I visit this site alot (even though I have only just signed up, I was a big reader), as it helps me understand important mathematics and was a big help when I was a student.

However, despite recently finishing my degree in mathematics, it is vary rarely I feel "good enough" to answer the majority of questions I see in topics I should be comfortable at doing. I look at some of the questions posted and have no idea what is being asked.

I guess what I'm asking is does anyone else feel the same, and what % of questions posted here should i be capable of doing with a Bsc in Mathamtics? Would i be correct in saying the majority of users have postgraduate qualifications? and this is where the majority of questions come from?

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    $\begingroup$ Perhaps....but I would say a large number of questions are for undergraduate or school level. I have no degrees in maths nor am I studying for a degree in maths but still I am able to answer and help many a lot. $\endgroup$ Commented Oct 28, 2015 at 15:59
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    $\begingroup$ Asking random internet people for their expectations of what you should be able to understand is probably not useful (to you, nor to anyone else really.) Even supposing it was useful, such answers would be too subjective and off-topic for this site. Feel free to ask around in the chat room. As for the second question, I would guess the majority of users are undergraduate. I can't be sure about the proportion for answerers because I lack decent data. Surely there are thousands of questions that undergraduates or even high school students can answer, however. $\endgroup$
    – rschwieb
    Commented Oct 28, 2015 at 16:00
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    $\begingroup$ @rschwieb it's ironic, because the very comment you wrote changed the population of people who'll answer ;) $\endgroup$
    – Zach466920
    Commented Oct 28, 2015 at 16:55
  • $\begingroup$ For a more realistic perspective, see the comment by Henning Makholm in main at: math.stackexchange.com/questions/1370837/… $\endgroup$
    – Mike Jones
    Commented Oct 31, 2015 at 18:45
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    $\begingroup$ I have a feeling Fermat would feel inadequate. $\endgroup$ Commented Nov 2, 2015 at 1:28
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    $\begingroup$ Mathematically inadequate? I'm told there's a pill for that. Just be sure to call the doctor if you end up browsing MathSE for four or more hours. $\endgroup$ Commented Nov 4, 2015 at 12:54
  • $\begingroup$ Hell, I often feel mathematically inadequate, but soldier on anyway. And I don't even have a math degree! ;) $\endgroup$ Commented Nov 7, 2015 at 6:19

7 Answers 7


(My own two cents.) Your post is entitled:

I feel mathematically inadequate for this site. What level are the majority of questions?

The notions of "(in)adequate for this site" and "level of the majority of questions" need not hold the relation that you suspect.

Your first sentence in the body of the post is:

I visit this site a lot (even though I have only just signed up, I was a big reader), as it helps me understand important mathematics and was a big help when I was a student.

Good. Then you are mathematically adequate for the site.

You also remark:

I look at some of the questions posted and have no idea what is being asked.

To be mathematically inadequate for the site would mean, for example, that you posted "answers" for the questions whose meaning you cannot decipher without attending to mathematical precision.

But if you try to decipher them, or if you attempt to answer questions, and you end up posting something wrong, well, in my interpretation, that would still not make you inadequate: It would just make you wrong. And I am sure every single contributor to this site has experienced wrongness in some mathematical endeavor. (Some of those whose math backgrounds are the "deepest" may also have been wrong in some of the "deepest" of ways!)

Perhaps I should also note that mathematics has a quirk of the following nature: On the one hand, you really should not judge yourself for being unable to answer questions when you do not even know what is being asked. (As a non-reader of Norwegian, I would not wish to be judged by my interpretation of Norwegian poetry!) On the other hand, though, even if you do have an idea of what is being asked, I would caution you against judging yourself harshly if/when you cannot answer the question.

Here is a question whose statement I understand: Are there finitely many primes (e.g., $2, 3, 5$)? The answer to this question is no, and I could write out a proof!

Here is another question whose statement I understand: Are there finitely many twin primes (e.g., pairs like $3$ and $5$, $5$ and $7$)? An answer to this question (with a proof) has escaped the best mathematicians - and not for lack of effort!

Lastly, you ask about where the majority of questions come from; so I will speak concretely about the source for my own questions: Often, they arise because of something I am covering in a class or thinking about in relation to a class, and these classes are on elementary (primary) school mathematics.

This has led to a bevy of questions that could be posed by teachers (or students...) of elementary school mathematics, but for which the answers may be quite difficult to find - even for research mathematicians!

Examples of tough questions: (1) and (2); examples of I-didn't-know-when-I-asked: (3) and (4).

The moral of all this is that MSE welcomes mathematics questions at all levels, which a fortiori includes your level, in particular. I do not know the level of "the majority of the questions," but I do not believe it makes you any less adequate than anyone else. Just try to learn more than what you already know, and you will be plenty adequate.


