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I will shortly list a series of topics that amount to what is essentially the first two years of an undergraduate degree.

I'd like to know what is considered best order in which to study these topics. I understand that some of these are related topics i.e. Analysis, so if like topics could be grouped together that would be appreciated. Any other suggestions that you feel are relevant would be great too.


1. Groups: Examples of groups, Lagrange's theorem, Group actions, Quotient groups, Matrix groups, Permutations.

2. Vectors and Matrices: Complex numbers, Vectors, Matrices, Eigenvalues and Eigenvectors.

3. Numbers and Sets: Introduction to number systems and logic, Sets relations and functions, the integers, elementary number theory, the real numbers, countability and uncountability.

4. Differential Equations: Basic calculus, first-order linear differential equations, nonlinear first-order equations, higher-order linear differential equations, multivariate functions: applications.

5. Analysis I: Limits and convergence, continuity, differentiability, power series, integration.

6. Probability: Basic concepts, axiomatic approach, discrete random variables, continuous random variables, inequalities and limits.

7. Vector Calculus: Curves in $R^3$, integration in $R^2$ and $R^3$, vector operators, integration theorems, Laplace's equation, Cartesian tensors in $R^3$.

8. Linear Algebra: self explanatory

9. Groups, Rings & Modules: self explanatory

10. Analysis II: Uniform convergence, uniform continuity and integration, $R^n$ as normed spaced, differentiation from $R^m$ to $R^n$, metric spaces, the Contraction Mapping theorem

11. Metric & Topological Spaces: Metrics, topology, connectedness, compactness

12. Complex Analysis: Analytic functions, contour integration and Cauchy's theorem, expanions and singularities, the residue theorem.

13. Complex Methods: Analytic functions, contour integration and Cauchy's theorem, Residue calculus, Fourier and Laplace transforms.

14. Geometry: Groups of rigid motions of Euclidean space, spherical geometry, Riemannian metrics, embedded surfaces in $R^3$, length and energy, the second fundamental form and Gaussian curvature.

15. Variational Principles: Stationary points for functions $R^n$, Functional derivatives, Fermat's principle, second variation for functionals.

16. Methods: Self-adjoint ODEs, PDEs on bounded domains, Inhomogenous ODEs, Fourier transforms.

17. Numerical Analysis: Polynomial approximation, computation of ordinary differential equations, systems of equations and least squares calculations.

18. Statistics: Estimation, hypothesis testing, linear models.

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For reference, these topics form a large subset of the courses offered in the first two years of an undergraduate maths degree at Cambridge. The best advice, really, is to study the topics in the order they are offered, the course is designed that way for a reason. You've left a few out, so I assume that those are the ones you're not interested in, and conversely that you want to eventually learn all of these topics. If you have this much information, you've probably seen the course schedule, which also details which terms the topics are in, and what the prerequisites are... –  Tom Oldfield Aug 26 '14 at 20:15
[continued] So my advice would be to learn the topics in approximately that order, i.e. the first year courses first, starting with the ones in Michaelmas, and then go chronologically. If you want to jump around, just make sure you know enough of the prerequisites as detailed in the schedule. The most obvious change would be to do some combination of Met&Top, GRM and VP after having finished the first year courses but before starting on the second year ones. Met&Top is particularly good to do early since it helps a lot for Analysis II and Geometry, and a bit with the complex courses (12&13) –  Tom Oldfield Aug 26 '14 at 20:19
@tomoldfield you're right, however I felt like this wasn't the best sequence to do things for me, hence why I asked here. Thank you for your suggestions. –  seeker Aug 26 '14 at 21:30
@TomOldfield your profile says that you attended Cambridge, how is it? if you dont mind me asking.. The schedule looks gruelling.. –  seeker Jan 13 at 22:09
I'd be more than happy to discuss it with you in chat if you like? I've set up a room in chat: "Cambridge discuss room" and will be on it when possible for the next few days. –  Tom Oldfield Jan 17 at 12:38

4 Answers 4

up vote 7 down vote accepted

Here's my take, in diagram form:

enter image description here

The diagram is organized from basic (top) to advanced (bottom).

A solid arrow indicates a more or less definitive prerequisite. For instance, I consider numbers and sets a prerequisite for both groups and discrete math because working with sets is essential in both subjects, and because numbers and sets are a good place to learn to prove things. Also, many examples of groups arise from number-theoretic constructions.

A dotted arrow indicates that one subject might be useful for learning another, although not essential. For instance, it would good to have experience in real analysis before learning topology, largely because topology requires so-called "mathematical maturity", which learning real analysis is likely to supply. Topology and geometry are linked to each other via a dotted line because general theorems from topology will apply geometric objects, and objects from geometry will supply good examples of topological spaces.

