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# Maths graduates can't do STEP? Watch

1. (Original post by Mark13)
I meant in terms of people taking IB, Scottish Highers etc. (not that it affects the point you were making).
I'd have thought that was a small proportion, although I am but guessing.
2. I know this is a maths forum - and so I shouldn't be saying this - but this thread would sure benefit from some empirical tests!
3. (Original post by Kolya)
I know this is a maths forum - and so I shouldn't be saying this - but this thread would sure benefit from some empirical tests!
Aint gonna happen, and would probably cause huge arguments if it did.

To look at one of the "concrete counterexamples" posted, for example: If you (a) got a First solely from memorization and (b) can't do STEP, then I actually think it's pretty reasonable to say that degree isn't worth very much. (About half of my MSc falls into a similar category, and all I really got from those courses was "the piece of paper" at the end).
4. (Original post by DFranklin)
Aint gonna happen, and would probably cause huge arguments if it did.

To look at one of the "concrete counterexamples" posted, for example: If you (a) got a First solely from memorization and (b) can't do STEP, then I actually think it's pretty reasonable to say that degree isn't worth very much. (About half of my MSc falls into a similar category, and all I really got from those courses was "the piece of paper" at the end).
Indeed, ultimately it comes down to the fact that everyone is different. As I mentioned in my earlier post, there were some people on my course who actually understood what was going on, and I'm sure they'd perform admirably in STEP. Conversely I never really understood anything, and am pretty certain I'd fail STEP. The truth is that there is no hard-and-fast rule because there will always be counterexamples, so I think the end conclusion has to be:

1.) Some graduates can do STEP
2.) Some graduates can't do STEP

You may say that graduates who can't do STEP have worthless degrees, but that's not the topic at hand; the value of someone's degree has no effect on whether or not they are a graduate
5. (Original post by Chwirkytheappleboy)
You may say that graduates who can't do STEP have worthless degrees, but that's not the topic at hand; the value of someone's degree has no effect on whether or not they are a graduate
Well, except that (thread title notwithstanding), I've never said "all maths graduates can do STEP", but that someone I'd be shocked at someone with a degree from a decent university who couldn't.

That still holds. To be blunt, if you could get a first at Durham purely by memorization, that probably does a lot to explain the stratospheric %age of firsts they award. I see no point in such a degree. (Again, speaking as someone who's done something similar, and I can't say those courses have ever been of any use to me whatsover after the event).

Edit: OK, I just checked your posting history, and I think you are rather underestimating yourself. I think you'd do fairly well on STEP - although you probably wouldn't get nearly as many opportunities for "cheap questions" if you mainly did applied maths. But of course proving that gets into the problem of "how well will someone do at STEP if they want to prove they can't do STEP".
6. (Original post by DFranklin)
Aint gonna happen, and would probably cause huge arguments if it did.

To look at one of the "concrete counterexamples" posted, for example: If you (a) got a First solely from memorization and (b) can't do STEP, then I actually think it's pretty reasonable to say that degree isn't worth very much. (About half of my MSc falls into a similar category, and all I really got from those courses was "the piece of paper" at the end).
Doesn't Cambridge have data like that. I know it would suffer from causation/correlation problems.

Like in a way people who do good at STEP go to Cambridge, but surely if you made it to Cambridge you would have to be a pretty decent Maths student compared to others. Also, willing to spend some time away from time to read books like Silkos STEP booklet.

(Original post by Chwirkytheappleboy)
Indeed, ultimately it comes down to the fact that everyone is different. As I mentioned in my earlier post, there were some people on my course who actually understood what was going on, and I'm sure they'd perform admirably in STEP. Conversely I never really understood anything, and am pretty certain I'd fail STEP. The truth is that there is no hard-and-fast rule because there will always be counterexamples, so I think the end conclusion has to be:

1.) Some graduates can do STEP
2.) Some graduates can't do STEP

You may say that graduates who can't do STEP have worthless degrees, but that's not the topic at hand; the value of someone's degree has no effect on whether or not they are a graduate
I think I understand most of the stuff, certainly my main aim is to understand and not rote learn. Hence, I go through most of the proofs and spend most of my time thinking as opposed to doing calculations. I probably would do really badly at STEP. Although, haven't looked at STEP question for a year. Last I remebered it was stupid stuff like this

|||x+1|+1|+x|

Then you had to work out the combinations. Which to me reeks off can you do calculations fast. Then some problems about integration like can you integrate this. Pretty useless skill to be honest as computers can do it. Can you prove this using saying analysis would be decent, but they don't have proofs(Uni type proofs that is).

