Dismiss Notice
Join Physics Forums Today!
The friendliest, high quality science and math community on the planet! Everyone who loves science is here!

What maths must I understand in order to begin physcics?

  1. Mar 8, 2012 #1
    I am wondering what level of maths I need to be competent in in order to begin basic physics? I have heard calculus was one, anything else? Geometry maybe? Statistics?
  2. jcsd
  3. Mar 8, 2012 #2


    User Avatar
    Staff Emeritus
    Science Advisor

    The very basics of physics requires at least some algebra. I'd say getomery is possibly needed as well. I took a physics class in High School with nothing more than algebra and geometry completed.
  4. Mar 8, 2012 #3
    Doing Basic Physics (Lower Division)

    Algebra I & II
    Euclidean Geometry
    Basic Linear Algebra (vector operations and solving a 3 X 3 Determinate)

    Understanding Basic Physics (i.e. following lower division proofs)

    A semester of:
    1. differential calculus
    2. Integral Calculus and Infinite Series
    3. Vector and multivariate Calculus including partial differential equations.
    4. Occasionally linear algebra and ordinary differential equations.

    Statistics is helpful but not necessary for lower division physics. Many physicists never take a statistics class but learn it in the course of their physics studies (much like computer science).
  5. Mar 8, 2012 #4
    The beginning stages of Physics at a community college only truly required algebra/geometry/trigonmetry to be able to ace the classes.
    Algebra for solving for a unknown variable, geometry for figuring out angles for mechanic problems, and trigonmetry for the same basic reasoning of solving triangles.
    Alot of basic physics consits of using geometry/trig to solve for certain sides/angles of a triangle(which is really a vector in the physics world).
    We never had to use a 3x3 matrix for any of our problems, but this can easily be learned in 10 minutes.

    The first thing I would tackle is learning to use trig to solve triangles angles/sides with enough information.
    Basically you need to learn your trig functions SIN COSINE AND TANGENT Your calculator is labeled as SIN COS TAN
    Once you tackle this you can learn one of the first beginning subjects in physics. Kinematics/Projectiles. Very fun once you get the hang of it.

    The community college I went to makes Pre-Calc II a pre-req or co-req though.
    Last edited: Mar 8, 2012
  6. Mar 9, 2012 #5
    Generally, the requirements for the first semester of physics is Calculus I and concurrent enrollment in Calculus II. The second and third semester of physics generally require Calculus II and possibly concurrent enrollment or completion of Calculus III. Most upper division courses require linear algebra and second order linear ordinary differential equations.

    Calculus is used mostly in the proofs and somewhat on the labs. The vast majority of test questions do not require calculus, though it may be useful and you may have to derive equations on tests using integral or differential calculus, though probably not much. Honestly, you could probably get through the class without Calculus under your belt since very few of the test and homework questions require it, but universities usually make it a prerequisite.
  7. Mar 9, 2012 #6
    My school required me to have differential calculus before mechanics, though we barely use it. And then you needed to complete the calculus sequence (integral, multivariate) to take E&M.
  8. Mar 9, 2012 #7
    I think it was all calculus done for Modern Physics and all lower division math + theoretical physics (basically a review of lower division math and introduction to advanced physics-related math topics like tensors and Fourier transforms) for most other upper division classes like upper division mechanics and E&M.
  9. Mar 11, 2012 #8
    It's my understanding that you can take basic physics as a trigonometry-based class or as calculus-based. In high school, we took physics concurrently with trigonometry and were expected to already know geometry (particularly triangle and angle-related stuff) and algebra.
Share this great discussion with others via Reddit, Google+, Twitter, or Facebook