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Courses 5 Math Classes in a Semester - Too Much?

  1. Aug 11, 2016 #1
    This upcoming fall semester, I am planning to take Calculus 2, which at my school is the prerequisite for 5 other math classes I need to take. I would like to take all 5 of them the following spring semester, but I don't know much about the courses (for example, how difficult they may be) and am seeking advice from those of you who may be more knowledgeable about these things so I can make a more informed decision as to whether I should go ahead with this plan or not. The five math courses are:

    Calculus III
    Linear Algebra
    Elementary Differential Equations
    Probability and Statistics for Engineers
    Probability (Calculus - based)

    Is it realistic and/or doable for me to take all 5 of these classes in one semester, or is it too much? Ideally, if I can do it this way, it would help me tremendously in terms of my scheduling for the following academic year.

    Thank you in advance for your help and advice.
  2. jcsd
  3. Aug 11, 2016 #2
    Why are you taking both probability for engineers and probability (calculus based)? The contents are probably very overlapping.

    Are you taking any other courses, or only these 5 classes? If you only take these 5, I don't see any problem. The courses will likely complement eachother very well (for example, LA will help immensely in calculus III and linear algebra).
  4. Aug 11, 2016 #3


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    It's fairly common for people to psyche themselves out when they look at what appears to be a heavy semester - to the point of wondering it's realistic to take that course load and do well.

    The answer is that a lot really depends on you as a student. Five courses in a semester is a pretty standard workload at most universities in my experience. So it's not like you're biting off something that's going to require superhuman abilities, so long as you're actually interested in that material. By most standards you're not even overloading. But you also have to factor in your own abilities, goals, restrictions and responsibilities. Someone trying to do this while working 20 hours per week and being a parent is in a much different situation than an unattached 19 year old on a full scholarship.

    The next question is more about the effect of taking five courses all within the same subject. Some people really like doing this. Covering similar material from different points of view can result in some overlap that generates a better overall understanding, and it allows you to really focus on one area of your education. Others, however, need to shift gears once in a while for optimal performance. If this is the case for you, you might want to considers dropping one of the courses and picking up something else.

    Finally there's the issue of problem-based courses, that I think many students get an intuitive feeling for, but have difficulty spelling out. Most STEM courses are problem-based, meaning your assignments and studies will largely be devoted to solving problems. Solving problems is subject to time uncertainty. Some problem sets can be completed in minutes, while others can drag on for days. Compared to courses that are based on readings, projects, or essay composition - tasks that have less uncertainty in time to completion - the STEM courses can be much more difficult to organize with respect to time allocation. Obviously, the uncertainty compounds with each course. So something else to consider is how well do you do at predicting the amount of time you need to complete assignments and how good are you at time management in general. (You could look at a semester like this as an opportunity to improve those skills.)

    Also, I was going to bring up the two similar probability course, but it looks like Micromass beat me to it. You might want to check that those are not anti-requisites.
  5. Aug 21, 2016 #4
    Depending on the Calculus Probability course, Calculus 3 may be a pre-requisite.
  6. Sep 20, 2016 #5
    That would have been too much for me, but I've always been the cautious student. I tend to base workload on the "2 hours per study per 1 hour in lecture every week" rule of thumb. That's usually what's required to get an A grade. If each class were 4 units, then you'll be looking at 40 hours a week of study outside of class.

    I can say there was one quarter when I took upper division Electricity and Magnetism, Mechanics, Abstract Algebra, and an Introductory German course, whilst trying to reasonably make as many Triathlon practices as possible, and I had a pretty rough time. I did well in E&M and Mechanics, but I was struggling to keep up with German (granted that I had signed up during the 2nd week, and my university uses the quarter system), while my Algebra scores didn't turn out that great and I ended up with a B in the class. Any proof-based math course is difficult, in my opinion, like Real Analysis, because the number of theorems or axioms you may need to use to complete a proof grows as you progress through a course, requiring you to refer to previous chapters (a lot of page flipping, searching, and rereading) - whereas more applications based courses usually give you problems directly related to the section you've just studied.

    I suppose it wouldn't hurt to make the attempt, but I would also have an exit strategy where you may have to sacrifice (aka drop) a course in order to make the rest more manageable.

    At my community college, Calculus III and Linear Algebra were prerequisites for Differential Equations, although I don't think neither were needed until later towards the end when we were solving Systems of Differential Equations, which required Linear Algebra. I felt that Differential Equations was a bit more difficult that Calc 3 and Linear Algebra, because DE's was more computationally intensive (Variation of Parameters, Method of Frobenius, remembering what to do for cases of multiple roots, understanding the difference between the homogenous solution and the particular solution, different types of substitutions, Riccati equations, Bernoulli's equations, etc..) and the material was harder to visualize compared to Calc 3 (very intuitive) and Linear Algebra (more abstract than Calc 3, but mostly related to planes, hyperplanes, and how vectors "linearly" transform).
  7. Sep 20, 2016 #6


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    Like Micromass said, why do you need to do two courses in probability that have the same prerequisites/probably cover nearly the same material?

    Another question, what's the logic behind doing all these courses in the same semester? How would it help with scheduling?

    The one that would concern me the most here is differential equations, you'll likely need partial derivatives to check for exactness before you're actually taught partial derivatives in Calculus III. You'll probably also hear words like "homogeneous" or "linear independence" before those terms are actually defined in linear algebra. It's a minor concern, but something I would think about.

    Calculus three and LA are doable, and complementary, but I always recommend students take LA before Calc 3. It really helps with the geometric interpretation of material.
  8. Sep 21, 2016 #7


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    To the OP:

    The problem with giving specific advice is that I'm not necessarily certain what program you are in and what required background knowledge is required for the specific 5 math courses you wish to take in the spring semester. For example, I would think that Calculus III (if this is anything like MAT257Y Analysis II taught at the University of Toronto) will most likely require introductory Linear Algebra or its equivalent as a prerequisite (I am curious as to whether Linear Algebra you list is the first introduction to the material, or whether it is a second course in algebra). Same with the course on differential equations.

    I'm also puzzled as to why you are taking (or required to take) 2 probability courses, as these would likely cover the same material (with one being more mathematically in-depth than the other). If I were you, I would just stick with one probability course.
  9. Sep 21, 2016 #8


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    Before we put more effort into this, be aware that the OP hasn't been back to this forum since the day he/she posted this question. So that was more than one month ago.

    Definitely a candidate for a post-and-run.

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