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Studying How should I prepare for a Physics Undergrad?

  1. Aug 28, 2016 #1
    Hi. I am currently thinking about going back to school in a year or so in order to get a physics undergrad and I was wondering what I should study in order to best prepare myself. I haven't been in school for a while, and my last experience with maths was in high school (which I hardly have any solid memory of), but I am willing to do some self-studying if only to know the essentials (though ideally, I would also want to get a step-up on the material). Do you guys have any recommendations on what textbooks or concepts I should read up on here?
  2. jcsd
  3. Aug 28, 2016 #2


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    • Basic algebra or Introductory Algebra - one semester of study
    • Intermediate Algebra - one semester of study
    • Trigonometry - one semester of study, but you may need Geometry first; or you might learn the necessary Trigonometry from "Pre-Calculus" which combines more advanced Algebra and Trigonometry in the same course
    • Calculus & Analytic Geometry - one semester, but this you could start during your first real beginning Physics course for the science engineering students
    • More Calculus and maybe other Mathematic courses as you progress

    You will need to be really good at applying Intermediate Algebra and basic Trigonometry for applied problem-solving. You would begin at a community college, if you have not been a student for a while.
  4. Aug 28, 2016 #3
    For Algebra, a general algebra book that universities use for their remedial algebra course is a good place to start.
    Once you learn the equivalent of intermediate algebra, it is time to look into Geometry.

    For geometry, I like Geometry by Edwin E. Moise. It provides answers, is very clear, and the theorems are highly motivated. Some of the problems, and the language can be a bit formal for someone who is new to mathematics. Granted, I read Moise after I finished Calculus 2, but I wished I would have learned about this book earlier.
    Geometry by Harold Jacobs, get an earlier edition 2nd edition is great, it is a step below Moise. But, maybe it is better as an introduction to geometry.

    For Trig, there is many options. My advice is to get Pre-Calculus book. Most standard pre-calculus books cover algebra and trigonometry. I like the idea of using 2 books.
    David Cohen: Precalculus- A Problem Solving Approach, and Trigonometry by Gelfand. Supplement the trigonometry portions with Gelfand. There are many neat things in Gelfand not found in the typical Trig books. It is a supplement to a trigonometry course, not the sole textbook for a course.

    Once you finish these, you can either get something like Serge Lang: Basic Mathematics, Axler: Pre-Calculus, or Simmons :Pre-Calculus, to get an even better understanding of these topics.

    Or you can skip these last books mentioned and head straight to calculus, only if you are 100% you have a thorough understanding of foundational mathematics.

    This plan of study, can take you up to 3 years. So if you are not willing to put in 3 years, then don't start.
  5. Aug 28, 2016 #4
    Thanks for the advice guys. I'm gonna look to purchasing these books soon.

    I've noticed that all of the recommendations deal with mathematics, which makes sense since it is math-heavy. But are there any physics based books that you guys recommend I look at as well?
  6. Aug 28, 2016 #5
    I suggest you get both Moise and Apostol. Apostol may or may not be beyond your scope. Its a good book, prices for it have been increasing, and it is one of those books you keep.
  7. Aug 28, 2016 #6


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    Not until you have a working knowledge of basic algebra, trig/geometry, differentiation and integration.
  8. Sep 9, 2016 #7
    Try pre-calc in the ALEKS online system.
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