Calculus Survival Guide
- 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.
- 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.
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.
- 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!
- 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.