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Advice for a Young High School Student (Where did you screw up?)

  1. May 20, 2009 #1
    Hi everyone, I was just wondering what were the mistakes you made along your career path in any of the sciences, and what would you recommend any young person doing to avoid these mistakes...
  2. jcsd
  3. May 21, 2009 #2


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    Sometimes you have to make the mistakes yourself, or you won't ever learn from them.

    Perhaps some general advice though is to develop good study habits early on, even if the material is easy through high school. A lot of students get caught in the trap of earnign high marks with little work through high school, and sometimes even throuh the first year or so of university. But when the 'real' academic work hits, they struggle, because a review the night before the exam and a quicker than average mind are no longer sufficient to earn top marks.
  4. May 21, 2009 #3
    take calc 1-3 + diff eq + linear algebra if you can in high school.
  5. May 21, 2009 #4
    Wow, thats an intense high school course load. Are all of those courses even offered in high school? I dont think ive ever heard of anyone taking diff eq in high school.
  6. May 22, 2009 #5

    nonsense, i know someone from india who took quantum mechanics, organic chemistry I & II in highschool (amazing what u can acomplish if you don't waste time with useless electives ie: art/drama/cooking lol)
  7. May 22, 2009 #6
    well i screwed up by smoking pot and missing classes, ive always been into mathematics/physics but i just got with the wrong crowd, slacked off had to repeat a grade and... had to go to community college where i got my **** together and got into university where i am currently studying, it was hard work but it paid off.
  8. May 22, 2009 #7
    you can take them at a local community college
  9. May 22, 2009 #8


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    I would advise young people to take the more challenging course when you have a choice.

    For example, I know a woman who chose to take "Organic Chemistry for Biology Majors" rather than the traditional Organic Chem that chemistry majors have to take.

    Years down the road she decided she really wanted to become a veterinarian...but vet school required the more rigorous course. So she had to go back and take the more difficult course, which added a year to her schooling...an expensive mistake that could have been avoided.
  10. May 22, 2009 #9
    For science exactly this. Believe me, its not as hard as it sounds. It is actually quite easy and can be done by any average science student in highschool. I am teaching my brother now and he is learning it faster than I did in univeristy! Your science courses will always make refrence to this math, even if it is not an official prerequisite.

    For pure math, I regret not learning basic math really well. The first time I heard the word commutative and transitive were in linear algebra. I was never aware that elementary algebra had its own structure and such things were assumed. Proofs were painful to absorb, because it was hard to understand what exactly constitutes a proof... something I learned after the course when I self-studied geometry and a proof book. I never understood trigonometry and why the triangle ratios work...ie. why are they independent of sides and why are they continous. After a 4 month stunt in the summer of advanced highschool books (found here:https://www.physicsforums.com/showthread.php?t=307797), I begain to appretiate modern math a lot more and seen how it generalizes elementary ideas I never covered in school. In short, I knew how to do highschool math but never understood why it worked. Coupled with this, I never knew about Math Olympiads and would have loved to compete.
  11. May 22, 2009 #10
    I honestly cannot imagine a high school student taking diff eq. That class fails so many students at the senior university level and requires such advanced mathematics from every discipline I don't know how a HS student could ever be prepared for it.

    Back to the OPs question, I really wish I would have gotten a minor in chemistry to go along with my BSME degree. Now that I'm at the master's level I'm finding it difficult to grasp many concepts in electrochemistry, polymer chemistry, and statistical thermodynamics that I really should know. Right now I'm studying chemistry for at least a half hour before I go to bed just so I can understand the papers that I read.
  12. May 22, 2009 #11


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    It depends what one means by "differential equations": I wouldn't imagine that the course with such a name covered the same material at every university.

    For example, I studied some differential equations in high school; that was only first order ODEs, though. I do know that some classes studied second order equations, also. Still, this is probably in part just a difference between the US high school system and those elsewhere in the world.
  13. May 22, 2009 #12
    ??? in my school differential equations is a sophmore/2000 level class and can be taken immediately after calc 2.

    and i don't know what advanced mathematics you're talking about? i mean maybe the matrix exponential which when treated properly is a lie theory topic but it's not treated properly.

    im not boasting; i went through calc/odes sequence relatively late in my educational career ( at around 20 ) but there was nothing there that i felt i couldn't have understood much earlier. i'm with howers on this one, with a patient guiding hand it can easily be taught to very young students.

    really take those in cc, if they don't let you fight them. those 5 classes( if you count linear algebra ) will put you so far ahead in the maths it's ridiculous and will let you study actually interesting math.

    essentially i don't see anything in applied math that a high school student couldn't grasp. it is the pure math classes that require very very good instructors and should be taken at uni. this is because the methodology of pure math, essentially proofs, is so unfamiliar to most primary students.
  14. May 23, 2009 #13
    ODEs at the senior level? You must be talking about either PDEs or a theoretical course on ODEs that covers the existence theorems. Basic ODEs, like solving first and second order equations, are a joke. The only math you require is trigonometry and calculus, and a tad on imaginary numbers. You don't need to go into matrices and simulatenous equations. Highschoolers are perfectly capable of doing Calc 1-3 out of Stewart and ODEs out of Boyce in their senior years, maybe with summer school. Like ice said, to understand the theory and proofs is another matter best left for college. Computation techniques, imo, are easier to learn when you are young.
  15. May 23, 2009 #14

    Highschool ODES and comm college ODES courses are NOT exactly the same the HS one is dumbed down significantly such as business calculus is dumbed down for business students. I looked at a friend's HS ode notes and they were very basic and some material was removed, i took ODE in HS and it was much more complex, they don't transfer as the same thing HS/CC ODE classes, atleast where i live anyway.
    Last edited: May 23, 2009
  16. May 23, 2009 #15
    His high school was teaching a diff eq class? My [American] school doesn't even have a calculus II class ("AP Calculus BC"). But yes high school classes are dumbed down and serve as a primer for a university course and that's kind of expected for classes like that (otherwise they wouldn't have enough people who are capable of taking the class).
  17. May 23, 2009 #16


