Maths at Warwick and how preparing for STEP has helped!!

If you are considering Maths at university then you probably already know this, but I’m going to say it anyway: Maths is not an easy degree. It is a lot of work, you might spend some of time feeling like you aren’t clever enough – but if you love Maths then it will be completely worth it.

How I feel about studying Maths at Warwick

Maths at university is both exactly like and nothing like I expected it to be. I anticipated the workload (which, I won’t sugarcoat, can sometimes be overwhelming), and the difficulty of some of the modules. If you knew me then you would know that I am generally pessimistic, and I tend to look for the worst in everything, BUT I am happy at Warwick.

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It is a comfortable and inclusive environment, the work is rewarding, and above all else, the Maths is difficult – and that is the best part. You are not picking an easy degree, but you are also not picking a boring one, and I think that that is more important than anything else – what is the point in killing yourself working at something you don’t absolutely love? I spent my last year of A-levels worrying whether I had made the right choice of degree, and I can tell you now that I did. I was scared that I would get sick of the difficulty of the material, that I would be too demoralised by having to struggle with the work, or that I might end up getting sick of Maths altogether. If you have the same concerns, then I would advise you to consider what it is that you love about Maths, because just enjoying getting questions right isn’t quite enough.

The challenge is the best part!

The hard fact of university, and in particular Maths at university, is that you will probably no longer be the best. You will likely be coming from an environment where you were always one of the top mathematicians in the class, being asked to help other students with problems and getting high 90s in most of your exams, but it is inevitable that once you get into a Maths lecture theatre, you will be surrounded by people that have had the exact same experience. There will be people that are better at Maths than you, but there will also be people that are worse. Maths is a naturally competitive subject, and it attracts competitive people – [think: people that flip over the Monopoly board when they’re no longer winning] – but the trick to coping with it is to concentrate on yourself, and on the work that you are doing. Essentially, you are working at your degree for yourself, and whether other people are averaging slightly higher or lower marks shouldn’t matter to you as much as the Maths that you’re doing.

Everyone is in the same boat

For me, before starting studying Maths at Warwick, I was scared that everyone would be way cleverer than me. I was certain that I would feel like I was the only one that didn’t understand a single thing that was being said, or that Warwick had made a mistake in accepting me, or that I should give up early and apply for a job as a professional napper. And I was right, I did think all those things during the first couple of weeks.

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But then I talked to some other people, and I realised that almost everyone else was thinking something similar. That realisation has made all the difference to my first term. The lecturers are trying their best to challenge you, but it is not their aim to weed out the people that don’t deserve to be there – if you got an offer from Warwick (Warwick makes standard offers often involving STEP Maths or AEA – see the bottom of the article for full details) and made the grades, you deserve to be there and you have the potential to do well at the degree without question.

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Warwick gives you your money’s worth!

The aim of the lecturers is to guide you into thinking like a real mathematician. The feeling of hopelessness you get from seeing but not understanding a problem, and then the satisfaction you get after the struggle of trying to work it out and realising you’ve got there, is the reason most people love Maths. If it weren’t challenging, it would be boring as hell – and I can promise you I have never been bored (although I will admit to falling asleep in the odd 9am lecture). If it were all easy then there would be no point in spending £9,000 a year to learn about it, and Warwick definitely gives you your money’s worth of information and assignments. If you are going to learn how to approach new things, you are going to have to struggle a little at some point, and if you aren’t prepared to do that then you might need to reconsider applying for a Maths degree at all.

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I don’t mean to put you off in the slightest, or to imply that Maths is a thankless degree. If anything, I would say that it is the most rewarding environment I’ve ever been in. The fact that it can be challenging is what makes it worth it.

What have I learnt in my first term studying Maths at Warwick?

The things I have been taught so far, and I have been taught a lot in quite a short space of time, haven’t added any concepts on top of Further Maths yet; rather, they have stripped Maths back to its most insubstantial underwear and redressed it layer by layer so that we can see how everything fits together and builds back up to all the Maths we have been taught without proof since we were 4. School Maths teaches you how, and real Maths teaches you why. It does come with a few quite unbelievable revelations, along with some seemingly obvious ones, which I won’t spoil for you. You may find out, for example, what a degenerate triangle is (hint: it’s a straight line).

The logistics of university teaching

To go into the logistics of the actual course at Warwick: from the beginning of the first term, you are given a choice of the Maths you want to study. Within the Maths department, there are ‘List A’ options that are recommended as ‘purer’ modules, but there are also options from the Physics department, Statistics, Economics, Computer Science, Philosophy, and Languages. Each term, you can tailor your timetable a little bit more to what you want to study, or just keep it broad if you’re undecided.

