The University of Waterloo is undoubtably an academically rigorous school, especially with regards to Engineering and Math. PHYS 115 is a first-year physics course that all engineering students are required to take, and is undoubtably one of the hardest courses. Below are 5 notes that will prepare you for the rigor of this course.
Note 1: Tutorials
For many, tutorials are going to be a completely new idea. They are two hour slots, once a week, where the TA will go through some practice problems and ultimately have a quiz before the tutorial ends. For many, it is easy to get lost in this two hour session at the end of the day because you are not restricted from going on your phone and playing games (which is a luxury that many take advantage of). WARNING: If you do not pay attention in these tutorials, the midterm and finals will hit you with extreme force. Even though they are at the end of the day and you are tired from all of your morning classes, spare a little bit of energy to pay attention because it will pay off when you are one of the few who understand the concepts.
Note 2: Assignments
Every week there will be assignments due. They usually consist of 8-14 questions but usually only 3-4 will be assigned to hand in. It is recommended that you do every single question from every single assignment. During the year, it will help you solidify concepts so that you do well on the tutorial quizzes, but you will also have a much better time studying for the final exam. There isn’t much content that the professors give you to study for the finals, so many are resorted to doing the past assignments. If you do the assignments before finals week, you will be able to relax a little bit, and focus on the concepts that you have trouble with. It is guaranteed you’ll feel better than the people who slacked in their assignments all year.
Note 3: The midterm
The midterm is absolutely insane. They create the midterm to scare the weak ones into dropping out, and scare the strong ones into working harder. DO NOT WORRY IF YOU GET A BAD MARK. The midterm is designed so the majority of students fail it. There will be those geniuses who get 100% but do not compare yourself to them, it will only make it harder on yourself to get better grades in the future. Ultimately, try to study for the midterm to get over a 50%. It will be extremely hard but in the end, the professors make the midterm weigh almost nothing in comparison to the final, which leads to the next note.
Note 4: The Final
The topics that are covered in PHYS 115 are ridiculously difficult. People who have finished the course still don’t know how to solve a rolling motion problem. The final is the culmination of everything that you learned throughout the year, and is designed to be the hardest test that you have ever written. Regardless of how you did on the midterm, study your butts off for this test. Study 10 hours a day if you can because that’s the kind of effort that this final requires. It sounds scary but during finals, everyone is studying 24/7 anyways, and you don’t have much to do except study so you might as well. Unlike the midterm, the final is curved, and the curve is based on how other students performed. The rumour going around is that no matter what, the bottom 15% fail, so take that for what it’s worth.
Note 5: The Teacher
There are really bad physics teachers but there are also really good physics teachers. You might think it’s the end of the world that you get a horrible physics teacher with a barely-understandable accent, but it is not. For something like physics, it is absolutely no big deal to move between classes if they are during the same time slot. There is no roll-call so find the teacher that’s best for you, because it can make a huge difference in how effectively you learn the concepts. Tip: There is a physics teacher named Rohan who is legendary. If he is teaching in your year, try to find his class.
Overall if you find a good teacher, pay attention in class, study hard, and effectively, you won’t have a horrible time in this course. It is arguably the hardest first-year course and considered a “weeder” course to scare students away from university. Just be committed to understanding the concepts no matter how frustrating they might be, and you will be successful.