The red bubbles are additional topics that came to mind. Perhaps you'll want to add some of these to your studies if you particularly like subjects that precede them. For instance, if you find you love basic abstract algebra, I'd recommend learning a little Galois theory. If you love topology, you might look into some algebraic topology-- study of the fundamental group. There are lots of other "elective"-type topics: if you come across something in your studies and find it interesting, consider changing your plans to include it.

I haven't included calculus on the diagram. If you haven't learned that yet, you'll need to do so before vector calculus, differential equations, and complex analysis. Technically, you could learn real analysis without (or in place of) calculus, since most real analysis books rigorously prove results of calculus from scratch. However, depending on the analysis book, skipping a more typical introduction to calculus might be confusing: many texts seem to assume the reader has some sort of intuition for calculus.

I've omitted (15)-(17) because these are subjects with which I have less familiarity (that doesn't mean that I think you shouldn't study them, though! Just seek guidance elsewhere). For (16), if you have in mind a "methods of mathematical physics" approach, this could be studied soon after multivariable calculus.

I'd suggest that you pick a few subjects from the top of the diagram, and begin studying them. As you finish a subject, replace it with a successor on the diagram, or with a different topic near the top of the diagram. Over the next few years, you'll work "downward" through the diagram until you know all the material.

General advice: do lots of exercises. If you're not sure about your answer and can't find a solution, post it on MSE for verification.

I hope that this is helpful, and isn't entirely overwhelming. Please let me know if I can clarify things.

Edit: to be more specific about where to start, vector calculus and linear algebra are the most canonical choices. I'd recommend studying them at the same time, if you are comfortable with this. If you prefer to choose one, vector calculus is probably best. See the comments on this post for further discussion.

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Topic 0: Basic graph theory so he can understand your directed graph, aka flowchart. ;) Nice diagram! –  SpamIAm Aug 13 '14 at 23:29
This is brilliant! Thank you! –  seeker Aug 14 '14 at 6:45
I'll let this question ran for a bit, to see what other people say, but thanks for your answer! –  seeker Aug 14 '14 at 7:54
@seeker, sure, this makes sense =) glad you found it useful. –  Morgan O Aug 14 '14 at 12:05
I like the diagram! I wonder though about not having Vector Calculus prior to Linear Algebra, Complex Analysis, and Probability. I gained a better understanding of limits and two dimensional space in Vector Calculus, which helped with CA. Double/Triple Integration is needed for Probability. And I think Linear Algebra is more comprehensible if you can relate vector spaces back to two/three dimensional euclidean space, and the intuition for this I gained in vector calculus. –  MathStudent Aug 14 '14 at 18:40

I suggest the following sequence: 3-5-2-8-4-7-1-9-10-6-18-11-14-12-13-16-15-17. Exact contents and prerequisites of your material may call for some permutations, but this shouldn't be too bad.

The list of topics seems good to me. As you proceed, you will develop a taste that will tell you what you want to focus on and what requires clarification. When reading a book, don't hesitate to decide that you need to study some other theory first before you can lay hands on what you want to do. What you need is a good start, and that looks like one.

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You pretty much need #3 and #7 before anything. Which order you do these in doesn't matter. A lot of stuff on your list will require multivariate calculus, which is why I say #7. And in #3 you will build up your mathematical maturity/proof skills.

Then a whole world will open up to you, so you could do whatever you find interesting. I wouldn't recommend trying to plan much beyond that because you'll probably change your mind later anyway.

9 comes after 1. (EDIT: I would study this after Linear Algebra/Complex Numbers because many of your groups will come from Matrices/Complex Field)

8 comes after 2.

17 and 16 come after 4.

10 and 11 come after 5.

13 comes after 12

14 whenever.

18 comes after 6.

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This may be useful for a somewhat different perspective. My personal feeling is that it is (I would say) of foremost importance that you become comfortable and nurture a proficiency with proofs.

The topics you mention, when studied in the depth I would think you want to explore all have a "proof component."

While this point could be argued, typically in most math curricula Real Analysis is the entry point to this amazing world. A good RA text (link to an excellent free notes by an outstanding teacher - Vaughan Jones)


will be self-contained and develop proof skills from a beginning level.

One cannot but appreciate the excellent answers given which specifically address your question. But, if I may suggest, pick a starting point with a rigorous, proof content. Once you have "completed" that course or text, you will have begun cultivating a degree of math skills - typically referred to as maturity. Then you can see where your interest lies for your next step.

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