Need Recommendations for Math Refresher Guides?

Hello, all!! Almost Friday… thank goodness!

Quick question for you wonderful people–I know that math is a foundation for both Chemistry and Physics. I haven’t had a math class since 1996. (gulp)

I’m wanting to brush up on all of it, and I’m wondering if any of you could recommend a really good self-study (book, online, whatever)? One that you’ve dug into and had it really help you? (Because let’s face it… every book promises to help you, but many turn out to be shallow or poorly organized, you know?)

Any ideas are appreciated! Also, the physics on the MCAT… is it calculus or algebra?

Fun, fun!

Can’t help you with the MCAT as I haven’t taken it yet, but when I started down this road I needed to bone up on math as well. I went out and bought Algebra I for dummies and algebra II for dummies as well. I also bought “algebra demystified.”. And then, I started at the beginning, read, and most importantly, worked TONS of problems!

When it comes to math, practice is your friend!

I already had a degree, so I took trig and calc at a c/c before transferring to a 4 year for chemistry and bio, etc. I made A’s in both calc and trig and am doing very well in chem with the highest rade in the class. Don’t let the math intimidate you! You can do it! Get some books, dig in, and above all, DO MATh. Practice!


I’ve gone through about a third to half of Sal Khan’s differential equations lectures. He is slow, repetitive, and thorough – all excellent qualities for a math instructor, if sometimes excruciating to listen to. Lots of people love this guy, and the price is right*. It appears he teaches everything from simple arithmetic through fractions and geometry through algebra and trig through calculus (differential and integral) up to differential equations, so he’s likely to cover whatever general math field you’re interested in.**

As guitardan said, though, to learn math you have to DO lots and lots and lots and lots and lots and lots of problems. You can’t just watch Sal Khan solve problems, nod, and say, “Oh, yeah, that makes sense, I get it.” You DON’T get it until you have put pen to paper many, many times. So buy a math book or check one out from the library, or at least google “math problems” in the flavor you want (algebra, trig, geometry, whatever) and get a few hundred to work on.

*It’s free, in case I was just a bit too cleverly subtle :).

**Actually, Khan covers a lot of different areas, including simple (undergrad-level) biology, physics, chemistry, and o-chem. I thought to use this site as part of my future MCAT prep. Anyone here tried using this site in such a way? I am enjoying the diff-eq review, so I can only assume that his other lectures are comparable.

Also - make sure you figure out how to use scientific and graphing calculators. I retook College Algebra because it had been >15 year since I last took it. Honestly, the math part came back very quickly. What I found most challenging was figuring out how to use the cursed calculator. Back in the day we used to have to graph by hand . . .

Great suggestions–thanks to all of you!! I never made anything but A’s all the way through from Algebra to geom to trig to calculus… even college calculus… but it’s AMAZING how 12 years of corporate America can numb and dumb the brain! I deal in financial statistics all day long, and I’ve somehow managed to purge the rest of it!

Great point about the graphing calculator, too… when I was in high school and college, I was an expert TI-85er… now? I’m not even sure I could tell you what half those functions do…much less how to program my own.

Brain cells, where are you??? LOL

Ain’t it the truth! I got my kids to tutor me in how to use the calculator! (yeah, I date back to sliderules!)


When I started this process, I hadn’t taken a math class since 1993! And the calculus that was taught in high school back then was not the advanced type it seems they teach now - it was very, very basic. And I absolutely agree - corporate America sucks, not just the math, but the intellect out of you! So I started out at a CC and studied from some College Math for Dummies type book to ensure I did well on the placement test. It all came back to the brain very quickly. I qualified to start right in with pre-calc. When topics arose that I didn’t remember well or never learned at all, I just referenced other materials to bring me up to speed. The class was a great review and by the end of it I was well-prepared for college calculus. As Katie said, though, that darn calculator was a pain! Luckily the “kids” in class didn’t mind showing me how to use various functions. After all the effort I put into learning how to use it, though, the 4-year college I transferred to doesn’t allow calculators! I will have to re-learn to use the fancy features if I need it in the future.

As for physics and MCAT, my suggestion is to stick with algebra-based. The MCAT tests the concepts, and any calculations that need to be done are done with basic math. I took calc-based physics because my undergrad major requires it, but I definitely feel I was not as well prepared for the MCAT. You may want to check your school’s curriculum. The course at my school is focused on preparing engineers, so topics such as optics, fluids, and solids were not covered at all - I had to teach them to myself to prepare for the MCAT. Initially I didn’t think that would be a big deal, but among all the other things you have to study and do to prep, it just turned out to be a nuisance. Plus, calc-based, at least at my school, was so fixated on the nitty-gritty calculus that I don’t feel I got a good grasp on the basic concepts even though I got A’s. So my advice based on my recent MCAT experience and hindsight being 20/20 - stick with algebra-based. I should mention that there was one other non-trad in my Kaplan prep class who thought her calc-based prep made the MCAT physics easier to do, so it may just depend on how your brain works. Hope that’s helpful

I also used the “Demystified” series (for College Algebra, Pre-calc, and Calc, as I will be taking Calculus later in my post-bac program and wanted a refresher). I really liked the series. In addition, I found extra problems/solutions online and worked them out as additional practice. There are TONS of problems with worked-out solutions online that you can find for free, if you google it. But I would recommend getting the book as well for the teaching material.

In terms of physics – I think algebra-based is fine. I am currently in algebra-based physics, and the majority of the pre-meds at my school (including the other post-bacs) are taking this course as well.

If you want a Chem study guide, I used Barron’s E-Z Chemistry, which I also found quite helpful as a prep for taking gen chem this semester. Just another suggestion.

Best wishes to you!

Keep us updated on your progress.

Ok–for the record? SO nice to know I’m not the only one! LOL

Spokxjox–the Khan Academy online referral? I totally blame you for keeping me up until 1am listening to Sal Khan’s lectures and doing practice problems online! Dont know what it was, but I just couldn’t stop!! It’s actually a really nice way to quickly gauge what you know or don’t know–thanks so much for the link!

I’m finding that it’s the little things–the simple things–that stump me. For example, I was cruising along through some equations last night, and I saw a number in FRONT of a square root of a number (as an answer to a problem.) I sat there for 10 minutes thinking, “What in the world does that mean???” and I finally had to google it. AH HA! TOTALLY forgot that you can simplify square roots and restate them that way…just like you simplify fractions. Totally forgot it. LOL

So I know you guys are right–it will be much easier to ‘re-learn’ than it was to learn the first time. But isn’t it completely frustrating that your brain can do a total purge of information that you PAID to learn in college? I’m looking at my college transcript right now… tested right into calculus and aced it. ASK me to do a calculus problem right now, and you would fall down laughing. YikES!!! I work in financial stats with a whole team of accountants… is there any 10-key work on the MCAT??? heheh… Happy Friday!