Also, don't use tautologies.

On worthless degree. My capacity to prove stuff has increased 10 folds. Calculations are the stupid part of Maths, without testing complex proofs don't see how STEP could be good. On that note, I know a few people that are going to fail because they are trying to rote learn analysis.
7. (Original post by SimonM)
STEP is hard, aimed at the top x% where x is small.

Degree level maths isn't. You don't need to be particularly bright to study it. It stands to reason that not all maths grads will be able to do STEP. (Even if they practised for it)
True in general perhaps, but if you narrow your scope down to universities that actually require STEP you may find yourself to be incorrect here.
8. (Original post by Physics Enemy)
Would you never accept the opinion that intelligence/talent/whatever will just stop a lot of people from being capable to do STEP/BMO/IMO/whatever? You seem to have a lot of faith in the education system; they'll turn mediocre Mathmos into good ones by the end, who can think cleverly and do STEP and whatnot. Simon has a 1st in Maths at Cam and isn't any better at Olympiad problems. Why can't people who are far worse than him at Maths, graduating from mediocre unis, not be able to do STEP?
Some people will struggle with STEP, some people will struggle even with A-level, if they are badly taught, and maybe simply because they aren't that smart. The same thing goes for uni maths. Whether it is more or less is neither here nor there. Obviously IMO is pretty hard (BMO has some pretty easy stuff).

STEP maths, if I understand it, is like very hard A-level maths. What's so great about being good at STEP if you didn't, for example, know anything about topology? In fact, what is the point of being good at STEP questions?

The STEP syllabus is limited. STEP papers, like A-level maths, don't move outside R (the set of all real numbers), C (the set of all complex numbers) and functions thereof. It is pretty much back in the dark ages of maths, with Newton and Fermat and friends (and even they probably wouldn't bother with questions on STEP papers). Just because the exams are hard, so what?

You could be as intelligent and creative and ingenious at solving Newton/Fermat problems at anything, but you would know nothing of the wisdom that has been built up in the last 200 years.
9. (Original post by Bobifier)
True in general perhaps, but if you narrow your scope down to universities that actually require STEP you may find yourself to be incorrect here.
What are you trying to say? Graduates who passed STEP at some point can pass STEP?

My point is that the range of universities where you can study maths at goes far beyond just COWI.
10. anyone know what you need to learn to do imo maths questions?
it seems impossible, is it based on a-level or generally being good at maths?
natural ability?
plz answer
11. (Original post by bull3tkid-ark)
anyone know what you need to learn to do imo maths questions?
it seems impossible, is it based on a-level or generally being good at maths?
natural ability?
plz answer
Although I can't say this for certain about the IMO, but for the BMO you need to know very little beyond GCSE, apart from a few specific things in number theory and geometry (and the pigeon hole principle can be useful). It's much more a test of mathematical intuition and ability rather than learned proofs and methods.

The knowledge expected for BMO1/2 is listed here
12. (Original post by DFranklin)
Aint gonna happen, and would probably cause huge arguments if it did.

To look at one of the "concrete counterexamples" posted, for example: If you (a) got a First solely from memorization and (b) can't do STEP, then I actually think it's pretty reasonable to say that degree isn't worth very much. (About half of my MSc falls into a similar category, and all I really got from those courses was "the piece of paper" at the end).
Same, I got the highest exam marks on my MSc course, and there were more than a hundred other students, so I think I'm well placed to say, my MSc was almost worthless. It was far, far too easy.

Astonishingly, only two or three others got distinctions, but rote learning would get you a pass.

Actually, the only thing I got out of my MSc was that I met my future PhD supervisor on it.
13. (Original post by Physics Enemy)
I reckon most grads who couldn't do STEP would bottle it, even if you paid the entry fee for them. Most people don't like to be humbled.

