I'm a Computer Engineering major, but when I was in high school I was a very poor student. I didn't pay attention and I didn't think I was capable of succeeding in classes like Math and Science so I just didn't care. I'm much older now and a bit wiser, and because I'm back in school, I realize I may have some potential.

I've always loved science and math but never appreciated it. I left high school knowing only pre-algebra. Now 8 years later I taught myself Algebra through reading and practice, and started attending a community college and placed directly into their Pre-calc class without any Algebra classes. I successfully passed Pre-Calc, Calculus 1 and currently in Calculus 2 all with A's.

I've never taken a Physics course before, but I'm extremely interested in the topic. Will my success in Math translate into success with my upcoming physics courses (calculus based physics is where I'll be starting)?

Is there anyway to prepare to learn physics so that I have a higher chance of succeeding in the course? How much of understanding physics is just natural ability?


closed as primarily opinion-based by user10851, John Rennie, Qmechanic Oct 30 '13 at 16:52

Many good questions generate some degree of opinion based on expert experience, but answers to this question will tend to be almost entirely based on opinions, rather than facts, references, or specific expertise. If this question can be reworded to fit the rules in the help center, please edit the question.

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    $\begingroup$ Why don't you grab a book and try to do some exercises? $\endgroup$ – jinawee Oct 30 '13 at 15:31
  • $\begingroup$ @jinawee I will do that, I just don't know enough about physics to know where to start. My question is really about understanding how math and physics relate to one another when it comes to ones ability to succeed. $\endgroup$ – hax0r_n_code Oct 30 '13 at 15:42
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    $\begingroup$ I think that you've got the ability, but the best thing is to get a physics background. $\endgroup$ – jinawee Oct 30 '13 at 15:53
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    $\begingroup$ That strongly depends on the field. Theoretical physics needs much more math (especially advanced maths - still, many mathematicians have problems with it), experimental physics less math. If you are interested in phenomenology, you won't need too much math, in courses, however, you'll likely be confronted with typical quantitative questions, which means being good in maths can help you. $\endgroup$ – Martin Oct 30 '13 at 15:59
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    $\begingroup$ This question ... really isn't of the type we deal with on this site. It's broad and not really about physics concepts. You may wish to see How to Ask and the relevant page on the help center for more details on this. Sorry about this. You may have some luck discussing this in Physics Chat instead, there aren't many rules about chat. $\endgroup$ – Manishearth Oct 30 '13 at 22:32

There is no way to tell for sure, physics (especially theoretical) is, however, largely dependent on mathematics so good knowledge of mathematics will certainly help. There is, nevertheless, a certain distinction to be made:

Mathematics is purely abstract while physics deals with applying this abstract apparatus to our real world observations. In other words, in physics, mathematics is used just as a tool for understanding our world with mathematics being the means. Mathematics, on the other hand, is focused on studying this abstract language and it is the ends. Nobody here (except for maybe you) can judge which of these fields suits you better.

There are people for whom mathematics is interesting for its own inner beauty. Mathematical thinking is clear and logic and some people find it appealing. Physics, on the other hand, requires taking this nice and complex mathematical language and making it suitable for a given physical problem. That often requires crude generalisations and making lots of approximations that, to someone, might lack the clarity of pure mathematics. For such people, mathematics is a better choice.

But there are also people who can understand mathematics, but it is a bit too abstract for them. They might need a clear picture behind mathematical concepts that mathematics by itself cannot provide. For such people, physics can be much more appealing because of its accent on real world providing this simple picture.

There is, naturally, also a lot of people in between who can enjoy both mathematics in physics (but possibly one a bit more than the other). Without all context, it is impossible for anyone to judge, into which of these group you belong. The best way to find out is to try and see. Just remember: there are lots of fields in physics and some might be of more interest to you than others. So if, at first, physics seems a bit boring, you might just need to find a different field. And if none of the fields in physics really suit you, that's alright, too; you can just stick to the math.


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