Physics 49


Course description

We offer Physics 49 as a preparatory course for Physics 50 because Physics 50 has a very high failure rate (sometimes as high as 30%) and is not repeatable for grade forgiveness if you are not yet declared in an engineering or science degree program. Even declared majors have a hard time repeating as Physics 50 often fills up and repeaters are restricted from registering until the first day of classes.

Physics 49 is not for everyone. It is not intended for juniors or seniors or transfers, as you should be "prepared" by now. Physics 49 is intended for freshmen and sophomores who would benefit from a semester to keep improving the quantitative skills demanded by their major.

Also, Physics 49 is not intended for students who are already demonstrating that they can succeed in their major courses, such as CS46a/b, Math 31, Chem 1a. If you have managed to achieve A's and B's in those classes, keep up the good work and you will be fine in Physics 50.

However, transcript data show that students who have had previous grades of D or F (in any course, even if that grade has since been "forgiven") have an extremely high likelihood of failing Physics 50. Other risk factors include: 1) needing English remediation when you started college, 2) placing into pre-calculus or lower math course when you started college, particularly those students who took the Math 19-Math30P/PL route (regardless of grades in those classes). If you fit either of those descriptions, and plan to take Math 31 and Physics 50 at the same time, it's going to be a rough semester.

If you fit this description but are thinking, "Taking Physics 49 will delay my graduation..." Yes we know that - we offer this course to IMPROVE your chances of success, not to hinder it!

Physics 50 has a brutal pace (13 chapters) and is taught in lectures with >200 students. Physics 49 provides a supportive, small-class environment to develop expert problem solving skills at a nice gentle pace (it covers only 5 chapters). Last year, 93% of our students who got C or better in 49 also got C or better in 50. Only 60% of those who did not take 49 got C or better in 50. Among those for whom I recommended 49 but they took 50 anyway, only about 20% got C or better, and almost all of those were C's.

Physics 49 is not a pre-requisite for Physics 50 and it does not substitute for 50.

If you are having difficulties registering for Physics 49, please contact me. I can give you an add code. You should have math skills sufficient to place you into Calculus 1.

If you have not yet taken Calculus 1 and received C or better, and are not planning to take Calculus 1 this semester, contact me and we can talk with your adviser about whether Physics 49 is right for you.


Students who take Physics 49 should be enrolled in calculus 1, or have already earned a C or better in calculus 1. The intention of 49 is for students to take 50 the following semester. Physics 50 requires C or better in Calculus 1.

Should I take Physics 49?

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

  • if you have a previous 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 just a freshman-level high school physics course, or if it was "an easy A", 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 have completed remediation. Both semester of stretch English mus be completed before taking Physics 50.

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

Physics 49 vs. Physics 50

Physics 49 is not the same course as Physics 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 5 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. Physics 49 uses the same book as 50, so if you take 49, you don't need to get a new book for 50, and the publisher has generously offered to extend your access to the online homework for another semester at no additional cost.