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    To the OP, take the most advanced courses that your school offers, and discipline yourself to scour the materials, study, do extra work, and strive for 100% scores on your tests. Learn how to take lecture notes effectively (not copiously - efficiently) and study those before quizzes/tests. When you get to college you will be competing against other students who have already developed good study habits - it's a whole new ball-game. A big plus is that when you get to college, you OWN your texts, and you can make notes in the margins, end-papers, etc to keep them in context. When I was in engineering school, a lot of students were lugging around rafts of spiral-bound note-books and jotting in them. I would make notes in my texts, underline stuff, etc, and generally had no problems selling my texts to the next year's students because of it (unless the departments had already ditched the texts, which seems like a BIG money-making plot for the publishers and campus book-stores). In HS, when you can't mark up your textbooks, keep a spiral notebook with dividers or tabs for each subject, and every time your instructor mentions a key concept, jot down a note in the notebook and flag the text with a sticky-note. When an instructor emphasizes a concept in class, you're going to see it on a quiz and/or a test in your near future. I hope this helps.
  18. May 23, 2009 #17

    The other mistake I made was not getting off my ADD medication earlier, so eventually it backfired and totally wrecked my brain. Took years to recover.
  19. May 23, 2009 #18
    My advice: don't bum off maths and physics (or chem/bio, if that's where you want to go). I'm in my first year at university, and bummed around a bit in school. 'As long as I can get good enough grades to get into uni, that will be fine, then I'll nail the As at university'. It didn't work for me, nor for anyone else who has tried.

    Baaad move. I started behind other people, and I'm struggling to keep up. Now I feel like a completely wally for not learning properly in school. Honestly, what you do in school directly affects how well you do at university. Just try as hard as you can now, so you don't have to struggle later.
  20. May 24, 2009 #19
    I'd say try to have some idea what you'd like to do before and in the early years of undergraduate college. Nobody plans out their entire college career ahead of time (in fact such a task is probably impossible), but it definitely helps to spend some time thinking about it. Also, when you look for colleges, make sure you ask yourself, "Self, what kinds of things do the faculty do here? How big is it? How good are my chances of going far?" Think about whether or not you want to go to grad school, and what kind of research you'd like to do.

    Also -- and this is important -- NEVER let anybody tell you that you can't do something, especially if you're dead set on going to college. I almost made this unfortunate mistake as a college sophomore, and i'm still reeling from the consequences.

    I hope this was of some help.
  21. May 24, 2009 #20
    I had the same attitude in high school as you did...but when I got to Uni I decided to buckle down and consequently earned a 3.74 during my first year (one C bringing me down...didn't go to that class for the final 7 weeks and paid the price [really low homework grade!]).

    I'd say, as long as you keep yourself grounded, you should have to problems in taking college more seriously than HS. My mental-carryover from HS to college was nonexistent except for one class from my first semester. It also happened to be my easiest course...my "joke" course...which is probably why I ended up treating it like I did my high school classes.
  22. May 26, 2009 #21
    Get as many practice copies of the exam you are about to take and work on the questions until you can do them without any effort in an exam situation. Be careful that the syllabus hasn't changed! Check with teacher and examining bodies to make sure the style and content of the questions will be unchanged from previous years. Ignore all the comments about doing advanced calculus before college. Just do what's on the syllabus and make sure you ace it. When you get to college you can master advanced calculus then.

    The comments on not doing half-assed "Organic Chemistry for Idiots" or "Physics for Poets" are spot on. Do a straight physics course if you want to do research in Physics. Also, don't do a daft course like "Combined Sciences" with mostly physics options or some other trendy rubbish. Just do straight physics (or Chemistry, or Biology, or ... depending on what you want to do research in). UK specific -- you need to decide at 18 what you want to do research in. Don't take a combined science course because you "like all the sciences". Choose what you are best at and/or what you are most interested in amongst the single science options. You can do Physics and read Dawkins' popular books in your spare time. Don't try and reach the research frontiers in Physics, Chemistry and Biology at the same time!
  23. May 29, 2009 #22
    I don't know about mechanics, but Organic Chemistry I is mandatory, and I think OC II is partially covered in the mandatory part of the HS science curriculum anyway.

    Kudos to the chap if he took QM, though.

    The normal HS physics curriculum only goes through a part of the standard university sequence (calculus-based foundations in Mechanics, Thermodynamics, Electromagnetism, Optics (both ray and wave), introduction to the bulk properties of matter, introduction to fluid mechanics, introduction to modern physics, and basic electronics and communication technology). I never had QM beyond a chapter on the dual nature of matter and the nature of atoms and nuclei, but that was common to everyone.
  24. May 29, 2009 #23
    This may seem strange but... Learn to program. You are young at a wonderful time in our history. The technology is exploding in interesting and unpredictable ways. Build yourself an exocortex. (Or at least the 2009 version of one: Get your own blog and wiki and jam everything you learn into them.)

    It's been said that the best way to learn something is to teach it. A close second would be programming it.
  25. May 30, 2009 #24
    My High School is a special math and science school with a 6 year program, which admits the brightest students (in math and science) right after elementary school.

    I thought i'd made it in life when I got in, so my first 2 years were crap. Trying to make up for them right now.

    They didn't admit me into Math Honors cos of this, so I'm appealing because my year 3 and 4 are all A+.

    Hope you start working asap after you enter high school.
  26. May 30, 2009 #25
    Go to class. That's all I've got for you.
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