One of several counterexamples now. Yet I don't see anyone on here helping with STEP who went to a non-COWI uni. It's always Cam/Ox/Warwick (probs not even Imperial from what I've seen).

I agree with your sentiment about worth of degrees, and a degree by wrote learning is a joke, esp if they can't do STEP by the end. But you're going to face a lot of fire by telling people with 1st class Maths degrees from reputable unis that their degrees aren't worth the paper they're written on. I've had the view for a long time now that uni is a con, a money spinner.

Thing is, these bits of paper get middle class people jobs in banks etc. So in that sense they're 'worth' something, if you're into that charade. If you think about it on a deeper level, it's really sad that people make money in the long run by paying fees to claim these papers, when the actual standard doesn't mean they deserve more money over people who graft hard in manual work.

Another topic for another day ...
a maths degree from a good uni shows that someone can produce consistent results under pressure for three years and for a decade before that to enter the uni.

for that reason a degree has worth to employers.

if someone wants to prove they are the "smartest" they can enter an academic career.
14. (Original post by DFranklin)
But of course proving that gets into the problem of "how well will someone do at STEP if they want to prove they can't do STEP".
Heh, well certainly if I took any test I'd do my best... but I'm just going by what I've seen on here to be honest. Whenever someone posts a STEP problem on the forum I usually have no idea what to do! I guess I can't really say anything for definite since I've never attempted a STEP paper, but I just figured that since I've never been able to help out with any of the problems posted here, I'd probably have quite a lot of difficulty sitting the papers myself

(Original post by Physics Enemy)
But you're going to face a lot of fire by telling people with 1st class Maths degrees from reputable unis that their degrees aren't worth the paper they're written on.
Meh. I think only an over-sensitive person would be bothered by such a statement. It could be true or not depending on the context. At the end of the day, the value of a degree depends largely upon what it's used for. Certainly if I had wanted to be an academic mathematician, then I would fully concur that my degree is worthless. However if my purpose was purely to secure a place on a graduate employment programme, then my degree was invaluable to me - regardless of how good I am at Riemannian Geometry

(Original post by Physics Enemy)
I'd put an A* in Further Maths A-Level above a '1st Class Degree from Durham'; fancy title aside, they'll at least have decent problem solving abilities and intuition.
Of course, pretty much everyone on my course had an A in Further Maths A level anyway (A*s didn't exist for A levels when we took them), but even that doesn't automatically imply decent problem solving abilities and intuition. Indeed, it's even easier to rote learn the A level syllabus than it is to do the same for a degree.
15. I've just screwed up another Warwick exam and yet I still feel very confident that I could pass STEP. They're very different skills and I don't see why the strengths of a degree should be judged based on STEP, which is essentially a set of pointless a-level problems.
16. (Original post by Physics Enemy)
You can already do STEP anyway! Stop failing your Warwick exams on purpose to try and prove a point.

EDIT: LOL @ 'pointless' - Like Uni Maths helps people in day to day life!
I'm not failing them on purpose! They're just harder and different to STEP!

Also, yes, you're quite right, uni maths is pointless. But it's useful for research, much more useful than STEP is.
17. Probably true, wouldn't surprise me. I wouldn't be able to do it, I can't remember half the A-level stuff anymore, that was years ago.
Rather be able to do the degree stuff anyway, it's completely different. For starters it's proper maths rather than applied. Never did like that stuff.
18. (Original post by Physics Enemy)
There's a difference between consistent results in exams/assessments that require brains and talent, to ones that require wrote learning. Make them sit STEP/BMO and they'll consistently fail like most do. This is all a game for middle class people to keep filling up the banks and suppressing the working classes. I'd put an A* in Further Maths A-Level above a '1st Class Degree from Durham'; fancy title aside, they'll at least have decent problem solving abilities and intuition.

Also based on what you said, a degree shouldn't have merit on that basis; a decade of good results should be enough, why another 3 years? In that time people could be working (with these companies too) and learning more practical stuff. Not getting drunk and wrote learning proofs they'll never use or understand.
I can't speak for Durham but seriously? Don't be stupid, of course a 1st (in maths) from Durham means more than an A* in further maths A-level. A lot more.

