Calculus Survival Guide

  1. How much to study: Calculus is a hard subject. It is likely that it will be your most challenging course this semester. You should be spending about 12 hours a week studying calculus; that's 2 hours a day, 6 days a week. If you need to make adjustments in your academic or work schedules, do so now.

  2. How to study: Calculus texts are odd books. They are not meant to be read like a novel, or even like a history or biology text. Your calculus text should be read in a series of passes. On the first pass through a section, which should be done before the lecturer covers it, the student should skim through it lightly, reading definitions and theorems, and trying to work through some of the examples. But, and this is key, you won't fully understand much of what you've read until you start working on the exercises. In fact, you should spend most, perhaps 80%, of your study time working problems. As you get stuck, you go back, rereading the section, studying the examples and derivations, on a ``need-to-know'' basis.

  3. Homework: Work lots and lots of problems, not just the ones assigned as homework. If you are done with the current section, go back and work review problems. Furthermore, you are not done with a problem just because you got the right answer. You are only done when you understand why the methods you used had to have worked. If all you are doing is blindly applying formulas and mimicking examples, get extra help. The problems should make sense to you.

  4. Studying for tests: If you were an athlete preparing for track meet, and you slacked off during the weeks before the meet, doing just what you needed so the coach wouldn't get on your case, and then stayed up running the whole night before your meet, you'd lose. Yet this is just how many students prepare for exams. The right way to study for a test, is to do your work at a steady pace throughout the semester. The point is, that while there are a few facts and formulas you'll need to remember for a test, the real way to do well is to think well. You want your brain to be in top shape. You cannot achieve that by cramming. It is now known that as you learn the brain slowly rewires itself. As you study, you gradually get smarter. That is the whole point of college!

  5. Come to class: Many college students treat class attendance as optional. This may be fine for some classes. However, for calculus you can get way behind very fast. You should come to class every period unless you are seriously ill.