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

Problems with numerical illiteracy

  1. Aug 23, 2008 #1
    How good do I have to be with numbers in upper division math( esp. linear algebra and probability)? I have pretty good spacial skills, logic and algebra( I can solve differential equations quickly with little error). I got mostly A's in lower division math and, if it counts for anything, physics courses. Yet when it comes to basic stuff like multiplying numbers mentally and correctly keeping track of decimal places in basic operations, I'm sunk. I mean, it's not that I can do the math(though some of it isn't awfully intuitive), its just that I'm not quick like most math/science majors. My little brother can do arithmetic faster than me and he got a D in Calc. =(.
  2. jcsd
  3. Aug 23, 2008 #2
    No, dude, get that stuff out of your head. That's what calculators are for. As sad as it sounds, there are more important things than arithmetic.

    Every now and then when we do a numerical problem in one of my physics classes (I'll be a senior now), it comes to multiplying something non-trivial and the class gets a collective brain-fart and it takes us like 5 minutes to do any adding or multiplying, even the professor gets stuck.

    Don't worry about it. Calculus is more important than arithmetic.
  4. Aug 23, 2008 #3
    Agreed with WarPhalange. How quickly you can do mental arithmetic does not measure how you'll do in upper level math courses.

    You need to know how to think abstractly, grasp concepts, and be creative, not multiply 323.43*45.7 in your head.
  5. Aug 23, 2008 #4
    Don't worry--even some of the math professors can get those wrong during lectures. I remember a few times in number theory when my professor said 56 is 7 mod 2, implying that if you divide 56 by 7, you get a remainder of 2. It took a few seconds for a class to realize the fallacy in his statement, and it was actually funny because somebody who can do algebraic topology can still get the multiplication table wrong.

    But as I've said, it was actually "funny", and nobody thought it was ridiculous or crazy (e.g. "OMG, he can't do multiplication and he's our professor!"). The upper division math classes stresses on understanding abstract concepts rather than being able to compute arithmetic quickly. People won't look down on you for not getting correct arithmetic, except for some misguided people who THINK math is all about arithmetic (but we all have to deal with these people in different way).
  6. Aug 23, 2008 #5
    That's the worst part of telling people I'm a math major. I'm the first one asked when big number arithmetic needs to be done.
  7. Aug 23, 2008 #6

    edit: that's weird. For an exercise in being creative, anyone want to conjecture why that quote altered the capitalization at the beginning of each word?
Share this great discussion with others via Reddit, Google+, Twitter, or Facebook