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How much maths knowledge is needed in order to do a physics degree?

  1. Feb 3, 2014 #1
    I'm doing a computer science degree this year, I might do a second major in physics next year, but I'm not sure if my maths is up to scratch. I never did much maths in school apart from basic things in math A, it says that I must have done maths B as a prerequisite for the physics major (which has alot more involved, like calculus). Do they teach you these things in the degree? Or do you need to know most of it before entering?

    I'm very interested in physics, but I don't think I have the maths skills to do it. I'm also interested in some creative fields, I may pursue those instead.
  2. jcsd
  3. Feb 3, 2014 #2


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    I'm not familiar with "math A" or "math B". Every school is different, and they often call the same math classes by different names.

    A bare-bones physics education would typically require calculus, linear algebra, and differential equations. But often more is required. The math can sometimes be learned in a physics class, but you can bet it's not as rigorous as a math class.

    What are math A and B?
  4. Feb 3, 2014 #3
    I think you should at least see some calculus before starting a physics major. I am assuming math A and B are high school courses, which are extremely fundamental to intro physics, but are not enough in my opinion. They will expect you to know everything up to calculus pretty much perfectly. Calculus is not usually a pre-requisite (usually co-requisite) but the learning curve will be very steep if you don't know what a derivative is
  5. Feb 4, 2014 #4
    To summarize both: Math A (what I did in high school) was more mid level maths, with things like trigonometry, not calculus was really involved. Math B was more high level, with things like calculus.
  6. Feb 4, 2014 #5


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    Are you asking for the mathematics needed to START a physics degree, or mathematics that you will eventually need to successfully complete a physics degree? For the latter, open Mary Boas's text "Mathematical Methods in the Physical Sciences". That is practically all the mathematics, and the area of mathematics that a typical physics and engineering student will need in an undergraduate physics program. If you are lucky, the school that you are enrolled in will have a mathematical physics course that offers all these math classes. If not, then you will either have to learn the mathematics as you go along (which is very difficult), or take the necessary math classes.

    This is where an academic advisor will come in handy.

  7. Feb 4, 2014 #6
    Maths B had calculus, but I only did math A which goes over more mid level maths. Even so, I have been exposed to a little calculus. I think I understand some of the basics like the derivative.

    I did maths B in grade 10 for about a few weeks, but I didn't understand it so I dropped out into maths A. Mostly because the teachers expected you to know how to do algebra in order to do many of the exercises, I didn't at the time. If I knew how I wouldn't have been so turned off by it.
  8. Feb 4, 2014 #7


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    At most universities in the USA, the first-year introductory physics course for physics majors has calculus as a co-requisite, that is, they require that you at least be taking a calculus course at the same time. This intro physics course doesn't actually use much calculus, and more or less introduces you to basic calculus concepts as you go along, leaving it to the real calculus course to go into details. At least in principle that's the way it's supposed to work. In practice, it's helpful to have studied some calculus beforehand, because it makes things conceptually easier.

    What is important is that you be comfortable with algebra (especially the kind that involves rearranging equations that don't have any numbers in them) and basic trigonometry.

    Things may be different in your country. I don't think it's the USA because we don't say "maths" here, and we usually say "10th grade" instead of "grade 10". :smile:
  9. Feb 8, 2014 #8
    Well, I hope that in the physics degree (which I'll probably start next year, if not I'll be doing a different second major) they will go over such mathematical concepts. It is an undergraduate degree after all, it doesn't make sense for you to know heaps about it before going into it. The entire point of university is to learn there. I may do some calculus classes this year, and I'll learn more about it in my spare time, including algebra so I am prepared for a physics degree next year. Also I'm from Australia so the language might be slightly different. At the moment I'm reading a book called 'understand calculus'.

    I was also thinking about doing a fine arts major, but I was told by someone in the industry that I should avoid doing these sorts of majors at university, since I can learn much more and save more money simply getting a mentor on whatever artistic subject I want to learn. So I'm more inclined to leave the technical stuff for university. With a physics and computer science degree, I'd be set! I think my goal is to become a renaissance man, almost like a Da Vinci, and become good at many different fields. It's strange that I have so many interests :S.
  10. Feb 8, 2014 #9
    Personally, I think that is an unrealistic goal in today's world. It seems the only way to survive is to become a specialist in whatever field you may choose and become the best at it... The workplace is just too competitive for the "jack of all trades". Though if you're only considering hobbies then go for it! :)

    As for having many interests, I had a similar problem when I started college. After your first year or so, you will probably start to find yourself gravitating towards certain subjects. You may find yourself dreading calculus class but really looking forward to your art history course or vice versa. Only by trying many things out will you begin to realize your preferences. My advice would be to try MANY different courses in your first year.
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