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Senior in high school and science geek who isn't a math whiz College advice?

  1. Sep 23, 2011 #1
    I'm warning you, this might be a long read.

    I'm a senior in high school, and I've had a history of occasionally being subpar in math, but I've always been a bit of a scientific thinker and am fascinated by space.

    The majors I'm primarily interested in fall into Biology, Physics, Astronomy, or Engineering, but I'll leave Bio out of this one.
    I'm taking physics and calculus this year, and I'm already in love with my physics class, and doing quite well despite my claims of being bad or usually mediocre in math.
    The scoop is I literally failed a semester of Pre-IB Algebra II in my sophomore year and had to retake it. It was pretty degrading, and I felt terrible about myself. But when I dropped out of IB/MYP at the beginning of junior year and went into Honors, I tended to do much better and got A's in Trigonometry. I should mention the fact that I'm a lazy student, but I'm not using this as a total excuse for my faults.
    My Trig teacher claimed that I was lying when I said I'm awful at math and I found it laughable-- she wanted to put me in AP Calc rather than honors, to which I obviously refused.

    Basically I'm afraid of not having enough competence in math to pursue what interests me, and how my weakness in math [which I've known about for a long, long time] will be damaging to how well I'll do in majors like these, because I know that it would eat up nearly my entire schedule.

    I love math when it's applicable and I know the exact purpose behind it, it's just that I've seemed to hate it all of my life because I've always had trouble with it until recently.
    Math appeals to me in the sense that it's problem-solving, and it solves both real and hypothetical questions, I just don't have the natural 'knack' for it like some people do-- and that's what frustrates me.

    Do you have any advice for someone like me who is fearful of the heavy advanced math that may be in my future?
    How can I have a chance of surviving advanced courses?
    Also, if you know which colleges in Florida have the strongest reputations with physics and/or other sciences, that'd be great.
  2. jcsd
  3. Sep 23, 2011 #2
    It will be hard, but there's no way for us (or even you really) to know if it will be too hard. You said you were a lazy student, that will be a bigger problem than your natural ability at math.
  4. Sep 23, 2011 #3
    From my perspective, you're being pretty insecure about your ability. For one thing, you are at a higher position than where I was in High School. The highest math I was able to take was Algebra II and I wasn't even that good at it to begin with, then once I got into college, I became a bit less lazy and started to apply myself. Now math isn't a "weakness" rather a subject I am more than competent in.

    Don't over-think everything and kick yourself when you haven't even tried doing more of the advanced stuff. Focus on the subject you're taking and learn and understand everything within that subject, then move on gradually to more advanced stuff. From experience that is what I did and I am a guy who was placed into remedial mathematics upon entry into college, then two semesters later more advanced calculus courses.

    Laziness and general apathy were the primary contributing factors in my rather lackluster math careers, and while you are lazy from what you said, you still have an inherent skill in mathematics.
  5. Sep 23, 2011 #4
    ***Edit: Decided my original information was a little out of context to your original post. Sorry about that.***

    Just get algebra nailed and anything else that you're feeling uncomfortable with before moving on.
  6. Sep 23, 2011 #5
    That is true... I've found out that laziness ruins potential, it's just so difficult to get out of that pattern of procrastination you've slipped into for years. As long as I feel determined enough, I think I can pull through, it'll just be tough like you said.

    Hahaha, everyone I know gets me for over-thinking things and you're no different. I guess I am quite insecure, but it's because of my past experiences with math. Going from remedial math into calc courses just like that is pretty impressive. I'm definitely going to try my hardest to be less lazy in college because I just can't afford to be. I just need to get out of the whole immature laziness and cynicism thing. :) Thank you.

