In an earlier post, I have discussed why students feel that physics is a difficult subject. Part of the fear stems from the fact that physics uses a lot of mathematics. Mathematics is the language through which we can state the simplicity of the most complicated physical phenomena. Take the equation E = mc2. You have surely seen this equation before. This simple equation explains the way energy is provided by the sun, stars, a nuclear device, a spaceship that is powered by nuclear fuel. Just imagine, if you are asked where the sun gets its energy, you can just say E = mc2. Or if you want to discuss the energy of a moving vehicle, all you need is E = 1/2 mv2. Physics is simple. Mathematics makes it even simpler. Physics is beautiful. Mathematics enhances that beauty even further.
So the first step to removing that fear of math is to learn math. How much math you have to learn depends on what level of physics you want to study. In this post, I will discuss the math required at class 10, 11 and 12 levels (IGCSE / A / AS levels) for students moving from one class to another. I will discuss this at the class level so you can decide what is important for you at this stage and what you can learn later.
If you are in high school (SSC / IGCSE/ Class 10):
The basic concepts of mathematics are taught at this stage and that is why it is essential not to ignore any topic of maths from class 8, 9 and 10.
- Laws of indices
- Average and percentage calculations
- Solving simple linear equations in one and two variables
- Quadratic equations
- Graph plotting techniques, slope, intercepts
- Coordinate geometry
- Linear equations – graphical representation of linear equations
- Basic geometry – types of triangles, meaning of tangent (proofs not necessary), Pythagoras theorem
- Areas and volumes – square, cube, circle, sphere, triangle
If you are in higher secondary / junior college (Class 11 / AS ):
If you have decided to pursue science and later on take up a career in engineering, medicine, pure science, architecture, space sciences, computer science, information technology, finance, and related subjects, then you must study the following topics thoroughly. These topics will be required in physics and engineering.
- Algebra – Real numbers, complex numbers
- Quadratic equations – revise
- Binomial theorem
- Linear inequalities
- Laws of logarithms
- Use of logarithmic tables, reading sin, cos and tan values from mathematical tables.
- Vectors and scalars – resolution of vectors, addition of vectors, vector and scalar products
- Three dimensional geometry
- Calculus. This one is absolutely essential. Its not hard, just requires lot of practice.
- Relating slope of a graph and derivative
- Derivatives (calculus)
If you are in higher secondary / junior college (Class 12 / A ):
This is the time you must strengthen your math background. Most of the math that you will need for studying physics now, and later, will be covered by your syllabus of class 12. So this should be the perfect time to make that foundation strong.
- Application of derivatives
- Integration, idea of area under a curve
- Application of Integrals
- Three dimensional geometry
I hope this helps you in planning your studies. Mathematics is a subject that requires a lot of practice. The best way to gain confidence is to solve a lot of problems in your textbook. Search for similar problems in other books and solve them. The more the practice you put in, the more confidence you gain. And when you see the same concepts applied in physics, you will feel comfortable.
Please share your views on this topic. Do you think physics can be taught or learned without mathematics? How do you overcome your fear of math or physics? Please share your ideas in the comment box below.