There will never be a time when you don't feel mathematically inadequate, either here or in general, because the essence of mathematics is figuring things out that you don't know yet.

Very few of the answers I've written are to questions I knew that I could answer right away. Those for which that is true tend to be the answers I am least proud of. I look up definitions all the time, piece together results I've never heard of before, and blindly feel my way through the dark room till I find the light switch.

You're feeling how you're supposed to be feeling. I'm not sure about the education demographics here, but many (most?) of us are here to find interesting questions we don't know how to solve and chip away at them till we do. Those who spend all of their time answering lower level questions are a minority made visible through high reputation.

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    $\begingroup$ I have the same feeling when writing answers. More often than not, I quite like the answers where all I had was a fuzzy notion of how I might approach the question, and I then needed to leaf through a number of references before I can write something good enough for public consumption. $\endgroup$ Commented Nov 7, 2015 at 6:16

To answer the question you actually asked:

I would say that $\frac{2}{3}$ of the questions on MSC can be answered with a the sophistication of a typical BS degree in math. Of those questions, roughly half are disappointingly trivial, stemming from a questioner just not knowing some terminology or being confused as to how to get started. It is important that those questions be answered clearly and politely, so even somebody with a BS (or BSc or BA) in math can be a nice asset to our community.

The other half of those questions require some elbow grease or cleverness, and those are the ones you may find the most enjoyable.

Finally, almost a third of the unanswered questions at any given instance are those that either require a good understanding of a specific upper-level undergrad topic (like modern algebra or topology) or are in the realm of graduate-level questions.

I like to pose occasional near-research-level questions of a nature that the question itself is easy for an undergrad to grasp, but the answer will not be easy to find. But I am in the minority on this site; MathOverflow is a much tougher neighborhood, but questions there require specialized knowledge of jargon and subject matter in about 90 percent of the cases.


One way to see things is that the questions here are naturally questions that may be of a more challenging nature. And at least one person finds it to be difficult, namely the person who asked the question!

Hence, do not feel inadequate on your part. If you do not understand any of the questions, you may still play a part by up voting and commenting on which part you do not understand. Eventually, you will benefit when you read and understand the answer that is given.

Who knows, the day may come when you become one of the top answerers yourself.

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    $\begingroup$ +1: I like your point that every question is, by its very posting, found difficult by someone (viz., the "person who asked")! $\endgroup$ Commented Nov 6, 2015 at 20:11

What level are most the questions?

Most of the questions on this site range from elementary school math to undergrad, early grad study.

I'm personally still in high school, so I don't really get the distinction. I think the vast majority of questions on this site could be imputed into a CAS system and answered immediately.

However, if we ignore those questions, most questions focus on proofs of concepts that are introductory to their respective fields. For instance, prove this integral, prove Brownian motion is time invariant, show that this group is cyclic, is this axiom consistent with ZFC?, and so on...

When I'm on this site, I usually just answer questions I like xor questions I think I can answer. But sometimes those aren't mutually exclusive categories. I don't really focus on whether or not I'm "qualified" to be answering questions. Sometimes I just practice proofs and problem solving methods I've learned, rather than come up with unique methods.

So the take away is this. If you're not learning anything from using this site, you're probably wasting your time. So don't be afraid of being seen as a "newbie"!

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    $\begingroup$ "questions I like xor questions I think I can answer." Is that a typo or do you really not answer question that your like and think you can answer? :-) $\endgroup$
    – quid Mod
    Commented Oct 28, 2015 at 17:00
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    $\begingroup$ @quid but I did say "But sometimes those aren't mutually exclusive categories" right after that. But yes, it's rare I come across an exception, but I do like it when I do :) $\endgroup$
    – Zach466920
    Commented Oct 28, 2015 at 20:34

Tbh, I'm a high school student with a big interest in mathematics, and I can easily get $200$ rep in a few hours if I try.... I feel like I've learned more answering questions here than in high school maths so far, since I look stuff up to augment my answers. I just go ahead and answer things I can, and I figure that I'm helping somebody.


I don't think you are right! I read the descriptions of guys who ANSWER to my questions and many of them are students - even Bachelor students, in math and physics. Surely, many guys who ASK, like me, are undergraduate students who are just approaching the disciplines. Probably I see this because I am such user and I don't look at difficult questions posed by experts, which for sure are very present on this website too. Also, there are many postgraduate students, researchers and professors, probably, but I don't think they represent the large majority of the users as your question suggests.

It is very difficult to answer, of course! Also independently from the knowledge one might have. I think that if you are really interested in answering questions and trying doing it, you might found that you can actually do it!


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