Maybe a silly question, but here goes…

The school where I am taking prerequisites requires plane trigonometry before you can take Micro, pathogenic micro, physiology, anatomy, physics etc… What is trigonometry and should I be shaking in my shoes?


Not a silly question at all. Trigonometry is the branch of mathematics that deals with the relations between the sides and angles of plane or spherical triangles, and the calculations based on them.

Parts of trig can be very tricky, as it really does teach a different way to think and solve problems. I’ve found trig to be very useful in the real world. Some of it gets a little hairy though, like when you get to the section of proving trig identities; no one seems to like that chapter very much. You’ll learn things that you’ll definitely see again like frequency, modulation, amplitude and learning to think in terms of radians instead of degrees.

Should you be shaking in your boots? It depends on your algebra skills and your overall math competancy. My trig prof in college said that the failure rate was pretty high for his trig classes, but if you stay on top of things and do all the homework, you should be fine.

If you are familiar with algebra principles, you should do fine, but you have to do the homework.

Hi Lisa-- don’t be afraid of trigonometry, it’s superfun. This is a little tough without a pencil and paper, but let me give it a shot.

Okay, imagine the world is a chessboard. And you are a chesspiece, and you live in the left top corner.

Take another chess piece and place it on any of the other squares of the board. You will see that you can express your relationship to that chesspiece by measuring an angle from one of the straight edges of the board and a distance from one piece to the other.

HOWEVER, you will find that you can also represent that relationship as a right triangle. If you travel x number of squares to the left or right and y number of squares up or down, you have created a triangle with one of the angles as 90 degrees.

Through use of the Pythagorean Theorem and a set of arbitrary tables that people measured back in medieval Islamic times, trigonometry allows you to have any TWO of these four values and extrapolate the other two.

If you have the x and y values of the right triangle, you are able to find the angle and the distance.

If you have the x value and the angle, you can find the y value and the distance.

If you have the y value and the distance, you can find the x value and the angle.

Blah blah blah. You get the picture. In math class, you will mostly be asked to work these problems as units of distance, on the coordinate plane or, like, a car driving around a map. In physics class, an additional level of abstraction will be added in which natural physical phenomena can be plotted trigonometrically (like I give you a shove with 10 pounds of force (analogous to distance) in some direction (which can be plotted as an angle), or I go into a magnetic field which has some quantifiable level of strength (analogous to distance) and some north-south axis, that gives you an angle.

It’s so awesome! You’re going to really like it.

I took pre-calc last spring and it’s basically just algebra 2 mixed with trigonometry…honestly, I never learned trig before but it wasn’t that bad. I will indeed agree that proving trig identities /sucks/, and I’m not too fond of inequalities either, but other than those two things, trig is very learnable.

Hello Led

In my review leading up to Calculus, I stumbled upon a number of rather good sites on the internet covering trigonometry (mind you, I had seen trig in high-school and college many many years ago). Unfortunately I haven’t bookmarked any of those web-sites, so I’m sorry I can’t offer any specific links here. But the point is, do a little research on the net, and my guess is you’ll find a number of resources that will quickly give you the ‘big picture’ of what trig is all about.

I agree with previous posts that, when you’ve learned trig, you’ll find that it sticks with you, and you will find yourself solving various day-to-day situations using trig as a framework.

Once you reach Calc II (if this course happens to be in your planned curriculum), trig will come back. As I recall, the second half of Calc II was very intensive in it’s use of trig functions as tools to obtain integrals of very complicated functions. In this case, you need to use and ‘know’ trig identities, on the tips of your fingers, whithout having to prove them. Physics (mechanics, elect. & magnetism, waves) makes rather abundant use of trig as well. So, trig is not just something you have to go through and then can forget about. You’ll be using trig in many of the pre-med courses - so, study well!

Good luck!


Thanks for the information. I am currently taking remedial algebra and understanding it (quite a change from highschool in 1974, I might add). From the descriptions, it sounds like trig is not only a learnable subject, but an applicable subject. My 17 year old daughter told me that “You will use trig often. You will not necessarily know it is trig, but all that matters is you can work it”, and “big word, fun subject”. MattFugazi, I hope you have kids or work with kids as the explanation you gave has the confidence and cheerleader quality of a natural born teacher. Much appreciated. Lisa

I, too will have to attack this beast…Hope it treats me better than college algebra did back in the day!!!

Did you know that cheerleading was George W Bush’s extracurricular at Yale? Fun political fact to lighten the load of relearning all that algebra. Best of luck and thanks 4 the kind compliment.