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Am I Bad at Math if I Have to Look Up Formulas?

  1. Oct 24, 2015 #1
    Quick background:

    Community college student with quite a love for philosophy, mathematics, history, and politics.

    I'll be transferring to a four-year institution next year to complete my undergraduate degree (undecided major, but leaning towards a double or possibly even triple major in those fields above).

    I am by no means stellar at any of those fields per se, but simply enjoy them greatly and get good grades in them.

    One question I have concerning mathematics is whether or not memorization of formulas is something that is absolutely necessary for either an undergraduate degree in it or possibly a career using applied maths? I find myself frequently having to look up formulas or rules for certain mathematical operations (if I haven't used them in a few months), despite having aced exams using them in the past. I possibly have a bad math formula and rules memory, but can recognize the big picture and what to do in mathematical problems to find solutions (despite forgetting formulas).

    Are there those who've gone on to successfully complete a math undergraduate degree/minor or a career using applied maths, who have memorization problems like this? Also, in the "real" work world, is it feasible to take a quick break to look up a math formula or rule of some sort to solve a problem? Or, would that be embarrassing and/or indicate too low of a level of proficiency to be effective in the work force?

    Appreciate your thoughts in advance!
  2. jcsd
  3. Oct 24, 2015 #2


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    If you don't use it frequently, you will forget it. That's just how the brain works.

    Generally, in the real world, if you ever need to look up a formula it's in order to use it in a computer program or a spreadsheet. You only do that once and you're done, but the computer is then applying the formula in hundreds or thousands of cases. It is imperative that you get it right and not rely on your possibly inaccurate memory. Look it up, even if you think you're sure. The vast majority of your time will be spent either finding the data which is fed into the program or interpreting and communicating the results.
  4. Oct 24, 2015 #3


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    This is why handbooks and other reference materials are published: to provide a quick and easy means to refresh your memory of certain knowledge after it has been learned initially.

    Generally, mental skills, like physical ones, will fade over time if you do not practice them regularly. Working and solving problems is one way to keep mentally fit, just like physical exercise can keep your body fit.

    As far as memorization goes, that is another mental skill which can be sharpened by specialized training and practice.
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