This is part two of this series click here to see part 1.
In my second year of sixth form I dropped further maths (I wish I had dropped chemistry instead, but that’s a different story), however, I still continued to go to the lessons. This was partly because most my friends were in that class, partly because I’m a bit of a loser and partly because I thought it would help me for when I do physics at uni. I liked pure maths but didn’t like the other bits of maths, such as statistics. This is where I can understand why not liking maths and not being good at maths go hand in hand. I didn’t like statistics so I avoided it as much as I could, hence I was bad at it… in fact I was resitting an exam in it. Anyway, the point is despite me enjoying maths, I was by no means an A* student and I had rather large gaps in my knowledge (I had even larger gaps in my physics knowledge, and had done worse in physics, but this didn’t seem to bother me as much).
So, as a fresher I would say I had similar mathematical knowledge as the average physics first year, lower A-levels than most of the others, but a fairly good attitude for learning. This was a fairly new attitude, I had always enjoyed learning new things, but when it came to school I much preferred to blag my way through as much of it as possible than actually put in some effort. I think it was this new attitude to learning that helped me more than anything.
So to answer the question: “Do you have to be good at maths to do a physics degree?” I would say: no. I would say that you have to become good at maths. The maths is hard, and no you can’t just avoid it because you don’t like it. But don’t worry, you won’t be sitting in a lecture hall looking up at a black board full of maths that makes no sense to you. The department start at a fairly basic level to make sure everyone is on a level playing field, and they have maths modules where you will be taught all the necessary maths for your physics degree. If after a lecture and after studying your textbook (the department give you maths texts books that have been tailored for each module for free) you can go ask one of the teaching staff to help you; they have an open door policy which means there will always be a member of staff that can help you.
But more important than any of this is your attitude. You could have all the help in the world, but if you’re not willing to try then you will not do well. Just because something is hard doesn’t mean you shouldn’t do it, in fact if something is hard that’s all more the reason to do it; this means you have achieved something. My new attitude towards learning was: “Try your hardest because that’s the best you can do.” I am well aware that this is a very circular argument, but I don’t care; since thinking like this I have been doing so much better in my degree than I ever did at school and whenever I do fail I know that at least I tried my hardest.
“The laws of nature are but the mathematical thoughts of God.”