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Academic Guidance Academic Guidance - Academic guidance for those pursuing a college degree... what college? Grad school? PhD help?


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January 11th, 2010, 10:34 PM   #1
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wannabe math major

I haven't taken my placement tests yet and I'm afraid I might not start in Calculus. In my college a calculus course is the first thing that counts towards a bachelor's in math. I'm a freshman and for this first semester I don't have any math classes. Its not too late to register for one but would it be better to wait and study to have a better chance of starting in a "higher" class?
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January 11th, 2010, 10:57 PM   #2
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Re: wannabe math major

Assuming that another class won't overload you, I'd personally recommend taking the class. The discipline of having to work to someone else's standards can be helpful, particularly if you've never taken college mathematics before. Even many people who did just fine in AP math find Calculus I tough at the university.
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January 11th, 2010, 11:40 PM   #3
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Re: wannabe math major

Quote:
Originally Posted by chalee
I haven't taken my placement tests yet and I'm afraid I might not start in Calculus. In my college a calculus course is the first thing that counts towards a bachelor's in math. I'm a freshman and for this first semester I don't have any math classes. Its not too late to register for one but would it be better to wait and study to have a better chance of starting in a "higher" class?
Quote:
Originally Posted by cmusick
Assuming that another class won't overload you, I'd personally recommend taking the class. The discipline of having to work to someone else's standards can be helpful, particularly if you've never taken college mathematics before. Even many people who did just fine in AP math find Calculus I tough at the university.
Oops. My original post is incomplete. I haven't yet taken my placement tests and so cannot take any math or english classes. I can take the placement tests right now and register for the class but I'm afraid I won't place into Calculus.

Thanks for the quick response? Are you a professor?
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January 12th, 2010, 12:08 AM   #4
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Re: wannabe math major

I teach part-time, but I still need the Ph.D. to be a professor. Have your classes begun? It can be hard to jump in even a week into the term, but it's fairly important to get started on your math sequence if you intend to major in mathematics. I've seen people start at arithmetic and finish a bachelor's in math. Attitude, more than any 'natural' talent will determine who finishes the program, in my experience.
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January 12th, 2010, 07:27 AM   #5
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Re: wannabe math major

Quote:
Originally Posted by cmusick
I teach part-time, but I still need the Ph.D. to be a professor. Have your classes begun? It can be hard to jump in even a week into the term, but it's fairly important to get started on your math sequence if you intend to major in mathematics. I've seen people start at arithmetic and finish a bachelor's in math. Attitude, more than any 'natural' talent will determine who finishes the program, in my experience.
The first class was yesterday. Thanks for the encouraging words about attitude. Since I'm already in class should I perhaps put off the placement test to buy more time to study? Good luck with the Ph. D!
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January 12th, 2010, 03:20 PM   #6
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Re: wannabe math major

If classes have started already, you're probably better served preparing for next semester.
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January 12th, 2010, 06:01 PM   #7
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Re: wannabe math major

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Originally Posted by cmusick
If classes have started already, you're probably better served preparing for next semester.
Bitter medicine, but that sounds right. If I make sure I place into Calculus I'll be very happy. My weakest link, I'm ashamed to say, is elementary algebra. I still haven't learned to solve cubic or higher degree polynomials. And my fractions (with polynomials especially) are terrible. Any advice?
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January 12th, 2010, 06:31 PM   #8
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Re: wannabe math major

On the polynomials, learn and get good at the "rational root theorem". Wikipedia has a decent summary at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rational_root_theorem
I wouldn't go so far as to call a professor who expects you to be able to solve cubics with irrational roots by hand a sadist, but it would be unusual. On quartics, same thing. Also, get comfortable with using substitutions like the one I demonstrate below:
Solve f(x) = x^4 - 6x^2 + 9
Let x^2 = z, then
f(x) = z^2 - 6z + 9, so that f(x) = (z - 3)^2, which has repeated root z = 3, or x = +- sqrt(3)

You'll see this type come up (sometimes, even naturally, as in differential equations) from time to time, and you'll be expected to know how to use substitutions to factor it.

Polynomial fractions just require practice. Some students with good preparation but rusty skills have found books like "Schaum's Outline of College Algebra" helpful. It covers the skills as a practical matter, skipping most of the theory with concentration on techniques and exercises.
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