Physics is one of the most dreaded subjects students encounter in their academic lives. In this blog, I will discuss why physics is so hard for most students? I will start with my own experience and then analyze it to find the real reason behind physics being considered so tough.
What students experience when they start studying Physics
I remember my school days when I moved into grade 11th. Although I was good at math and science, I was stumped when I started studying the “Laws of motion” chapter. The chapters before it were pretty straightforward (onedimensional motion, circular motion, vectors, projectile motion, etc.).
“FBD” is tough for a beginner
It was the first time I had to use math to solve a reallife physics problem. (I consider the previous chapters more of math than Physics). Understanding FBD or the free body diagram is necessary to solve problems in this chapter (newton’s law of motion). Even though I studied the whole chapter and did all the practice problems, I could not apply it to a new problem thrown at me, and I was clueless and depressed. As a result, I did not study any new chapter of Physics for two weeks.
I regrouped myself and came back strongly after the break. I spent more time understanding the FBD and solved many unique problems to hone my skill.
Once I understood the FBD part and how to apply Newton’s laws to reallife problems, I felt much better. The first hurdle was clear, but many more were in the queue.
“Rotational motion” is pretty tough as well
The rotational motion was tricky for me, and I had trouble understanding what torque is and why we studied it. The theorem of parallel and perpendicular axes was hard to grasp.
Once I cleared these two hurdles, I always felt better in Physics. In my opinion, Mechanics is much more challenging than electricity and magnetism, and the data says the same. For example, AP Physics 1 has a much lower passing rate than AP Physics 2. (Source)
Let us dive deep to find why Physics is so hard
Finding the real problem is half the battle won, so let us analyze why I found Physics tough.
Applying the concepts is not easy
FBD is an entirely new concept for students, and we do not study anything like this in any subject. Even though not very mathematical, this seemingly easy concept is challenging to apply. Hence, we can say that “applying” the concepts is one of the biggest hurdles in Physics.
Transferring a problem to its mathematical form is tricky
Transferring a problem from a reallife situation to a diagram and then to an FBD is not “obvious.” A mistake in your understanding or application can make the solution incorrect.
Books give only a few sample problems/situations and expect us to understand the rest on our own
It is hard to understand a concept by only doing a few problems, but this is what a textbook expects from you. They solve only a few problems of entirely different flavors and expect you to make general rules that you can apply to the remaining 100s of new situations.
Physics is highly mathematical
Unlike other subjects (except math, of course), physics’s final answers are always exact, as everything is mathematical. For example, in Biology, your answer can be of lower quality if you miss some of the points, but you can not get it entirely wrong. In Physics, it is always 100% correct or 100% incorrect, and there is nothing in between.
Physics is not as straightforward as Math
Also, Physics is not as straightforward as Math, where you can learn how to solve particular kinds of problems by sheer practice. You must apply fundamental concepts to complicated situations/problems where you may wonder where to start. Things are not so obvious in Physics.
deep knowledge of Calculus and graph plotting is a must
Intermediate to advanced level Physics requires a thorough understanding of graph plotting and calculus. Though most of the students know these two, they know them only from the mathematical point of view and not from the point of application. For example, they might know what a derivative is, but they don’t know how to use it in slope, rate change, vt, xt graph, etc.
Concept is king!
In Physics, Concept is king! Every topic requires you to think from multiple angles and at different levels. It is conceptually as well as mathematically demanding. Physics is like an amalgamation of Philosophy and Math. Philosophy requires critical thinking and is deeply conceptual but does not require math and numbers. On the other hand, Math involves little to no Philosophy/concepts. One needs to have both these skills to become good in Physics.
So now you know what makes Physics difficult. If you can tackle these issues, you will become good at Physics. We wish you all the best in your Physics studies.
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Author

I am the founder of My Engineering Buddy (MEB) and the cofounder of My Physics Buddy. I have 15+ years of experience as a physics tutor and am highly proficient in calculus, engineering statics, and dynamics. Knows most mechanical engineering and statistics subjects. I write informative blog articles for MEB on subjects and topics I am an expert in and have a deep interest in.