We often get threads by new members asking whether they are cut out for mathematics/physics/engineering/whatever. For some reason, they have become discouraged in high school and don’t think they can make it. I am using this insight to provide an answer to those questions.
Table of Contents
1. My IQ is too low
This is a very common one. High school students who did an IQ test and who don’t like their final result. They argue that since they score only 110 or whatever, that they definitely won’t succeed in mathematics.
First of all, it is important to realize that IQ was invented as a test for mental retardedness. So if somebody scores 60 or 70, then (for example) he needs to get professional care. The IQ test is not necessarily a good meter for higher IQs.
Also, don’t trust IQ tests on the internet. They’re not very reliable at all. The only IQ that should matter is one that you took from a licensed professional. And even then, the IQ is a number that doesn’t really mean much. I have been relatively successful in academia and I have obtained a score of 96 on an IQ test. So if I can do it, so can you.
Truth is that math requires some natural talent. But it most of all requires a lot of hard work. That is the most important part. If you get decent scores on your math tests without excessive studying, then you should be able to do well. Just be prepared to work hard and to work smart.
2. I suck at math competitions
So do I. I have always done very badly at mathematics competitions. I have done somewhat better on physics competitions though, a subject which I understood far less well than mathematics. Don’t worry, your ability in math competitions is not a meaningful indicator at all.
You see, in order to do well in mathematics research, you must be able to really digest a problem slowly. Attack its core from all sides. Peel away all the layers carefully. This requires patience, hard work, a lot of knowledge, luck, hard work, careful planning, and hard work. On the other hand, math competitions require you to solve a number of problems in a given time frame. The two worlds could not be more different.
3. My high school results were too low
Yeah, that’s not a good situation. In university, the high school system will essentially go further. You will continue to get tests and exams. So if you’re already not very good at math tests, then the university will be more difficult.
However, it is not impossible for you to make it. I suggest taking long and deep thinking about what went wrong in high school and how you could improve. There are a whole lot of factors that could influence your results. It doesn’t always mean you’re not cut out for university. It just means that you might not be ready right now. Do some thinking. Try to improve. Maybe go to community college first.
Throughout your entire career, you will meet obstacles. Everybody does. Some people meet the obstacles earlier than others. Some people meet more obstacles than others. What determines your worth as a scientist is how you deal with obstacles. Do you give up? That would be a respectable response. Not willing to put in the effort to overcome an obstacle does not make you dumb or lazy, but it doesn’t make you a scientist either. The scientists are exactly those people who attack the obstacle over and over again. Like a river encountering a stone, the stone will try to stop the river. The river yields to the stone, but slowly and slightly, the stone is being removed and the river regains its worth. Be the river.
Read my next article on dealing with doubt as a student.
Advanced education and experience with mathematics