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Studying College Math

  1. Mar 14, 2016 #1
    A little background:
    I'm 18 years old and am attending the last year of highschool and and was accepted to attend a mathmatical university in our capital next year. I have really loved math basically my whole life but I'm starting to get doubts where I am really good enough for it. I have posted about something similiar to this and some of you guys suggested that I should try doing some proofy math to see if I would still like it. And so I did just that and I asked my profesor if he could help me with his. He said that he would and he gave me his old college books and he basically started teaching me some more "college " level math ( we would stay like every friday after school and he would study for like 90 min after that).

    This went great I still really liked "proofy" math but unfortunately we had to move to another city due to my parents getting a new job there. My parents enrolled me into this kinda elite highschool in that area and even there I quickly became one of the best guys at math ( since I already knew most of the stuff they were studying because I had studied "proofy" math before). The profesors at this new school saw this and suggested that I apply for the mathmatical competition( I have never been a part of any mathmatical competition before). It sounded like fun and I though why not. So the day of the competition came and I scored really badly. I only made it to like top 100 in the country. This really suprised me as I though I would rank a little higher. And know when I see the solutions to the problems I feel kinda stupid, because once I see the answer I always think to myself that I should have know or saw that the answer is obvious.

    My question now is : Can one be successful in college even if he or she was was not really good in competetive math.

    TLDR: Do bad scores in competetive math mean that you will do bad in college and later in your carrer ?
    thanks for any answers
  2. jcsd
  3. Mar 14, 2016 #2


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    Top 100 out of 101 or top 100 out of thousands of entrants? Just how "bad" did you do?

    I think this is a case of being a big fish in a small pond, then becoming an average sized fish in a large ocean. Many "elite" students are surprised when they attend "elite" schools and are no longer the smartest kid on the block.

    This doesn't say anything about whether you'll be successful or not as a mathematician. Many students who graduate with advanced degrees in mathematics most likely never attended any math competitions. It's meaningless.
  4. Mar 14, 2016 #3
    Don't worry, competitions are pretty much meaningless. They're fun if you like them. But that's about it.

    You see, competitions test a certain skill. It's about being able to think quickly. This is a valuable skill. But not very important when it comes to math research. In math research, you will want to go over concepts very slowly but deeply. Reading an analysis book in 2 weeks would be silly, in the same way, finding a new and original result takes a looong time.

    OK sure, many of the top mathematicians nowadays were very very good in competitions. But I know many math professors personally who never were any good at such things. It doesn't matter in the long run.
  5. Mar 15, 2016 #4
    College is not a competition against the rest.
    Is a competition against yourself.
    Your effort is what counts, not even being smart pre-university, I've seen brilliant minds go down from laziness and the so-called "mediocre" students in my own school get excellent grades in courses like calculus 3 or differential equations.
    How good you will be depends on how much effort you put into it, is not about being good enough ,is about studying hard enough. and being constant about it.
  6. Mar 16, 2016 #5
    Thanks everyone for your replies. Sorry it took so long for me to get back to you, I was really busy
    Compatitions in my country work a little bit like this .
    First each school is going to have its own competition and the the 5 best people from each school advance further. then we have so called regionals where the top 50 people from each region advance further to the state competition. And I was like 89 of the 400 people competing in the final competition.
    And I kinda see how you guys say that this competitions are just for fun and often don't even show ones true knowladge. However whenever I score badly on any test or a competition like this , I can't help but to feel like I let my professors down because I believe that they expected better from me
    Anyways thanks for all your answers
    Last edited: Mar 16, 2016
  7. Mar 16, 2016 #6


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    89 out of 400 is not bad.
  8. Mar 16, 2016 #7
    That may be true. However I just can't lose the feeling, that that is not good enough
  9. Mar 16, 2016 #8
    And you're right. It's not a top result. You're not a revolutionary brilliant mind.

    What are you going to do now? Everybody going into math will eventually face the fact he's not as smart as he thinks he is. For some, this realization comes a bit sooner than others. You just found out you're not as smart as you think you were, and your score certainly wasn't top. So what? A true mathematician would say: screw it. I might not be smart at all, but I just love learning about math and I just want to know more. Finding out more about this cool math is stronger than anything I know and I will do it, whatever my scores.

    Are you going into math because you like it a lot, or because you're good at it? If it's the latter, it's a bad reason anyway, and you should rethink your career path. If it's the former, a bad result on a competition shouldn't bother you at all.
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