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A bit of an identity crisis.

  1. Dec 28, 2011 #1
    Hello all, I am new to these forums, and I look forward to plumbing the depths of this interesting site. Anywho, I come to you with a bit of a potentially difficult question.

    I have always been immensely interested in Astronomy and Physics, and I decided long ago to pursue a career in either Astrophysics, Cosmology, or Quantum Physics. I am 17 years old, a Junior in High School, and I take the most rigorous classes available to me.

    However, there is a dilemma. Up until this year, I have not had very good mathematics teachers. Sure, I made A's in the classes, but I was taught very little and the material was very basic. Now I am in pre-calc, with a decent teacher. I understand it well enough, and am making high grades. However, I am worried that I am somewhat disadvantaged due to my non-illustrious past with Math, and sometimes I come across concepts that utterly dumbfound me in class.

    I recently took the SAT and made a very, very average score on the Math section, and I have been upset since I received my score. I barely understood any of the questions, and I fear that I my lack of basic understanding hampers my dreams.

    I am deeply interested in Math and it's theoretical and practical uses/implications. I just worry about my future. I know this is a long, boring, and convoluted post, and I apologize for that.

    In a nutshell, my question is this: I love Math and Physics, and my dream career is in Cosmology/Astrophysics. However, Math intimidates me, I am barely above average at it, and I worry if there is even a glimmer of hope that I will make it. What I lack in skill, I make up for in ambition. Is this good enough?
  2. jcsd
  3. Dec 28, 2011 #2


    Staff: Mentor

    if you leave HS really knowing Calculus, you will be well on your way in Physics. I wouldn't skip college Calculus though, it will be faster and the problems tougher but it will help you acclimate to college with a subject you know. As far as future math studies go you have 4 years to get prepped for grad school and the fields you are interested in.

    To get an idea of the kinds of math you'll need for Physics, take a look at Arfken and Weber's Mathematical Physics book.

    If you feel motivated you could learn Vector Analysis and/or Classical Mechanics (Goldstein). Other posters may have better books in mind. Vector Analysis is also used in EM theory too.

    But don't fret about things you don't know at least now you know what you don't know and have a chance to learn about them.
  4. Dec 28, 2011 #3
    Get a copy of the SAT practice questions by ETS and solve the problems. Make are that you practice under time conditions. I took it without studying for it and I got a 560 then I practiced over the summer (a little bit each day) and I ended up with a 690. I am sure you can do the same. My high school's math program was not very good and neither was the science department.
  5. Dec 29, 2011 #4
    Looking at your post, first I have to congratulate you on your use of words, spelling and punctuation. For your age you are incredibly smart, I think you are underestimating yourself. My advice to you is study maths in your own time if you enjoy it that much and try and do problems randomly throughout the day. This is what I do, because I had the same problem (crap maths teachers) but I'm 4 years behind you. I realised I wanted to be a physicist after I left school, mucked around with motorcycles for four years and my passion came back. My maths isn't great either, but for my age, I found I am better than the general population. You're in such a perfect position to excel, I envy you.

    Another thing, I'm not sure if this will help but it's a discovery I've made, is that struggling with maths isn't necessarily about the numers, but the language used, or the order of operations, or correct procedures etc. I've found that my biggest road block is the language. I have to get the dictionary out every five minutes to find out what a word means, and then how it applies to maths. It's a grueling process, but the satisfaction I get from knowing I'm one step closer to my goal makes it worth it.
    Good luck :)
  6. Dec 29, 2011 #5
    Another point....different people understand certain concepts at different ages.

    You can not get something now, and next year, it will seem so obvious to you you'll be blown away by what was beyond you the year before.

    At your age, you are on the cusp of a quantum leap in your thought processes...some people it happens ~ 10-12, some people at 18-20, there's no WRONG time, its just that way.

    So, be patient....and keep preparing the FOUNDATION for what you want to do. Focus on the concepts more than the math if you can, as that's the part that the young brain has the most trouble with.

    Almost anyone can punch buttons to enter values into a formula...but, in real life, pretty much all the problems are "word problems". You need to be able to understand the concepts to know what formulas might apply to a problem, or even if you need to invent one, etc.

    Its waaaay too early to even consider if you are good at something or bad at something, as your abilities tend to change. You can cultivate what you have to work with, and make it blossom when the time is right.
  7. Dec 30, 2011 #6
    The SAT math section is a joke. It may be my perspective as an engineer, but the entire test seemed pointless and artificial. Don't sweat a low score in it, at least as it pertains to your ability to do math. Sweat a low score because it'll hurt your chances of getting into a good school.
  8. Dec 30, 2011 #7

    Well, at least, that's just my opinion. And it's coming from someone who just couldn't be bothered to even do the test...
    Frankly, I have better things to do math-wise (I'm concerned with the $$ that taking the SAT would require + I don't really want to do my undergrad in the US anymore) and I don't want to deal with this.

    Anyway, you could still try doing some Math Olympiad or JEE questions. They can get quite irritating, especially the JEE ones. KhanAcademy has a few videos on these, which you might want to check out.

    Micromass suggested the book "Basic Mathematics" by Serge Lang to me, which might very well be most suitable for your needs...
  9. Dec 30, 2011 #8
    A low math SAT score isn't really much of an indicator of one's ability to do math because of the content within it. The math that is very important, you'll learn later and you will also get a stronger understanding of high school math as you go along. A low score should still be improved, though, depending on the universities you want to apply to. I agree with Angry Citizen, the math SAT is a joke.
  10. Dec 30, 2011 #9
    There is common idea that Math is a race, and only the fastest learners win that race. This is false. If you are genuinely interested in the subject, there is nothing that is stopping you from learning. Self-discipline is more important than being ahead of your peers at any one moment in time. Stay focused, you will do fine.
  11. Dec 30, 2011 #10
    JEE questions are fun...
  12. Jan 2, 2012 #11
    Hey I'm in your same shoes being a junior in high school myself. I'm taking the hardest classes I can, doubling up in science subjects and just like you, don't feel like I have a strong foundation in math, or real science for that matter. But I'm slowly starting to realize, in all honesty, high school is kind of a joke, I mean from what I've read on this forum, high school doesn't prep you for much of anything but I've noticed everyone says math basics are CRUCIAL. So first make sure you can get into a decent University and then take the initiative on your own to study math. Don't ignore actual schoolwork by any means but take time on your own to really look into math in books and on the internet. Calculus is most important so I'm told but I'm still in PreCal as well so I really can't move forward yet. But I wouldn't worry too much, from what I've heard college is much dif. than high school and so long as you keep your work ethic, read a little extra on math, and have a passion for your studies, you and me both should be good ;) haha. good luck!
  13. Jan 4, 2012 #12
    Just wanted to say thank you all. I am going to stick with it and study a bit more, and I am sure in college everything will work out.

    Thanks a ton! :D
  14. Jan 5, 2012 #13
    I've heard grad students talk about some concepts, like in calculus, that they never really understood until they were in grad school. It all depends on how much you study and become familiar with. It helps to look at every concept from different views, geometric vs. algebraic, etc, even if you briefly overlook it. You never know when those epiphany moments will come in math.
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