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Should I master algebra first?

  • Thread starter conure
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  • #1
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Main Question or Discussion Point

Hello,

I studied algebra a few years ago and have unfortunately forgotten most of what I have learned. I am very interested in self-tutoring myself in physics, probably with a combination of online lectures and some textbooks I own.

Do you recommend I re-learn all of algebra and trig before I begin?

Thanks.
 

Answers and Replies

  • #2
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Definitely. Math is the language of physics, so trying to learn physics without first understanding math is like trying to read a French novel without first learning French. It's not impossible, but you'll end up having to learn the math and physics simultaneously. It's probably easier to attack them one at a time.
 
  • #3
arildno
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Do it in parallell.
Physics PRESUMES mastery of algebra and trigs.
 
  • #4
Integral
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Don't stop with Algebra, also study Trig and calculus, at a minimum. There is some posibibiliy for doing calculus along side of physics.

Learn as much math as you can.
 
  • #5
Bandersnatch
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Pure math books might be daunting and discouraging for somebody just wanting to dive into the physics, especially without a guidance from a professional.
Perhaps rather than picking up a book on algebra or calulus as such, you could get one of those "mathematical methods of physics" type of books. These are for students of physics who begin their higher education, and are expected to be able to follow the physics lectures from the get go. As such these are crash courses in the maths that you're bound to encounter, but without anything more fancy beyond that. They're very focused on gaining the practical understanding - this is what it is, this is how to do it, here are the problems for you to solve(lots of them!).

I'd start with one of these(e.g., Mary L.Boas "Mathematical Methods in the Physical Sciences") and branch out to pure math only when you feel like you really need it to better understand the subject, or find something particularly interesting. At that point you should be able to make an informed choice as to what to look for and what to omit.

Keep in mind, these usually assume secondary school(high school) level of competence.
 
  • #6
jtbell
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In the USA at least, algebra and trigonometry are considered to be "secondary school(high school) level of competence", and prerequisites for books such as Boas.

I suspect that we may not be thinking about "algebra" as the same thing. I think in some countries the term "algebra" is used for what is often called "abstract algebra" in the USA: group theory, etc. That's not what the OP is talking about.
 
  • #7
Bandersnatch
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Oh. That... actually explains a lot. Cheers.
 
  • #8
jtbell
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I'm curious... what do you call the basic operations of rearranging equations and solving them for unknown quantities, that one learns in high school (what we're calling "algebra" here)?
 
  • #9
Bandersnatch
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I'm curious... what do you call the basic operations of rearranging equations and solving them for unknown quantities, that one learns in high school (what we're calling "algebra" here)?
O.k., so this is a bit tricky. Technically speaking you'd call it the equivalent of "elementary algebra". But I had to look that up, since the term is never actually used during the primary or secondary education. You never "take algebra", there's just a monolithic "maths" course, encompassing everything from geometry and trigonometry to elementary algebra and calculus, where you learn specific elements without categorising them into separate branches.

During high school, people will usually learn about trigonometric functions, and algebraic expressions, some might learn about basic differential calculus, but will be unable to define algebra or calculus(there isn't even an equivalent term in the language at all!) as such. They should be able to define geometry and trigonometry, as these are more intuitivelly apparent.

The first time one usually gets to encounter the term "algebra" is during the higher education, as parts of "general algebra", which appears to be homologous with abstract algebra as far as I can tell after a bit of net combing.

I'm talking about Poland, by the way.


Anyway, this has been very educational. I thought I had bridged the language gap when I learned that when somebody says they took calculus in high school they don't mean to say they mastered differential equations, but it seems there's more. :frown:
 
  • #10
I'm not even done with my undergrad yet and there have been few courses that I've made it through without using any multivariate calculus; so to say the least, the algebraic manipulations are absolutely vital in physics. Otherwise, good luck memorizing a nearly infinite set of combinations of formulas and variables to avoid doing so.
 

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