How to Survive College Calculus

Freshman calculus is a required course for many majors in college. Most psychology, economics, and business students have to pass Calculus I (derivatives). For science and engineering majors, calculus is just the first of many advanced math courses that are required.

Taking calculus in high school isn't necessary in order to succeed in college calc, but it can help. Students who have never taken calculus before, or took it a long time ago, may be stressed about taking it at the university level. If you are worried that your math background is weak, follow this survival guide to college calculus. You'll improve both your confidence and your grade.

First, buy the required calculus textbook well before classes start. From the first week of classes, the lessons and homework will be assigned out of your calculus text; having this book will keep you from falling behind.

Get familiar with your calculator and read its instruction manual. You can write equation solving programs and store notes on a programmable graphing calculator. This will help you on exams, quizzes, and homework assignments. In many colleges, having a graphing calculator is actually required.

On the first day of class, read your syllabus to learn the lesson plan for the semester. Understand how the homework, quizzes, and tests are scored and weighted in your final grade. Also, save your instructor's contact info. Remember, if something is unclear, just ask! University teachers are required to outline the objectives of their classes and explain the grading system to students.

Find a note taking strategy that helps you retain information. You'll have to strike a balance between listening and writing. If you just listen, but don't write anything down, you'll forget what was covered. If you merely write, but don't listen to the math lecture, you might miss something important, or miss the context of a math problem.

During class, ask questions about details that are unclear to you, but don't ask the teacher to re-explain an entire calculus problem or concept. This will slow the class down too much. If you need more in-depth help, meet with your professor after class or during office hours, or email your instructor. Take advantage of office hours at the beginning of the semester and between exams.

Study for the midterms and finals all semester long; don't try to cram the week before. Whenever the instructor mentions that a particular calculus problem or concept will appear on the exam, learn it well in advance of the exam. This will reduce your test anxiety and help you get better grades.

Working out problems from your math book is the best way to master difficult concepts. When you are doing your homework, and you get stuck on a question, try to work out similar questions until you get the hang of it. Learning calculus is like learning any other skill, and practice makes perfect.

Review questions from midterms and quizzes and make sure you know how to do the problems. Many of those concepts will reappear on the final exam if the final is cumulative.

Avoid telling yourself negative clichés, such as "I'm not a math person," or "I've never been good at math." Cultivate a can-do attitude toward all your college classes, and especially your calculus course.

© Had2Know 2010