Physics at the University of Miami is split into two different tracks. These two options are College Physics and University Physics. So what’s the difference? College Physics is algebra based and the course many students take if they need to fulfill a cognate or pre-med requirement. University Physics is calculus based and notorious for its difficulty. Not many voluntarily sign up for the University Physics sequence and unless you’re a physics major or engineer University Physics will not be required of you. However, PHY205 or University Physics I is the weed-out class for engineers. Here are 4 tips to succeed in the class that forces many to drop out of engineering.

1. Learn To Draw Sketches Of Your Problems


This is probably the most crucial skill if you want to succeed in this class. Whether it be drawing the forces acting on a rotating body, a set of pulleys, or the myriad of scenarios you will encounter in PHY205, being able to identify and depict what forces are involved in the problem is half the battle won. However, this is arguably the hardest ability to develop. Therefore, in order to equip yourself with this vital skill, make sure that at the beginning of the course (when the material is still relatively easy to learn), no matter how simple the question draw out all the forces in the question. This will train you to visualize forces and help you adopt a rigorous methodology when approaching the harder problems later on in the course.


2. Pay Careful Attention To Your Homework


Thankfully, PHY205 professors recognize that the course is difficult. As a result, there is a “free” 100 points that you can gain from your homework and the host of quizzes that you will have to take. These points are crucial later on in the semester because they can act as a get out of jail card. This is because at the end of the semester your lowest 100 points are dropped to calculate your final grade. Therefore, your score for your homework could potentially replace a low-scoring exam. However, notice the quotation marks around the word “free”. The reason for this hesitation is that you really have to stay on top of the pre-lecture quizzes, the discussion section quizzes, the written homework and the online homework every single week in order to get the most out of the homework points. These points are not hard to obtain if you have good management skills and it is highly recommended that you invest your energy and time to get the most out of these points.

3. Do Plenty Of Practice Questions From Past Exams

Unfortunately, PHY205 is not a course where you can study for a test and ace it by going through a test bank. Such is the nature of physics as a subject. You need to be able to apply the knowledge learned in lectures to both familiar and unfamiliar situations during your exams. However, you will not be properly equipped to do this unless you’ve had practice applying the knowledge you’ve learned. As a result, it is advised that you take advantage of the  resources provided to you by the physics professors. Instead of just doing the selected questions from past exams as prescribed in the weekly homework, complete the entire exam. During revision, print out multiple exams and see how much you can do without referring to the solution keys. This process will train you to match concepts to questions, get familiar with your equations and definitely prepare you better for the exam.

4. Visit the Physics Workshop


There are really a multitude of resources available to ensure your success in this course. Another such resource is the free physics workshop run by graduate students throughout the semester. These workshops are located in one of the discussion classrooms next to the physics lecture hall. Throughout the week, a graduate student will hold multiple office hours in this classroom to clarify any concepts and help with homework. Don’t wait for exam week to make use of this resource because at that point everyone is panicking and the one graduate student will be overwhelmed. If at any point while doing homework or going through past exams you need help, make a trip to the workshop and you’ll save yourself some of the stress and panic that grips PHY 205 students prior to exams.

All in all, PHY205 is a very challenging class. Both conceptually and mathematically it will demand the very most out of you. However, if you follow the above tips, adopt good study habits and stay focused, it can be a very rewarding course.



James Lai

I'm an undergrad currently at the University of Miami. I'm pursuing a degree in biomedical engineering on the pre-med track and absolutely love it here at the U.

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