You seem to think these people have regressed in those 3 years. The truth is they have advanced in ways you don't even know about. Personally I averaged 93 across pure and further pure (I was about the last year before they changed to core I think), scoring ranges from 86-100, so would have got an A* at A-level maths. I got a 2:1 at degree level, of which I am substantially more proud. In as much as cows produce milk, I have learned more doing the latter.

If practical, corporate knowledge concerns you so much, why go to uni? If you think uni maths is so crap, despite knowing **** all (not just about maths, but about universities and degrees in general - they don't give them out free) about it, what the **** are you doing?

(I assume you are applying to uni).

I agree that people rote learn proofs a lot. The real answer is actually coursework. Have regular homework that counts towards the final mark.

You seem to be obsessed with "natural talent" and "intelligence". But being naturally talented or intelligent is, as far as mathematics is concerned, a means to an end. You have to produce results. That requires intelligence, but also other things. Like luck, and determination. In fact, the same is true in the everyday world. Which leaves your obsession with "intelligence" where exactly?

There's a difference between a difficult question and a good question. I guess that's the fundamental misunderstanding here. "What is the integral of cosh this sin that?" versus "what is a symmetry?", "what is a continuous function", "how do you measure how "connected" a graph is?"

One of those is ****ing worthless.
19. (Original post by Physics Enemy)
Computers can do most things; for other things we could just use (or ask!) DFranklin. So what's the point? Indeed, what's the point of any of this in our day to day lives? If you use that line of thought you run into a philosophical 'dead end'. What's the meaning of Maths, and life?

Some people value clever problem solving, others value proofs. The thing is, the latter just ends up into people wrote learning stuff, as the poster in here with a 1st remarked. The former actually requires some brains/talent.

I'm pro any sort of Maths, as long as it requires talent and thought, not wrote memory or easy stuff. I'm not going to knock Andrew Wiles.
Computer cannot prove stuff. The most important thing in Mathematics I.e. proofs, computer can't do.

You have to understand proofs. You can't rote learn them also it isn't efficient. If you can understand the proof and what to do in the proof you get a better understanding of limitations, strengths of it.

I'm pretty sure Andrew Wiles in his documentary said he spends most of his day trying to use others peoples work and to copy their arguments and change them slightly. Either case working from model solutions isn't bad, most of Maths is done like that.
20. Why is there such a large amount of bull**** in this thread especially from Mathematicians?

1) STEP is not a be all end all judge of one's ability to perform mathematically. Firstly, what is mathematics? There are two routes people like to take (problem solving and theory building, which actually end up being practically the same as time progresses though in a rather unclear sense) so that is a bad definition with respect to ones view on performance on STEP.

STEP is not mathematics; you aren't being asked to investigate something general or even largely important it is similar to playing a board game or colouring in squares: you're jumping through hoops on a very specific course with arguably one of the most limited syllabi available to base a 'difficult' maths exam on. You aren't attempting to create anything or argue axiomatically, even carefully - practically the essence of maths.

It's similar to taking National level swimmers and saying they can't hold their breath for the same length of time as an average person. My point being, graduates perhaps are better at maths than people who do steps (they certainly know much more for one thing) and you can't be so harsh on STEP which is quite a non important examination.

2) Do you think all physicist's or chemists have complete understanding of basic topics? As time progresses specialisation develops. I will be surprised in two years if I can remember the quotient formula for a derivative of a quotient correctly yet will easily be able to argue and understand topological proofs and notions which is certainly not helpful when I need to find the derivative of tan(x) in my STEP exam.

3) Shockingly people are lazy/have fun/have hobbies/have relationships blah at University and if they set their mind to mathematics I believe that practically any graduate would be able to master a STEP paper. A large salary hope outweighs personal pride in one's view of how they see themselves in the mathematical community for the majority of individuals - which is perhaps subtly useful as you are learning so MUCH information that it is 50:50 ability and memory - and half of that combination is time dependant.

EDIT; yeah and Physics enemy can go to hell he has no understanding or say in maths.

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