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Questions about the pursuance of physics in college

  1. Jul 14, 2006 #1

    I am a recent high school graduate, and I have a few questions about the pursuance of physics in college.

    A little background: (sorry if it's long-winded... it's late!)

    During my senior year, I took a very simple, algebra-based physics course, not really knowing what to expect--in all honesty, given my dislike of chemistry, I thought I'd hate it. Within a few weeks, I was hooked, and I have been addicted to physics (a little odd, but hey, what the heck?) ever since. I quickly realized that physics was something I wanted to study much more, and something to which I deeply hope to contribute someday.

    There's only one problem. I have, until this past year, never taken math very seriously. Probably in part due to the way it is taught in school, I found it very boring and did the minimal amount of work (thus learning the minimal amount) necessary to pass my way through my math classes, which went up to 2nd year algebra, trigonometry, and AP statistics. Now, having finally seen what 11 years of education failed to show me, I am forced to play catch-up, and re-learn many simple math concepts I never took interest in when I should've learned them.

    [I got mostly C's through algebra and trig (though some that was due to a lack of homework completion ;-)), and A's through stats. In case it matters, my SAT math score is 610, though I have since improved and, gauging myself through other tests, have pushed up to somewhere around the 670 range.]

    So my first question is: is it too late? I have many holes in my mathematical ability, especially in advanced algebra and trigonometry, and I suspect it will be hard for me to fill them-- especially since I've never considered myself very mathematically gifted.

    And also: what would be the best approach to (quickly) catching up to the level I will need for college physics? I would like very much to majour in physics, but I am simply inconfident in my ability to handle the math.

    And, though I know the incredibly subjective nature of this question, how hard is all the advanced math... the linear algebra, differential equations, tensor calculus, etc.? Can one tell if one will do well in these very high-level maths by how one performs at the Calculus I/II level?

    :surprised That was way too long! Sorry! Thanks in advance for any answers, I much appreciate the advice of anyone here.
  2. jcsd
  3. Jul 17, 2006 #2
    what country are you in?
    you need to catch up with maths ..physics contains a hell of alot of maths ... i dont know how good you are with maths ..you probably dont even know ...if you put some effort in you should be o.k (maybe even without the effort) good luck ....start learning the math now.....here is something to look at http://www.phys.uu.nl/~thooft/theorist.html
    but check college syllabusses ...and get down to some hard core studying .....tell me what youi think ..about what ive said ..or anything else..
  4. Jul 17, 2006 #3
    yes most likely you will have to play "catch up" for a while in terms of math - you really do need a lot of it.

    First thing is to make sure you're really, really well prepared for calc. You may want to take a 1 semester course in college of precalc and trig, because it'll save you time and angst over having to repeat calc later because you weren't well enough prepared. Walk before you run, and you won't trip and sprain something. :)

    I think you might find that math may be easier for you once you understand the "physical interpretation" of it. Also it may be that your lack of ability in math was just linked to the fact that you never felt it was necessary or important to know, which would hopefully make it easier now. Assuming that the math 670 score is for the new SAT, that probably indicates more math ability than you've shown in your classes so far.

    If you take Calc I and II, there are probably two things to look out for:

    1. Theoretical stuff - logic, proofs, and theorems. Calc I certainly has its share. If stuff like epsilon-delta definition of limits and things like mean value theorem, extreme value theorem, etc make sense, that's a good sign.

    2. What I like to call "cookie-cutter" math. Personally I dislike it, but it's very, very important to know. It's something you really get into with Calc II, knowing and possibly memorizing lots of integration formulae and further with differential equations, which is largely about recognizing what form the diffeq is of and applying the appropriate solution procedure.
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