Frequently Asked Questions

What is the failure rate of Physics 50?

About 20% of students who take Physics 50 will receive a grade less than C. This isn't a rule that we enforce, it's just how things turn out, semester after semester. Students with less than a C will have to repeat it if they want an engineering or science degree.

Why don't we just curve it and improve the passing rate? Why not make it easier, or cover less material?

The fact is, we don't do anything differently in this course here at SJSU than they do in community colleges, at the UC's or at any other reputable, accredited university that offers high quality engineering and science degrees. Articulation and transfer agreements with other institutions require that we cover this much material. We don't have lower expectations here at SJSU. If you want a science or engineering degree from SJSU, you need to be good at this stuff, period. It's a competitive world out there, and we do you no favors by making the course "easier" or requiring less of you than other universities would.

The failure rate is high because many students underestimate the amount of PRACTICE - not just "studying" - that math and science courses require. Students who google the answers to everything will not have the skills to succeed on exams. They fail because they do not put in the minimum of 6 hours of REAL study per week. The 6 hours is not a figure that we pull out of thin air. 6 hours is based on the definition of the credit hour. 6 hours of study per week is for those students who are well prepared. If you have had previous difficulties in your math or science classes, you will find that you need to invest more time in physics 50.

What does "well prepared" mean? You are well prepared for success in this course if all of the following conditions are met:

  1. You placed into Math 30 (not 19 or 30P or 30PL) or higher in your first semester of freshman year.
  2. You have never gotten less than a C in any course at SJSU.
  3. You took (and did well in) science and math classes in every year of high school.

If this list describes you, great. You know what it takes to succeed as a STEM major. Keep doing what you're doing. If this list doesn't quite describe you, that is OK. Here's what you need to do:

  1. Talk to your adviser about taking Physics 49
  2. sign up for the Physics 50 workshop (50W)
  3. schedule a minimum of 8 hours/week of study time for this class
  4. don't load up on "hard classes", at least for this semester. Just take Physics 50, Math 31 and one GE class this semester. That's 13 units, with workshops for both Math and Physics. Leave Chem 1a or CMPE 30 for next semester. Talk to your adviser about it.

If you're not well prepared, plan to invest more time, or take Physics 49 first, to become well prepared.

Because a lot of SJSU students are under-prepared through no fault of their own (e.g. they did not have a good high school physics course), we offer Physics 49, which is a prep course that goes really slowly through those first five critical chapters of Physics 50. In Physics 49, you will slowly get up to speed as to what will be expected of you in 50. This is really beneficial for students who might get off to a slow start in 50 because they don't understand sig figs, or have rusty math skills (especially trigonometry, graphing and algebra). There is no time for that in 50. Considering that your grade in 50 correlates so strongly with whether you get a degree science or engineering, you don't want to just try to squeak by in 50 with a C, either.

We can't force you to take 49. It does not count toward your degree. You need to make the decision as to whether you could use the warm-up.

Is the workshop required?

No. In fact, we only offer workshops for Physics 50 (not 51 or 52), and we do not have enough seats for everyone. Students who take workshop are more likely to succeed in Physics 50. I strongly recommend that everyone try to get in. You can get an add code for the workshops by following links from the Physics Department's website on the first day of class.

Why can't I take Physics 52 before 51?

If your major requires 51, you must take it before 52. The reason is that your upper division engineering courses all list Physics 52 as the only pre-req, which is based on the assumption that you have taken 51 before 52. Geology and meteorology majors may not be required to take 51 (although most do, anyhow). The bottom line is that if your major requires 51, then you have to take it before 52.

What is Physics 53 and do I need to take it?

There used to be a course called Physics 53, which covered modern physics. Because of the pressure to reduce units for degree programs, most majors no longer require it, so we took the best bits and stuffed them into Physics 52. If you're interested in stuff like quantum physics and relativity, you will enjoy Physics 122, which counts toward the physics minor.

Why are you so picky about pre-requisites?

Because students who lack the skills and knowledge of the pre-req courses predictably and reliably fail the class. Physics is hard enough even when you do have all the pre-reqs.

Should I take Physics 49?

Although high school physics is not a pre-requisite for Physics 50, it is helpful to succeed in 50. Thus, we developed Physics 49 specifically to prepare students for the rigorous nature of the calculus-based physics sequence. Students who have any of the following characteristics should definitely take Physics 49:

  • if you ever received a D or F in any math, chemistry, physics or computer science course, even if you have since repeated that course, you still should take 49.
  • if you have not taken physics in high school, or if it was "an easy A", or it was not a senior-level AP physics course, or if it was a long time ago and you've forgotten it all, you should take 49. Students who had AP Physics or another rigorous physics course in high school will be well prepared for 50.
  • if you started out at SJSU in remedial math or English, you definitely should take 49 before taking 50, even if you meet all the pre-reqs and are no longer remedial.
  • if you are not yet eligible to take English 1a, you actually do not meet the pre-req for Physics 50, and you should take Physics 49.

If you have any of these characteristics, please consider taking Physics 49. If you are unsure, ask me and I can help you figure out which course you should be in.

What's the difference between Physics 49 and 50?

49 has no lab, and is only 3 units. 49 uses the same book as 50, but 49 only goes up through the first  chapters (in 50, we cover 12 chapters). The topics covered in 49 - kinematics and dynamics - are essential to all of the physics courses you will take as well as most of the upper division courses in your major. The slower pace of 49 allows you to develop a very high level of proficiency with the foundations of physics, which will be essential to your success in science and engineering degree programs.

Can I withdraw without penalty after the drop deadline?

I am asked this question a heart-breaking number of times. If you experience the death of a parent, child, spouse or sibling, or if you personally suffer a serious illness or injury that prevents you from coming to class, you will probably be allowed to withdraw without penalty.

SJSU has really cracked down on students trying to get W's in their "hard courses." It's amazing how life circumstances only seem to affect science and math courses. Most "W" requests that I get are from students who had a history of W's and/or D's and F's in their previous math and science courses. The W grade gets assigned only by the registrar, not by the instructor or department chair.