Monday, May 11, 2009

Physics failure

So, I thought I did pretty well on my Physics (Intro Mechanics and Heat for non-phys/chem majors) final exam on Saturday. So I check my grade online, and see that I got a 12/20, which is a 60%. Shocked, I click to see the class distribution of the grades.

The mean was 6/20. The mode was 5/20, which is equivalent to guessing, since it was multiple choice with four choices per question. Only six people (including myself) got a 12/20, three people got 13/20, and no one got higher then that in a class of 390 people.


So at what point does it shift from the class failing to the professor failing? Because apparently he didn't do the greatest job at teaching us. I'm not incapable of learning physics - I got an A+ in it in high school, and we didn't really learn that much extra stuff in this class.

Thankfully this class is notorious for huge curving, so even though I'm sitting at a 77%, I'll probably end up having a high A. Woo boy. Can't wait for Electricity and Magnetism next semester!

Friend: I guess that's what happens when you don't have any physics, engineering, or chemistry nerds ;)
Me: Har har


  1. Eh, so long as it's a curve, it's not necessarily a fail on anyone's part. I've had several profs (and a high school AP physics teacher) who intentionally wrote tests that nobody would ever get higher than #REALLYSCARYLOWNUMBER on them. Not really sure exactly WHY they do this; might not be a bad idea to ask the prof what their logic is.

  2. Well we were averaging about 65% on all the midterms, and the Prof was basically asking us why we were all so I don't think us scoring stupendously low was his goal =\

  3. "I've had several profs (and a high school AP physics teacher) who intentionally wrote tests that nobody would ever get higher than #REALLYSCARYLOWNUMBER on them. Not really sure exactly WHY they do this; might not be a bad idea to ask the prof what their logic is."

    Sounds like a terrible idea to me (the writing the test that way, not the asking about it). If the test is made so that almost everybody scores fantastically poorly, the test has no power to distinguish the average schmoes from those who are really suffering.

    Quizzes are experiments to probe the contents of the student's mind. Not that teachers are likely to think of them in those terms. . . and with a not-for-majors class of 390, the whole course probably has an "insert student — stamp — repeat" aspect to it.

  4. Heh, well I made a 9/20 on the test, and that is about what I was expecting (of the 20, I think I only had 10-14 that I was anywhere near sure of). The real problem is that they weren't open to the idea that the class was being mishandled, I made A's and B's in High School physics, and honestly I don't think I learned anything new in this course, if anything it was regurgitation. Meh, it shows me at a 60%ish (as it stands), which is rather concerning but given that the highest possible score on the final (pre curve) was a 200 / 300 gives me some hope that they will adjust this class in some meaningful way. I know there were folks with 4.0 averages stepping into this class that are currently running around with 40%, so my thought is its not an issue of the class being stupid, its just a horrible failure on the part of the physics staff.

  5. Yeah.. I was in physics classes as a physics MAJOR at Purdue where I scored Cs and Ds on testsand still got Bs in the classes themselves... many professors don't know how to teach, and how you score can come down to some math that you know theoretically but can't do on a dime yet. Most professors are there for research... the teaching is just something they have to do, and if they have to do it, they are not going to spend the time to bring it down to the level of the students.

    As a high school physics teacher now, I find it appalling, but a sad truth that I must prepare my students for.

  6. It could a Kobyashi Maru style test in which no one was really meant to get 100%, but merely to see if anyone could stand out.

  7. It is common to score poorly in these courses. It's easy to say "Well, that teacher fucked up", but I do not know if that's actually the case. I am not at Purdue, or any university where research is the primary focus, and these sorts of grades are the sorts of grades given in my physics I -- not exactly as low as yours, but the means are regularly in the "F" range.

    Poking around the blogosphere, though, gives me the impression that Physics I is not difficult enough from the teacher's perspective. It does not prepare people physics courses in the future, as a lot of text books focus on conceptual understanding, and gloss over the calculus integral to physics (pun intended).

    So, who knows? The subject is intrinsically difficult; it's counter-intuitive, you have to be able to use mathematics as a language and be able to compute some higher level math concepts... problems can become fairly complex. You need to be able to pick out certain phrases in problems that indicate a "Type" of problem, as well as understand that physics isn't just an algorithm to find the right answer in multiple choice questions. I would say that it's difficult to understand, and difficult to teach, so the standard school approach of "Homework, to quiz, to test" just doesn't work as well as in other subjects, so lower grades are kind of the norm (except for that one super-genius... there's always one...)

  8. I think the main problem with this class is that the professor would focus just on the theory, so once we got to the exams (which were all problem based, NO general questions) no one would have any idea how to solve things. The course also didn't have any calculus (since it was for dumb non-physics majors like myself). I personally think that's a blessing since I hate calculus, but maybe things would have been easier to understand if we were shown the actual math.

  9. Casting back the seven years or so since Physics I at the U of MN, this rings about right.

    The Dean of Physics was an egotistical nut (woe unto the student that had him as a prof) and demanded a standardized set of tests across the different types of physics offered (general physics, bio/med physics, IT physics (the physics physics majors took)) and they were are bastardly hard.

    I lucked out in IT physics by having profs that at one time or another served as advisors to students in the IT program, and therefore actually cared. That coupled with copious note-taking (you've filled the notebook to bursting?) led to my survival.

    They still used the test and explained that they were looking to produce some vaguely Gaussian distribution. Sounded fishy if you ask me.

    I regret to inform you, though, that Physics II is probably more beastly than Physics I. Make sure you know your right from left.