Sometimes when a week has been particularly stressful it’s not uncommon for me (at nearly thirty) to have a nightmare about showing my report card to Papa Brooks. Education can be tough for a lot of people and can have a lasting effect on a person’s enthusiasm to learn.
Those that can relate to the last few sentences know one word that brings every left-brained person to tears — calculus.
Despite what you and the writer of the article absolutely may believe, recent polls have shown that close to seventy percent of calculus students do not find the subject particularly difficult.
For the rest of us thirty percent reading, let’s take a closer look at why some people struggle with the advanced class and why others breeze through it.
The Difficulty of Calculus
To offer a consolation answer – yes, for most people calculus is going to prove difficult. This isn’t because most people lack the intellectual aptitude or natural predisposition to mathematics, but because they lack a strong foundation to build off of.
Picture this, you are trying to read Moby Dick for a presentation in an English class but you can only understand half of the words used in the book. While you might have a general understanding of some of the plot and characters, you are going to be in for a rough time come presentation day.
The same thought process can be said for calculus. If you don’t already have a very good grasp of algebra or even trigonometry, it is going to be hard to move further in mathematics. For those struggling in high school when it comes to Calculus, it may be worthwhile to understand where your weakness comes from.
Calculus for most high schools is going to be the final class you will have to take in mathematics (or close to it). If you are in college, you are unfortunately just getting started down a long road of very advanced classes a knuckle dragger like myself would struggle to help you with.
Either way, it feels weird and shortsighted to call the subject simple, especially when we all take a moment to remember our grades in pre-calculus.
Calculus for most people is the highest level of math you will obtain. Because it is taught to so many people, several will have educational holes that make learning the subject very difficult.
Other people with a natural aptitude and predisposition to studying hard will likely find it fairly easy.
How To Make Calculus Simple
As much as we can discuss the varying degrees of difficulty depending on where you are on the educational step ladder – you likely found this article to help with a subject you struggle with.
For those that do want some practical, realistic solutions, we are going to cover everything you can use to help assist you with Calculus going forward.
The first thing that we have to say because it truly is important is that you have to study and study fairly hard. If studying fills you with nausea from the sheer mention of such an ugly word, you aren’t alone. 75% of students tested in a study reported negative feelings about school and these were commonly associated with feelings of stress and fatigue.
According to the Calculus Survival Guide, the average person should study Calculus for about twelve hours a week if they hope to pass with good grades.
When you do study, it’s highly recommended to take frequent breaks to avoid burnout and make sure you are getting enough rest. You should also test yourself to make sure you are comprehending what you are learning.
When studying calculus, it is recommended to spend 80% of the time busting out problems. This will give you a more breathable understanding of the material and help you better work out Calculus equations in the future.
You should also try to cover the material in your Calculus book gently before your instructor goes over it. This lightly familiarizes you with the material so it doesn’t feel so overwhelming and also introduces you to the work prior to the classroom.
If you can muster the courage, try to avoid cramming the night before a big test. You can’t master anything overnight, but you can stress yourself to pieces and virtually guarantee a sleepless night. Studying should be done in 120-minute sessions, six days a week with frequent breaks.
Finally, try to really pay attention when doing homework and give yourself the opportunity to work on additional problems should you need to. Calculus works a bit like a musical instrument in this way — you can discuss the idea of it to death but until you put the time in to actually practice it, you won’t improve.
Try not to be satisfied with a question because you found the right answer either, only be satisfied when you understand how and why you were able to get the right answer. You know that annoying math teacher that puts “Show your work!” on every correct answer you get? Well, turns out they may actually be trying to help you, despite your personal feelings towards them.
By understanding the methods you use to reliably find the solution to Calculus equations, you can form a better knowledge of the course in its entirety.
Calculus does not have to be impossibly difficult, but for most people, it will require a good bit of genuine hard work. Sorry, we are as disappointed as you are.
None of what we are saying means you have to follow such a strict schedule to the letter — we just want to paint the most productive way to go about conquering this challenging class. Feel free to mix and match these methods as you find better ways that work for you, just try to avoid some of the pitfalls we have listed above.
Understand Algebra, and Trigonometry
To become proficient at Calculus it really is required to have a deep understanding of previous classes. There is a reason that the education system teaches in the way that it does – you cannot be good at Calculus without also being good at Algebra and beginner Trig.
Most people enjoy the more basic forms of math because they are concrete and work in structured ways, while Calculus can get a bit weird and out there in terms of how you have to comprehend it. Because of this, and the added pressure of remembering the previous math courses very well, it can feel like you are drowning in an ocean of misunderstood math problems.
For Algebra, you should really get comfortable with logarithmic equations, fractions, powers, and square roots. The problem with naming what you specifically need to know is difficult, however, as most people should have a deep understanding of the entirety of the subject before moving forward to Calculus.
Moving over to something like Trigonometry, the same can be said for this slightly more advanced course. While we can recommend certain parts of trigonometry, most people should be very competent in it before continuing onward in their education. The same can be said for Geometry, though few would consider it as important for learning Calculus as the other two.
Find A Better Educator
This is going to be kind of a controversial point, but some teachers are simply ineffective at their job.
This isn’t to say there aren’t great instructors in public schools – some of us establish a deep passion for a subject for the rest of our lives from one capable educator. Due to reasons too exhaustive to get into in this article, teachers are often not adequately rewarded for their hard work and can fall victim to burnout or lack of enthusiasm.
One of my favorite classes in school was an English course taught by a gentleman a year out from his retirement – we watched a movie of his choosing every day that was educational in the fact that the actors spoke English.
While this is nice for the students who don’t wanna put in the effort, it also sets them back quite a bit. While we remember these teachers fondly for their more hands-off approach, they do hold us back from progressing in our education.
If you find that one of your instructors feels less than enthusiastic or teaches in a way that is hard for you to understand – it may be worthwhile to try and learn some of the harder points through an alternative source.
There is no shortage of free resources online like Khan Academy, Youtube, or free college lectures. If you think that your teacher is teaching in a way that you find unhelpful, look for different resources to pad your knowledge.
Listen, none of us are going to become John Nash from this article but at the very least we can conquer Calculus with a passing grade or better.
None of us learn the same and the human brain varies wildly from person to person. So even though you can effortlessly add a few multi-syllable words to a paper or name every president, it doesn’t necessarily mean you will easily speed through mathematics.
Try to not feel frustrated or defeated when struggling with a class. Intelligence is an incredibly weird thing to define and lacking enthusiasm for Calculus does not equal stupidity.
The education system has a lot of room for improvement, so sometimes we have to teach ourselves a bit to bridge the gap!