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Returning to school - how much math should I repeat?

  1. Sep 21, 2011 #1
    I currently work in public health, and I am thinking about going back to school for my master's in epidemiology (or maybe even biostatistics). I want to have a solid math background to allow me to really dig into the stats part of public health. I finished my undergrad degree in 2004, but my last math class was almost a decade ago. When I was in school, I enjoyed math and did well, but I haven't given stats or calc a second thought in the last ten years. Seriously - I remember nothing.

    Since I haven't done more than calculate tips in a long time, should I start from scratch? As in, should I take algebra, trig, etc. at a community college first and see how that goes?

  2. jcsd
  3. Sep 21, 2011 #2


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    I don't think it should be necessary to start all the way back with algebra. Maybe an intro statistics class would allow you to brush up on your algebra skills, while also reintroducing basic stats. You'll need that whether you go into biostats or epidemiology.

    I started taking classes some 15 years after graduating, and I also thought I remembered nothing. Either I was wrong about that, or learning something the second time comes *really* easy. So, you may be surprised at what you remember, once you get into it!
  4. Sep 21, 2011 #3


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    Hey JuniCB and welcome to the forums.

    For statistics I recommend you know calculus as well as optimization techniques (this includes Calc I,II,III). You should also know applied linear algebra. Also some basic knowledge of probability and statistics would be beneficial.

    I don't know if starting from scratch is necessary unless you have never done the calculus sequence before. You'll use a lot from this sequence and if you haven't done it in one way or another, then I recommend you do that.

    If they cover this in the course, then obviously your strategy will change.

    With regards to using packages, that will be taught most likely in the masters courses.
  5. Sep 21, 2011 #4


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    You can also consider taking a placement exam. That will help you know where you need to start. If you end up placing on the border between two courses, you might be able to do some self-study before classes start and improve your placement exam score so that you can start right where you need to be. This is what my wife did when she went back to school.
  6. Sep 21, 2011 #5
    I agree with this. Colleges require you to take a placement exam in Math before you sign up for your first Math class. I would recommend that you begin with Intermediate Algebra.
  7. Sep 22, 2011 #6
    I took Calc III recently - 10 years after taking Calc II and Linear Algebra. I spent about 30 hours over a few weeks working through problems in the 'Calc for Dummies' workbook I picked up at the local bookstore as self-study and prep (this was recommended to me by a friend whom is now a community college math teacher). After showing the department chair the work I had done on my own, he was willing to allow me into the higher class without any fuss.

    If you took a full sequence of calculus I think you'll find it will come back to you easilly. The only problem I had was some trig-identities which had fallen out of my mind. Whenever I had to use one in a problem, and didn't remember it, I would write the identity down again on a piece of paper in an attempt to reinforce my memory.

    Regarding placement tests - will they cover maths such as calculus? From my experience at a few different colleges they only cover math through pre-calc (unless you specifically request a CLEP).

    Ultimately, I think you should speak with an advisor - as your situation may not be unique. They may suggest some self-study for the general practices as the higher classes may have enough 'refresher' material to handle the specifics.
  8. Sep 22, 2011 #7
    If you are from the UK buy an A' level text book and work your way through the problems, it starts with basic algebraic manipulation, log rules, and factorisation etc and works its way up to basic calculus, the rules of integration, differentiation etc. If you are then finding the problems given comfortable then you should be ready for university level maths. Practice and repetition makes perfect though, a problem book like Schams 1000 solved problems is really handy for working through the problems and giving you the practice you will need to feel comfortable with the rules of calculus etc.
  9. Sep 22, 2011 #8
    If you know where you might be going for your advanced degree... you may want to look at the college handbook/catalog to see what math-based courses are required for the degree, and then take a trip to the college bookstore to peek at the books and see if you think you can handle the work. You can also maybe think of 'about' where you'd probably think of starting in math courses based on your comfort level or recommendations here, and look at those texts.

    I also agree about talking to a advisor, and looking into possible placement exams.
  10. Sep 22, 2011 #9
    You could spend a weekend poking through khanacademt and ocw.mit to refresh on algebra/trig/calc, making note of the things you don't remember.
  11. Sep 22, 2011 #10
    Thank you all for your replies. I will do some calling around and see what grad advisors think. I called my local community college last summer, and they recommended starting over in Calc I, but when I skimmed the text, it seemed like a foreign language.

    I'll check out Khan Academy and the like and see what comes back to me. I took Calc I, II, and Stats the first time around, so hopefully there's some leftover math knowledge buried in my brain somewhere. Part of my concern is that now, as an adult, I want to really know the material, not just get by. I don't want to skip something that could allow me to have a firmer grasp on the material down the road.

    Again, thanks. You may hear more from me if I leap back in to math -my brain feels foggier than it did ten years ago...
  12. Sep 22, 2011 #11
    This is a great place to help you make that leap. I was out of school for nearly 11 years when I went back to college! The homework help section on this website is the best there is.
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