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Have neglected math my whole life

  1. Feb 1, 2005 #1
    I'm 18 years old and have always just "squeeked" by in math at school.
    I've always been lost, and I feel that my not getting the needed help during the basics have brought me extremely behind through the years, pretty much to the point now where I cannot pass math no matter how hard I try. I have always done great in all other subjects-- but not math, (science also when math is involved - aka Physics).

    I was just wondering if anyone can give me an idea of how to jump into math from the "bottom" up, and give myself a self education in math. I feel it is the only way at this point, and I would love to get my skills up to par, and perhaps even advanced them to higher math such as calculus. Thanks alot.

    I'm very interested in physics but feel I'll never be anything but a spectator while I'm so lacking in math. I know it will be hard work, but I'd like to try.

    _So ya, any books, or types of math to study--etc. would be greatly appreciated. Thanks alot guys.
  2. jcsd
  3. Feb 1, 2005 #2


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    The only real way to learn math is by doing lots and lots of problems. Your best bet is to purchase a few textbooks that are appropriate for your level, and attempt every single problem in them. Hire a tutor that can help you when you get stuck. (It should be easy to find a local, cheap tutor who can help you with math earlier than calculus.)

    - Warren
  4. Feb 1, 2005 #3
    I suggest the excellent layman's text "What is Mathematics?" by Courant et al., which will take you on a tour of modern mathematics with easy explanations, short histories behind the development of concepts, and most importantly, lots of examples for the reader to try. The most important part of mathematics is at least attempting to do the examples. It is not a spectator sport and cannot be memorized by just reading the theorems. :smile:
    You will want to study some calculus after this, in which case I suggest Courant's classic text as well (All math students know about Courant and Spivak, but Spivak will be too much to handle at this moment. He's a little crazy (in the good way) in that the student proves almost every theorem, but his writing style combined with his step-by-step proofs make him a must-study for math majors.)
  5. Feb 1, 2005 #4
    Thanks a bunch hyper.
  6. Feb 2, 2005 #5
    unFaith: Thanks a bunch hyper.
    I take it Courant is not the right way to start here.

    I tell you as chroot brings up: Hire a tutor that can help you when you get stuck. (It should be easy to find a local, cheap tutor who can help you with math earlier than calculus.)

    Probably the best thing is to find a tutor first. They may be free at a Junior College, provided you are take a math course. If you are at the beginning of a subject, a good tutor in my opinion can raise your grade by two letters.
    Last edited: Feb 2, 2005
  7. Feb 2, 2005 #6
    unFaith, Courant's book is not for laymen. Althought the prerequisites are low, you need strong basics to study that book. I highly reccommend "Maths" by Jenny Olive, published by Cambridge university press. It is specially designed for students studying on their own. It has lots of excercises, all of them with complete solution so that you will not need any ones help. Very good book, you can easily progress throught the book and complete it within 6-7 months if you are really dedicated, maybe even 5 months. I should mention that the book starts from basic math, and algebra and continues throught trigonometry, logarithms, calculus and complex numbers. So you will have a strong base to pursue your interest in physics.
  8. Feb 2, 2005 #7


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    I did nothing all my life in Mathematics until about a year or two ago. I did what I needed to do for the Calculus credit.

    I read books on layman Cosmology and so I decided to go for Physics, which I never took a Physics course. I was allowed in on the basis of my top-notch grades in Accounting (College Program). I decided to change because Accounting was boring and I always adored science, but for some reason it always sucks in class, which it still does.

    For some reason I decided math would be so much more fun because I hate applied questions, which is essentially Physics. I really love math, and I am now majoring in it. I have only began to think math for like 4-5 months now, which is too early to tell whether or not I'm sticking to it.

    I started Calculus I this year not knowing a lot of easy stuff (self-taught Calculus is what I did), but I quickly caught up (like a week). Soon it became so easy I couldn't bear it anymore and I talked to the prof about it. He introduced me to Spivak and voilA I saw what REAL math was. That's when the love of math starting getting to me.

    That's my story in the world of math.

    Moral of story. You like Physics now, until you see Mathematics and from there you must choose the love of your life. :)

    Note: I might still major in Physics, but I personally think it is a waste of my time because I want to focus all my attention on mathematics.
    Last edited: Feb 2, 2005
  9. Feb 5, 2005 #8
    awesome World-Hen, that book looks like it could help me out alot more.
    I'm just gonna pick up both, won't hurt haha
  10. Feb 6, 2005 #9
    Yup, after you pump up your basics, you are going to enjoy courant. But im warning you, you might get addicted.
  11. Feb 6, 2005 #10


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    I think you have a good start with what has been said already. I agree that if you really have ignored amth all your life then the first job is to learn algebra and geometry. you might even want to go back and get some excellent high school texts on these subjects like those by Harold Jacobs. They are the best high school texts out there, and will treat you as if you are learning for the first time, but carry you quite far, and to a high level , meanwhile being well written and amusing.

    The book by Courant and Robbins recommended by Hypermorphism was written for an intelligent person with a decent high school education in math, and you seem to be saying you did not get one of those. Nonetheless it is a great classic in math and definitely worth having, especially since used copies cost about 10 dollars, and are worth 20 times that.

    Another excellent possibility would be a
    college algebra text from about 50 years ago, when people really taught algebra, geometry, exponents, etc, well. I am not familiar with jenny olive's bok, but it sounds like an attempt to recapture this fine era of instruction in precalculus.

    Once you get ready for calculus, there are many good books at many levels of difficulty. the best are courant and spivak and apostol, but anything that appeals to you will do for starters. i recommend elliot gootman's little paperback, calculus, for under 20 dollars.

    I do not recommend smart alec books like "streetsmart calculus" or "calculus for morons", as you not a moron. Some people disagree with me on whether these books can be useful, but i recommend books written by people who not only understand the subject you are learning, but do not talk down to you. that's why courant's books are excellent, and better than those by average college teachers. Courant was one of the great science educators of the century. and yes he leaves hard work for the reader to fill in his discussions.
    Last edited: Feb 6, 2005
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