Dismiss Notice
Join Physics Forums Today!
The friendliest, high quality science and math community on the planet! Everyone who loves science is here!

Courses Math courses to prepare for undergrad physics for older student

  1. Sep 2, 2011 #1
    Along with my previous thread, I've been searching around looking at advice and such for going back to school for physics from an unrelated field (media production).

    My math needs a lot of work before I even consider enrolling in a degree program. My BA only had a few required math courses (college algebra etc, quite some time ago). I'm a product of the Texas public school system and thinking math was "just too hard", when really it was mindset and not applying oneself to really understand it.

    Given it's been sometime since I've studied Mathematics, I'm considering taking a few courses at a community college to A) refresh and learn needed basics and B) get a feel if this is a path I really want (Phd and research science not necessarily my goal). Given my weakness, where should I start? Pre-cal, calculus, trig etc? It'd be great if such courses were to transfer to the University, but that depends and not necessary. The knowledge is more important so I don't fall flat on my face from being to far behind mathematically.
  2. jcsd
  3. Sep 2, 2011 #2
    Most important is that you know your algebra well. I don't know how long ago you've taken that, but revising it could be handy.
    If you know your algebra, then you can consider doing trig and precalc. And only if you know those VERY well, can you consider doing calculus.

    Math is cumulative. So you need to get the basics rights before doing advanced topics.
  4. Sep 2, 2011 #3
    I graduated in 2006 and the last math I took was Probability and Statistics....admittedly I struggled with it from what I remembered. An Algebra refresh wouldn't hurt. At what point could I consider being "ready" for starting undergrad studies? I"m guessing after a good handle on calculus?
  5. Sep 3, 2011 #4
    Well I'm assuming you dont want to wast time so I would definitely brush up on college algebra, then trig/pre-calc, and calculus. These are pretty much the basic courses the rest build on. I also suggest taking geometry, it'll give you a handle on maybe basic proofs. Head to your local library or University library, they have tons of books on the stuff, even textbooks
  6. Sep 6, 2011 #5
    Thanks for the insight. It can be daunting looking at it. A few semesters at a community college, taking classes that may not transfer before I even start at the university level which will take some time itself. But, if I want to do it I may as well be prepared.
  7. Sep 6, 2011 #6
    This, this, and more of this. I'm pretty much in the same boat excelsior. If you're thinking of doing a physics undergrad, try to master each of the things micromass said above. It can be hugely intimidating going back to school, especially in something that you need a refresher on, but it will save you tons of time if you go to a community college and take these courses, rather than trying to leap into a university environment. I tried leaping in, did a crap little course that was a "refresher of high school math" and got the snot knocked out of me when I got to Calculus. It wasn't until I did a lot of reading on this forum and thought about my own life and education that I realized that I was gonna have to take charge of my own education.

    You might want to try one of the two diagnostics tests on this page to see how much work you need. It's from the University of California, one's for Precalculus readiness and the other is Calculus readiness. It can be kind of a shock when you see how much you forget, but don't let it get you down.
    http://mdtp.ucsd.edu/" [Broken]

    Also, going back into a subject that you're unsure about, you're going to need several things - discipline, interest, a good teacher, and a good textbook. While the first two are up to you, and you can't really control the third, the last of these you can influence. Start reading some threads in this forum regarding textbooks,
    Mathwonk's mathematician thread - https://www.physicsforums.com/showthread.php?t=122924"

    Howers thread on high school texts -https://www.physicsforums.com/showthread.php?t=307797"

    The textbooks on these threads are a little different the the standard high school/ community college books. They either have a lot more rigor, or were created in the 60's-70's during the New Math movement like the SMSG texts. Look it up in wikipedia, or Mathwonk's thread above. It's actually an interesting story about the effect the Cold War started to have on education.

    Some of the senior guys on this forum are University profs, so it can be awhile before they respond to your threads - have patience. Use the search function and look through specific threads with some of senior guys or PF award winners, like Mathwonk. There should be quite a few threads on high school education, textbooks, self- study, calculus, calculus readiness, etc.

    A generic high school text can be okay, like Stewart's Precalculus, but you're considering a field that requires a strong understanding of mathematics - nothing wrong with that, but a generic high school text might not be enough for you to create the necessary base of skills you'll need to go further in university. But I'm just an undergrad student basing this on the threads I've read in this forum, so take what I say with a grain of salt.

    In the end, it's your education. Take charge of it.
    Last edited by a moderator: May 5, 2017
  8. Sep 6, 2011 #7
    Hey thanks greeneub! It's nice to know I'm not the only one staring up at what can be perceived as a colossal task. I'm 28 and could very well spend another year or more just preparing at the community college level, but I feel its the best (and only) path if it's something I want to do. I would like to find a good algebra text that might lend itself to some self-study. I'll start poking through those links.

    If you don't mind me asking, What's your path or goal? Science/astronomy outreach, public education etc is an area that interests me greatly.
  9. Sep 6, 2011 #8
    I started my degree last year at 29, having been out of high school for 10+ years, and I'm struggling a little bit with maths, but it's more about the basics I've forgotten than the new concepts I'm learning. I've found Khan Academy to be invaluable for brushing up on trig and basic calculus. I keep tripping up in my tests because I forget the trig identities and algebraic manipulation required to change a complex equation into something that's easier to work with. If I could offer one bit of advice it would be to practise that stuff! I've had more than a few moments where my instructor looks at me like "what are you doing in this course if you don't know your surds, or inverse trig functions, or whatever" and I just smile meekly, make some frantic notes and then go and relearn them from Khan or my old high school text. It feels a bit one step forward and two steps back, but it's fun learning useful things again.
  10. Sep 7, 2011 #9
    Yeah, I think re-learning and getting stronger at the basics is where its at, it's been 10 years since high school for me as well. I've been looking over the degree plans for two of the universities I'm considering. Both expect you to start out at the Calculus II level from the get go and be proficient in Trig. So, there's my goal I suppose.
Share this great discussion with others via Reddit, Google+, Twitter, or Facebook