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When do you hit the wall ?

  1. Jul 2, 2013 #1
    When do you hit "the wall"?

    Hey all,

    I am currently in my first year of undergraduate degree on a software development BSc and am studying a quite introductory mathematics course which effectively only goes up to higher algebra and trig/geometry.

    Most of the course is self taught from books and so far, though I've had a few frustrating days where I haven't been able to grasp something immediately, I have been able to answer all the questions to a high standard.

    I haven't actually learned mathematics before as I switched off at school (in all subjects), but I was curious..When do I hit a wall where perseverance doesn't work any more, where nothing but raw mathematical ability is the way to progress?

    The reason is because at the moment I enjoy it a lot, but I'd say I'm far from a natural talent because it can take me a while for concepts to sink in...but I'm considering taking a further class that goes through calculus etc because I quite enjoy the algebra.

    I've heard a lot of people say they struggle with calculus. I'm definitely not short of motivation and for the past 5 months I have studied about 8 hours a day 5 days a week, but I'm not confident I could keep get through the tougher material. A lot of people say programming is like maths, but I'm far better at the former!

    Please could any of you offer advice?
  2. jcsd
  3. Jul 2, 2013 #2
    Good study habits are more important than native talent. I was one who was always "good at math" and skated through high school and an undergrad math degree without having to work very hard. I hit my wall in grad school when I was surrounded by students who were also "good at math" and I had no study habits to fall back on.

    If you are self-disciplined and can study hard every day, you're way ahead of most people. Hard work is better than brilliance, as it turns out.

    But you said your class is self-taught. That's a very hard way to go. Having a good teacher to guide you through the material is essential. If you're having difficulty with any particular problem or area of study, post your questions here (or on the homework forums) and people will work with you. Doing it alone is very difficult.
  4. Jul 2, 2013 #3
    Thank you Steve that is encouraging - whilst I say it is self taught what I mean is I have independent study. I have a tutor available but the "classes" are self taught - no lectures. I will definitely post things here when I get stuck though :)
  5. Jul 2, 2013 #4
    You don't. I believe it's really about how much information you can process at once. You can always advance you're knowledge a *little* bit more. If you hit a big concept you don't understand, you can probably understand part of it.

    Sometimes I spend a lot of time breaking stuff down. One sentence in a math textbook can represent hundreds of years of mathematical discovery. Sometimes you have to take a concept and pick it apart, understand the parts and put it back together again.

    It sounds like you're getting started back into mathematics after time away from it. I was in the same boat (off for about 10 years, and hadn't done much past algebra in high school.) I want to say the first year was very difficult, but realistically it took about 2 years before my brain started to get the message that I was serious about this. I had very long study days like you.

    Just keep going. :)

    Oh, and for other advice... Really like I said, it's about breaking stuff down, and writing things out in a way that you understand them. I do tons of verbal writing on paper sometimes to try to work out an understanding of something. Try explaining it to other people as well.

    And this one it took me too long to figure out - when it comes to homework, make sure you know how to do every problem that's been assigned, whether you are asking here on the forums, other students or the professor.

    -Dave K
  6. Jul 3, 2013 #5
    I slid through school without any problems or a whole lot of effort up through community college. I hit the wall when I transferred to UCLA where I was taught the meaning of a difficult school. Although this was mainly because I wasn't used to studying very hard when I transferred and landing in such a competitive environment (on the quarter system) was fairly shocking. I just finished my junior year and my study habits and discipline have improved greatly. As Steve said, hard work is what matters most.

    Your personal talents do matter, though. I don't have a lot of dexterity and, no matter how much work I devoted, could probably never be an artist. People who have always struggled with math, no matter how hard they try, probably won't make it is mathematicians. You should be able to tell what you are good at early on, though. If you aren't struggling with low level math, with enough hard work and determination, there's no reason you shouldn't be able to get through high level math as well. If you are going to hit a wall and stay there, chances are it will be early on.

    By the way, I am a chemistry major. Sorry if I gave an impression as to anything else.
  7. Jul 3, 2013 #6


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    Sometimes it is a matter of time, and you just need to build enough of a knowledge base to see things becoming easier.

    Maybe this question would fit better in the Pink Floyd fans post.
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