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How to do well in Math?

  1. Jun 15, 2011 #1
    I want to go into physics for my bachelor's studies but I have a problem. I do not love math. In fact, I view it as somewhat of a "necessary evil". Even then, I don't practice it very often and as a result, end up screwing myself over. I find that when I haven't practiced it for long, I forget how to do many things. It is worrisome because I do think that math shouldn't be memorized. Needless to say, I am currently not doing well in Calculus and need help. Are there any tips on how to study for a final exam?
  2. jcsd
  3. Jun 15, 2011 #2


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    One thing I should point out is that, at least in my experience, doing well in coursework does not necessarily mean that you have deep understanding of the subject material. I'm not saying that you don't learn anything: you do, but the fact is that you can't possibly get the kind of depth required for someone to be an expert in that field.

    In terms of understanding, my advice is to start from the initial assumptions and slowly look at how those assumptions are used and transformed to get the stuff that you are learning.

    With calculus, you'll probably spend a very short amount of time discussing limits and fundamental theorem of calculus to get definitions for basic integrals and derivatives. From this you build a library of transformations and decompositions to find a variety of integrals.

    In the above case, your focus is probably not going to be on how rigorous the definitions of differentiation and integration are: they will probably instead be on how to transform expressions to calculate a variety of measures (like area, volume, arc length, and so on), using your transformation results (integration by parts, substitution, etc).

    With regards to forgetting things, everyone does it. In my experience, good lecturers in math start by explaining what the topic is all about and what the results are aiming to do. It is important that you understand and retain this knowledge because if you forget everything else, but don't forget this, you'll be able to look at the appropriate results (proofs, calculations, and so on) and be able to use these to do what you need to do. If you don't even know why you are doing proofs or calculations, ask your lecturer immediately. You are bound to forget formulas, but if you know what its all about, you'll be able to recognize how to use them and do what you need to do.

    With regards for final exams, look at other final exams for the subject to get a feel for what you will be doing. Your lecturer should give you a decent idea of what they expect: if they don't then ask them. I don't know the scope of your course, but I remember first year to focus more on applying specific results than doing higher level problems where you have to formulate the model and analyze it from first principles.

    Finally, there are some good resources out there like the Schaums series of books. There are literally dozens of schaums books that have hundreds of already worked out problems, and I'm pretty sure that there is one for calculus. I've found it to be a great resource. It shouldn't be used exclusively and in isolation, but it will definitely be a good complementary resource for you.
  4. Jun 16, 2011 #3
    Well if you could force yourself to do math, I guess that could work. But chances are, changing your outlook on math would help you put in more effort.

    As for the final, I don't know go read Stewart or something. Then go do some analysis.
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