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SAT math scores; low score indicative of natural ability?

  1. Aug 15, 2012 #1
    I've actually already completed my first year of college, with quite modest results. Something which has been causing me quite a bit of psychological bother though is whether or not my SAT math score is a reflection of some kind of natural ability or intelligence, rather than a reflection of work ethic/educational quality (both of which were also modest).

    The score itself was a 660, which is well below the threshold of most top programs in physics (e.g. MIT or Caltech). Is this sort of an indication that my modest performance (mostly B's and a few C's) in my first year could be tied to a lack of ability, and not merely laziness (my initial conclusion)? My passion and interest have been jumpstarted since last semester in which I took many math courses (topology, abstract algebra, real analysis, mathematical physics), but I'm afraid it's a wasted pursuit if I lack the talent!
  2. jcsd
  3. Aug 15, 2012 #2
    You took mathematical physics, topology, real analysis and Algebra your freshman year?
  4. Aug 15, 2012 #3
    This is true.
  5. Aug 15, 2012 #4
    *mathematical physics course was not graduate/upper division; it was a lower division course rolling linear algebra, differential equations, and some other stuff into one.

    EDIT: Abstract algebra was senior level intro; we used intro to real analysis by Gaughan in that course so I think it was basically advanced calculus.
  6. Aug 15, 2012 #5
    I think your low scores mostly have to do with a heavy course load. Those four courses in freshman year is really a lot.
  7. Aug 15, 2012 #6


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    If what you say is true then the girl in my AP Physics C and Calc BC class who could barely do any of the problems must have just been fooling around because her 800 on the math SAT indicated that she had a great prowess in mathematics. Or it could mean she just studied like crazy and memorized the general pattern of questions that always repeat on the math SAT. Of course there are a lot of people who get high math SAT scores simply because they are good at math but it is not true of everyone. You might just be bad at taking standardized exams.
  8. Aug 15, 2012 #7
    well, isn't it supposed to test reasoning ability? so she was very lazy in those AP courses but could reason very well?

    My grade school education was quite modest; for the first two years in high school I was at an art school with very little rigor in math/science so perhaps my basic knowledge was weak...
  9. Aug 15, 2012 #8
    What standardized tests are supposed to be doing and what they actually do, do not coincide very well.
  10. Aug 15, 2012 #9
    Hm... so maybe I'm making a mountain out of a mole hill?
  11. Aug 15, 2012 #10
    Well, you did end up with B's and C's in your courses. That's not good. You should find out what caused these marks and you should make adjustments.
  12. Aug 15, 2012 #11
    Hm, probably just overloading myself I guess. I was also a bit lazy, didn't really try hard to keep up. I've been told it's recoverable in the next 3 years (assuming I do not decide to graduate early) if I get better grades/good research, do people agree?

    EDIT: Does anybody know anything about this fellow,


    It seems relevant because somehow he made it without being a remarkable student. Not that I want to be unremarkable I just want to know how accurate that all is, and how it was possible.
  13. Aug 15, 2012 #12
    yes, getting A's in all your other upper division courses and doing undergraduate research can only help you.

    find out exactly what is preventing you from receiving high marks in those classes. is it because you don't do your homework, don't do well on midterms/finals, etc?

    you don't have to be remarkably smart in order to succeed in mathematics or physics. you just need a decent amount of intelligence, and mostly the will and self motivation to work as hard as you must in order to achieve the grades you want.
  14. Aug 15, 2012 #13
    I seem to make consistent errors on exams. For instance, in a a real analysis exam (on continuity, uniform continuity, and real line topology for the inquisitive) I got a B, but lost a letter grade for incorrectly reading a question. This has consistently happened throughout my Freshman year; I think I may have test taking anxiety, because when I get an exam, I have to really force myself to go slow, otherwise I zip through it. Any alternative explanations?

    EDIT: Also advice on how to combat this insidious issue.
    Last edited: Aug 15, 2012
  15. Aug 15, 2012 #14


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    No my point is that she was not mathematically gifted as you claim all high scoring SAT kids are. She literally studied day in and day out for months and memorized all the patterns. The same can't be done when it comes to understanding something like how charges on a capacitor rearrange themselves so as to cancel out the field inside etc. those things take some kind of mental capacity to properly apply to problems and that is where this person had difficulty. Simply memorizing and regurgitating calculations won't help for that but that same thing is pretty much all the SAT tests you on if you want to get a perfect 800. It isn't ALL about knowing math it's mostly about how well you take a test. As another counter example, I had a friend who did not get a perfect score on the math portion of the SAT but when it came to problems in kleppner he was always on the mark. I would value the second over the first personally.
    Last edited: Aug 15, 2012
  16. Aug 15, 2012 #15
    I think that whenever you can explain a lack of results with either laziness or lack of ability, you should always choose laziness as the answer. Because even if you lack ability, trying harder will always help you to do at least a little better, but believing that you lack ability will just make you content with your lack of results.
  17. Aug 16, 2012 #16
    @ Wannabe: Aah, okay, I hardly studied for the SAT, I was taking Calc 2 that semester with a grueling professor (only 3 out of 30 passed!) at a CC. So it sounds like she put a hell amount of work in to get that perfect score.

    @ TMF: This is an interesting comment. As far as motivation is concerned, I think it is exceptionally useful, since it is more like the attitude "So maybe I'm not so good, now I'm going to get better!" as opposed to "I give up, because I cannot get better." I think if everybody in this thread had said "You clearly lack the natural ability, and should throw the towel in" I would have decided to trudge on anyways, because even if I am not very clever, I am absolutely stubborn. I was curious about the opinion of raw ability based upon this sort of thing, though.
  18. Aug 16, 2012 #17
    the SAT math section tests how well you learned SAT math. SAT math is the most useless, contrived, and utterly ridiculous subject matter known to mankind. Don't sweat it.
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