    I didn't even see your original post, I probably didn't check at the time. x_x;
    I'll definitely try. I need to solidify my knowledge of algebra concepts that I forgot, or else it'll snowball into an avalanche of epic failure from there.
  7. Sep 23, 2011 #6
    Try hard, that's pretty much all I can say. Doing well on tests involves mostly being confident in which case being confident means knowing the material back and forth without question especially on time constraints. I doubt the material could be so difficult that you just don't understand it, it's probably just a preparation issue.
    Last edited: Sep 23, 2011
  8. Sep 23, 2011 #7
    I don't think you should be too afraid of it. This is coming from a guy who was horrible at math in high school... failed geometry, almost failed algebra, placed in remedial math in college, failed precalc in college once....Currently I'm breezing by calc 3 like it's no big deal (for the time being anyway) it's kinda funny. Math is just one of those subjects where you struggle and bash your head against a wall trying to learn it. Then you look back at what you've learned and you're like "why the heck did that take me so long to learn! It's so simple!" LOL

    All I can say is, "practice!" It may be a cliche thing to say, but it's cliche for a reason.
  9. Sep 23, 2011 #8


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    You do not need to have a "natural 'knack'" for mathematics to succeed in any discipline that involves its use. You do need to recognize your problem areas, work on them, and continue working on them until you no longer have problems. Sometimes this means seeking the help of a tutor or advisor.

    As you probably already know, there is no shortcut to obtaining problem solving skills. You must use all resources that are necessary and available to you. This means going to office hours, participating in study groups, receiving tutoring, etc. Your problems are remediable, and you should have no (academic) issues attaining your goals if you're diligent in strengthening, or eliminating, your weak areas.
  10. Sep 23, 2011 #9
    It's easier to just assume there is an exact purpose behind it and that it's useful at some point. For instance, in my differential equations class today, I marveled at how often separation of common factors - a basic algebra technique - is used in order to arrive at a solution. There's always a point to it. God knows I didn't really give a **** about finding domains in precalc, but in solving these differential equations it's bloody useful and time-saving to know when a function spits out a garbage value.
  11. Sep 23, 2011 #10
    Practice makes perfect, eh? Due to me being weak-minded I'd often get so discouraged with a subject I wasn't good in [cough, Algebra I and II], that I'd lack studying motivation. Not exactly the brightest tactic of dealing with your problems. However I did get tutoring.

    It's cliche because it's been repeated so many times... But it's been repeated so many times because it works! Your story is awesome. I hope you continue to breeze through in Calc III.
    Math usually makes me want to scream because of that: you find it so painful because you can't initially understand it, but then once someone explains it to you or you have a eureka moment, the solution was right in front of your face.

    I completely agree with you. I'll try my best lest I want to fail miserably in college, and I really don't want to allow myself to. Laziness and discouragement are my biggest demons behind over-thinking things beyond all reason.

    I've noticed that a lot of people have complained about it as something they'll "never even use in their life" or they "see no point in learning it". I've reiterated those exact phrases in the past too. But the thing is some people don't know how useful math is until they get into higher level mathematics, and I feel like in calculus and physics and beyond do you finally get an idea of why it's truly important. I took this little epiphany from my friend, who is a Mechanical Engineering major, since it now applies to me and I'm finally getting an appreciation as well.
  12. Sep 23, 2011 #11
    I used to be that way too. There seemed to be no purpose or spirit to high school trig/algebra and I was lazy because of it, almost failing algebra/trig. When I got into calculus and calculus based physics I saw everything come together in a beautiful tapestry; the theory, proofs, applications, etc. I understood why trig identities can come in handy, why we use e and logarithms, how much of the world is based on change/time derivatives, and so on. Higher level mathematics is a different beast entirely and you might understand later. You seem to be doing fine for now.

    Recently I just turned a hatred for optics into genuine interest. It's so darn useful for other physics fields and understanding waves. Now I've learned how short-sighted I can be.
    Last edited: Sep 23, 2011
  13. Sep 24, 2011 #12
    I'm the type of person who likes to learn the purpose or the meaning of what I'm doing before I even want to learn the method or the results, and I think that that's what a lot of people struggle with in it, about understanding the reason behind what they're trying to solve. It's always better when you have an appreciation or interest for what you're doing rather than just apathetically trying to tread through concepts which meanings aren't apparent to you, and I believe the problem in a lot of educational systems when it comes to math is that the true purposes are only taught or "discovered" much later on.
    I'm kind of feeling the same way about any math-based subjects this year, I seem to be slowly taking a 180 in the way I feel about them; going from hating it all of my life and being frustrated to developing a fearful appreciation of it... Or I'm just realizing that math is an obstacle I inevitably must overcome to follow my goals. XD
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