schools actually take the time to differentiate what kind of physics course you took to begin with. So most people should just go with the algebra version unless they are a physics or engineering major, or they just really like math.

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