How to Succeed in Calculus

Hazel Clementine
Jan 8 · 5 min read
Photo by Matt Ragland on Unsplash

I failed calculus twice in the first year of my college education. Almost all of my friends also failed like me. Then I saw that failing calculus is a fact. I am utterly sure that you have some friends who have changed their major just because of the calculus. Ok, but why calculus is so hard for first-year students?

If you check this report, you will see that more than 50 % of students who are very good at math in high school are failing calculus when they take it at the college. I decided that it may be useful to share my calculus experience.

I’ve been a calculus math tutor for about three years now, and I want to share with you the biggest reasons why people fail calculus.


1Calculus is a hard class. I mean, it was hard. There are so many pretty straightforward math concepts like; solving an equation, factoring an equation, use the quadratic formula many times, etc. In calculus, I had to combine a bunch of ideas. Some of the calculus questions were much harder to interpret. I was drawing upon a couple of different things to solve one problem many times. It was not as straightforward. There were also a variety of techniques that I had to know to solve a particular set of questions. It was not just the same technique every time. Different problems required different methods, even if they were the same type of problem.

2I wasn’t in high school anymore. I realized this too late. All calculus courses were college classes, and they were not as easy as high school mathematics classes. I was at the university level now, and courses should have been a university-level class. In my high school class, a lot of people did very well in mathematics because of the teachers. However, the college atmosphere had been different.

At the college, the professor had come in and given a 50-minute lecture, and then we had not had a chance to see him/her. Sometimes they hadn’t even assign homework for a long time. Most of the time, they hadn’t thought in a way that I was familiar with it, and most of them were not friendly.

Again, calculus is a college class. So a freshman has to be on a college mindset as soon as possible. Teachers, your friends, your parents are not going to hold your hand anymore. They’re not going to chase you down and making sure you’re turning in your homework. It’s a different atmosphere. Since the college was a new experience for me and there were so many new things going on, calculus was just not as a priority for me at the beginning, and I didn’t take it seriously as I needed to enough.

3Calculus is a semester-long class, and it takes fifteen weeks. In high school, we had the whole high school year to take one class. Thus, I had to learn all the material in half the time in college, where I was used to learning in a year. So I needed to be twice as quick. I didn’t go to class as much either. In high school, we were going to class every day for the same class. In college, I went only three times a week. I still had to learn it twice as fast because the semester was the whole class, not the entire year. In other words, I had half the time to put the same amount of work and gain the same amount of knowledge that I would in a full year of high school.

4To be honest, I failed calculus because of missing class. It was apparent that I had to go to class to succeed. When I missed something in college, no one was chasing me down to make it up like in high school. If I missed a day in high school, my teacher was writing out all my assignments that day, and my parents picked them up for me. I had a lot of college classes that attendance was not mandatory. The professors didn’t take attendance, and they didn’t even care whether I attended the lecture or not. I was just another student to them. They didn’t even notice that I wasn’t there. So it’s my responsibility to make up what I missed. If you miss class, you’re putting yourself at a disadvantage.

5 My study habits were also another factor for failing calculus. So many people that I know had terrible study habits. I was going for tutoring on the day before the exam or maybe hours before the exam, and I wanted my tutor to teach me mathematics. I couldn’t absorb the calculus hours before the exam or even a day or two before the exam. I needed to be frequently studying over time. Those my all-nighter study sessions before the exam had never worked. When I felt like I had poor study habits, some specialists at my university coached me in study habits and how to study for a specific subject. Study habits for math was a big huge reason for my failing calculus.

6However, the biggest reason for failing calculus was my algebra and trigonometry skills. I thought that I wasn’t good at calculus; actually, I wasn’t good at algebra and trigonometry. After years, I can see that most of the calculus rules and theorems in calculus were pretty straightforward. For instance, when I started learning the derivative shortcuts, I was doing algebra, such as simplification and solving hard equations. These things that I learned in algebra were 70–90 % of the calculus. Most of my mistakes were algebra mistakes. I had hard times with exponents, fractions, and logarithms. I forgot the rules, and these rules carry over to calculus. Mathematics is cumulative, and I had to keep all these things in my head. So I studied them again, all my knowledge came back to me. Because it was much easier to learn it a second time than the first time. It was the same with trigonometry. I forgot all about sines and cosines. For instance, I had to remember the unit circle all the time. Because even if I did all the calculus and algebra part, but I couldn’t do the trigonometry part, and I couldn’t get credit. When I increased my algebra and trigonometry skills, then I passed my calculus course.

I hope my experience would help you to pass. Thank you for reading.

However, Mathematics

Hazel Clementine

Written by

I found tons of books in Argentina!

However, Mathematics

Life is good for only two things, discovering mathematics and teaching mathematics.

More From Medium

More from However, Mathematics

More from However, Mathematics

More from However, Mathematics

The Chaos Game: Sierpinski Triangle

More from However, Mathematics

Welcome to a place where words matter. On Medium, smart voices and original ideas take center stage - with no ads in sight. Watch
Follow all the topics you care about, and we’ll deliver the best stories for you to your homepage and inbox. Explore
Get unlimited access to the best stories on Medium — and support writers while you’re at it. Just $5/month. Upgrade