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Along with the lectures, there are twice-weekly supervisions in groups of 5 led by enthusiastic and overachieving fourth years, who mark and give feedback on your assignments, as well as explaining topics covered in lectures. There are also weekly or fortnightly tutorials with your personal tutor in groups of 5 (which are basically conversations about Maths with people that actually know what they’re talking about), and two 2-hour classes for analysis, taught by postgraduates and assisted by undergraduates in higher years. Maths Café is put on weekly by students to help students with problems (and provide them with food and caffeine). In all, the Warwick Maths department has thought through every way to get information across to its students, on top of relying on their own interest and independent study, so that we feel able to ask questions about things we don’t understand, and to discuss and enjoy the Maths we do.

Warwick Maths Modules

The non-optional modules are as follows:

  • Foundations, which is essentially sets and numbers, and talks through the different types of numbers and extends on subjects like complex numbers and functions.
  • Analysis, which acts as both an introduction to writing Maths properly (one of the most difficult adjustments to make), and as a basis to pure Maths. It is full of proofs, theorems, and having to show things using only what has been defined within the module and nothing more.
  • Differential Equations, which is…erm… differential equations.
  • Abstract Algebra, which starts in week 5 out of 10 and introduces basic group theory (by far my favourite module, if just for the wonderful lecturer).

The first couple of weeks lasted longer than the entire rest of term. Part of the problem was that Warwick combines Freshers Fortnight with the beginning of lectures, something that the student body is campaigning actively against. I found that it hit the mathematicians harder than the other freshers, simply because we were thrown into our work within the first couple of days, whereas other subjects allow for some more time to settle in.

What I’ve learnt apart from Maths

The transitional period between school and university Maths seemed brief relative to the discrepancy in material and approach. The almost immediate workload can best be described as a baptism of fire, and acted as a warning of what we had signed ourselves up for. Along with the general homesickness, sleep deprivation, and terrifying new level of independence, the first couple of weeks were emotional to say the least. However, although it seems that my true calling in life is to complain about everything I do, I thoroughly enjoyed those first few weeks, despite the stress. I made close friends in that time – some of whom I will be living with next year – and it showed me how to balance my work and social lives in a way that allowed me to enjoy both working and partying.

How preparing for STEP Maths exams has helped me at Warwick

I love listing all of the difficult parts of my first term to anyone I come across, but I have also loved almost every second of my university experience so far. I have felt well prepared for the work, and that has made all the difference – and I can put that down almost entirely to preparing for the STEP Maths exams, which influenced me and my approach to problems far more than Further Maths A-level did.

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Not only does working through STEP questions teach you how to communicate your mathematical ideas properly, but it shows you how creative Maths can be, and introduces you to thinking laterally rather than just using the methods that your exam board want you to.

One of the most useful factors in my STEP preparation was the STEP Maths Preparation Courses (I attended all 4). This allowed me to discuss ideas with the STEP Maths tutors, who are old enough to know exactly what they’re doing, but also young enough to not be at all patronising or condescending – this has been critical to making the jump between school and university; I would recommend it to anyone in the position that I was last year.

Why does Warwick ask for a particular grade in a STEP Maths Paper as part of its offers?

According to the Warwick Website:

– STEP and AEA provide the best preparation to study Mathematics at university
– Questions on the STEP papers are closer in style of mathematical thinking met at university
– Even if you don’t go to Warwick, doing STEP Maths Exams or the AEA Maths exam will prepare you for wherever you go – the independent thinking required will help your A-level grades too.

Good Luck!

All that’s left for me to say is good luck! Reply in the comments section below letting me know what else you would like to know about university or student life at Warwick!

Standard Offers from Warwick University:

Standard Warwick Maths Offer for 2017 Admission: A-Level Students

  • A* (Maths A-level), A*(Further Maths A-level), A (in a third A-level), and grade 2 in any STEP Maths Paper (STEP I, STEP II or STEP III), or distinction in Maths AEA
  • A*(Maths A-level), A*(Further Maths A-level), A* (in a third A-level)
  • A*(Maths A-level), A*(Further Maths A-level), A (in a third A-level), A (in a fourth A-level)
Standard Warwick Maths Course Offer for 2017 Admission: IB Students
  • 39 points overall, with 6,6,6 in HL subjects, including HL Maths, plus grade 2 in any STEP Paper (STEP I, STEP II or STEP III), or
  • 39 points overall, with 7,6,6 in HL subjects, including HL Maths..

Standard Scottish Highers offer:

  • A1 (Advanced Higher Maths), A (other Advanced Higher), A (Higher Maths), AAA (three Higher subjects), plus grade 2 in any STEP Paper (STEP I, II or III) or Distinction in AEA Maths
  • A1 (Advanced Higher Maths), A1 (other Advanced Higher), A1 (Higher Maths), AAA (three Higher subjects).