Tips on Doing Well in Calculus
Doing Well in Calculus
Written by: D. A. Kouba
- Develop an effective and time-efficient homework/study strategy for, not only your calculus class,
but other classes as well. This will help you become a more confident, successful, and well-rounded student.
It will lead to a healthier balance between work time and leisure time.
- Spend at least two to four hours on each homework assignment. This affords you extra time to
work on challenging homework problems and helps you organize your thoughts, questions, and ideas. The more time you
spend on homework, the more likely you are to articulate clear, concise questions to your classmates and teachers.
The more time you spend on homework, the less time you will spend on frantic, last-minute preparation for exams.
- Definitions, formulas, and theorems that are introduced in class or needed to complete homework assignments should be memorized immediately . Postponing this until it's needed for the exam will impede your work speed on homework assignments and interfere with clearer and deeper understanding of calculus.
- Spend time working on calculus every day . Doing some calculus every day makes you more familiar with concepts, definitions, and theorems. This familiarity will make calculus get easier and easier one day at a time.
- Find at least one or two other students from your calculus class with whom you can regularly do
homework and prepare for exams. Your classmates are perhaps the least used and arguably your best resource.
An efficient and effective study
group will streamline homework and study time, reduce the need for attendance at office hours, and greatly improve
your written and spoken communication. The best time to use your classmates as study/homework partners is after you have made an honest effort on your own to solve the problems using your own wits, knowledge, and experience. When you encounter an unsolvable problem, don't give up too soon on it. Being stumped is an opportunity for mathematical growth and insight, even if you never solve the problem on your own. If you seek help prematurely, you will never know if you could have solved a tough problem without outside assistance.
- Begin preparing/outlining for exams at least five class days before the exam. Outlining the topics,
theorems, equations, etc. that you need to know for the exam will help you focus on those areas where you are least
prepared. Preparing early for the exam will build your self-confidence and reduce anxiety on the day of the exam.
It's also an insurance policy against time lost to illness, unexpected family visits, and last-minute assignments in other
classes. Generally speaking, pulling all-nighters and doing last-minute cramming for exams is a recipe for eventual
- Prepare for exams by working on new problems . Good sources for these problems are unassigned
problems from your textbook, review exercises and practice exams at the end of each chapter, old hour exams,
or old final exams. Studying exclusively from those problems which you have already been assigned and worked on may
not be effective
exam preparation. Problems for each topic are generally in the same section of the book, so knowing how to do a problem
because you know what section of the book it is in could give you a false sense of security. Working on new randomly
mixed problems more closely simulates an exam situation, and requires that you both categorize the problem and then
- Use all resources of assistance and information which are available to you. These include classnotes, homework
solutions, office hours with
your professor or teaching assistants, and problem sessions with your classmates. Do not rely exclusively on just one or two of these
resources. Using all of them will help you develop a broader, more natural base of knowledge and understanding.
- Expect your exams to be challenging . If they are challenging, you will be prepared. If they are not challenging,
you can expect to have an easy time getting a very high score !
Knowledge is a means to personal empowerment. Attaining knowledge can be a limitless source of
pleasure and satisfaction.
Please e-mail your comments, questions, or suggestions to Duane Kouba at