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Studying Mathematics in Germany

Mathematics is where addition and subtraction stops and thinking starts.
An article by Maren Wernecke in collaboration with Jan Ludwig

Studying Mathematics in Germany
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That is what it’s about

Mathematics is everywhere, be it in smart phones or ultrasound devices, the stock exchange or traffic planning. "Often the students aren't aware at the beginning either just how much modern everyday life depends on mathematics," says Herold Dehling, professor of Stochastics in Bochum, Germany, and spokesperson for the conference of Mathematics departments. Studies, however, initially revolve around universal statements and proofs. Everything is based on the subjects of analysis and linear algebra. For two to three semesters, students learn differential and integral calculus, linear equation systems, matrices and vector spaces in foundation lectures. From the very beginning, they practise dealing with the precise language of the subject and to differentiate, for example between "if" and "if and only if" statements. Every week they work through task sheets which are then discussed in exercises. At some universities in Germany, courses in computer science-oriented mathematics are also part of the programme. Stochastics and numerical analysis are added in the second academic year. Partial differential equations are also covered as well as mathematical modelling and optimisation. The aim is to find the best solutions to various problems, for example to minimise the energy consumption of an aircraft. In the third year, Mathematics students take specialisation modules such as algebra, geometry and the theory of numbers. At most universities, a non-mathematical minor is also part of the degree course, for example physics, computer science or business, sometimes philosophy or psychology. In the case of degree courses in what is known as Applied Mathematics which are mainly offered by universities of applied sciences, one-half to two-thirds of the workload is mathematics, the rest is comprised of content from business administration, computer science and natural sciences. Practical projects are also usually part of the programme.

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suitability, obstacles, misconceptions

Anyone who studies Mathematics has to learn how to solve puzzles that seem impossible to solve at the start of studies. Learning how to do this demands passion and discipline. Students learn the basics at a fast pace. Although the number of lectures is initially low, it takes a lot of time to work through the exercise sheets. "The big hurdle is in the first year," says Herold Dehling. "Once students grasp mathematical thinking, they can also usually tackle the rest of their studies with no problem." Unlike at school where the focus is often concrete calculations, the calculator is hardly used. Instead students are taught about definitions and proofs and learn a formula language made up of variables, constants and functions. This doesn't mean that students had to be high-flyers in Mathematics at school. What is more important is that they enjoy abstract and analytical thinking. The course entrance restrictions for Mathematics in Germany vary considerably. There are also many programmes without course entrance restrictions.

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