Question about Math and Physics

I am getting ready to begin my pre-reqs this spring. I already have a bachelors and a masters and I am almost done with my PhD. I have a question about math and physics.

During my undergrad I took Algebra/Trig together. It was during the same semester as my son was born and I missed an exam. I ended up with a “C” in a 5 hour math course because I missed an exam. Anyhow, I understand the material pretty well, but that was about 5 years ago. Now that I am preparing to take course work again I am concerned about physics. As a note, I am not taking calculus based physics, but am taking physics for science majors.

For those of you who have taken a similar course, how did you handle the math? How much trig is there in this type of physics? I am trying to decide if I need to retake math before I take physics. I really don’t want to take the math again unless it is necessary. I have just completed a year and a half of statistics with a solid “A” in every class.

Thoughts? Experiences?


I am currently in Physics I, after not having had a math class since senior year of high school … which was more than a decade ago. I had taken up through calc, but obviously had forgotten pretty much everything in that decade in between HS and starting my pre-reqs this fall. (My undergrad major was journalism, so not much need for advanced math.)

Anyway, I compensated by doing a self-review over the summer before classes started this fall. I used the “Demystified” series, which I found really helpful. I did their college algebra book, pre-calc book, and calc book (I will eventually be taking calc again to beef up my application). The calc review is NOT necessary, obviously. And most of the pre-calc isn’t necessary either – just the trig portion.

I’m doing just fine in the class, getting a high A right now (fingers crossed). It’s not easy, and I study my a** off, but I’m doing well.

In terms of how much math there is – you do a LOT of problems, obviously. The calculations are usually pretty simple, algebraically speaking. So if you understand the basics of solving equations (including the quadratic fmla), and some basic rules about order of operations etc., you should be OK algebra-wise. Regarding trig, you really need to understand the three basic trig functions (sin, cos, tan), right-angle triangles, how the functions are related, pythagorean theorem, etc. You do a lot of finding angles given certain sides of the triangle (and finding sides of the triangle given an angle) so you also need to know basic inverse trig functions (i.e., arctan). You should also know basic graphing concepts/techniques, i.e. y = mx + b, how to find the slope of a line, etc.

Maybe that sounds overwhelming, but I didn’t really remember ANY of that before I started my math review. Now I whiz through this stuff just fine. It’s not the math that makes physics challenging, it’s conceptualizing the physics. Which isn’t impossible either, it just takes practice and hard work.

Hope this helped a little. Best wishes to you!

I agree with terra_incognito: Review algebra, trig, vectors, slope/intercept, and you’ll be fine. If you are rusty or vague on any of those concepts, FIX IT before the class.

Agree with all of the above. If you have a basic understanding of algebra and trig, and can visualize the point of the physics problems (vs. just “working the math”) then you’ll do fine. Although calculus looks good on your application, you won’t need it for trig-based physics, the MCAT or med school. BTW…I was scared to death of physics, but loved it once I started.

I spend ONE afternoon reviewing trig functions related to triangles, and one other afternoon reviewing inverse trig functions and that was all the trig I needed for physics. Can look online and do some problems, see how much of it comes back to you. You have to be really solid with calculating sides of a triangle - that’s the biggest application


Timely post. I have been thinking about this same thing and decided to do a self-review with the “Dummies” series. It had pretty good reviews on Amazon. It’s also really good to know Calc isn’t necessary!