Dismiss Notice
Join Physics Forums Today!
The friendliest, high quality science and math community on the planet! Everyone who loves science is here!

Being Forced Into Math That Is Too Difficult

  1. Jul 28, 2011 #1

    I have run into a bit of a problem. I am going to be freshman (Evolutionary Bio/Chinese major) at a University renown for its Bio program. I was told to take a math placement test in order to find ot what math class I was qualified for (I was planning on taking pre-calculus on the fall, so I could actually learn it before moving on to calculus). However, I did fairly decent on the test (the test was almost all basic algebra), and now my Orientation leader says that I can't take any other math besides calculus 1. I am planning on talking to a counselor soon to see if I can get around this.

    Has anyone else ever heard of this happening at their university? Can anyone recommend any books that are good for teaching oneself pre-calculus and beginning calculus?

    Thanks for the help.
  2. jcsd
  3. Jul 28, 2011 #2
    Those exams are usually pretty good at telling you where you are in mathematics. I'd say you're probably as ready as most people, and calculus isn't half as hard as people say it is.
  4. Jul 28, 2011 #3
    I would just stay in calculus if I were you. It's really not bad at all. Also, in my experience the actual "pre-calculus" class doesn't help a lot for calculus. And like Angry Citizen said, the test shows that you are ready. I wouldn't even say you should practice beforehand. Plus if you skip precalc, that's an extra slot in your schedule for another class!
  5. Jul 28, 2011 #4
    I never took pre-calc, and I don't know any friends of mine who are science majors that took pre-calc. It's very normal to jump from advanced algebra/trig into calculus, and like the others have said: calculus I is not bad at all. You'll like it, I know I did :D
  6. Jul 28, 2011 #5
    I took precalc and I can tell you from experience that if you feel comfortable with your algebra, trig and functions in general, then you should be all set. Some self study (review) would go a long way in preparing you. However, if you are not at all comfortable in those ares, you might consider trying to get into a precalc class (since that is what precalc is. There is no such thing as being 'over prepared.'

    Best of luck :smile:
  7. Jul 28, 2011 #6
    I think some of the people responding to you didn't read your post very carefully. You said that the test you took was almost all basic algebra. If that's true, and you are weak in trig or analytic geometry, then by all means a precalculus class would be called for.

    I don't see how they can keep you from taking it, unless they have already granted you credit for it from a high school class. But if they insist, then I advise you to buy a cheap used copy of a precalculus text (I like Stewart, but any widely used text should be about the same) and work through it as fast as you can on your own. Also, most of the popular calculus text have either a "Chapter 0" or an appendix that reviews precalculus material, although not in as much detail as a full textbook.

    I took precalc, and was glad I did, although in my case it was because there was a six-year gap between high school and college for military service.
  8. Jul 28, 2011 #7


    User Avatar

    Honestly, pre calc is mainly algebra and some trig. If you feel comfortable with that, you should be fine going into calc 1.
  9. Jul 28, 2011 #8
    OP said "fairly decent"which is adequate for calculus I.
  10. Jul 28, 2011 #9
    The analytical geometry I had in school came from calculus, actually. You don't need much trig to succeed in calculus. All you need to know are the definitions and a couple of the more basic identities. Everything else related to trig can be solved through judicious use of algebraic reasoning.
  11. Jul 28, 2011 #10
    How on earth can you say that calculus is too difficult when you haven't yet taken it? Harden up and take the class.
  12. Jul 28, 2011 #11
    No need to take Pre-Cal. Just go ahead and go with Calc I, you are going to need it to take it anyway and it saves you money if you don't take Pre-Cal. It is not too difficult as most people put it out to be. I taught myself Calc I before I took it in college and the book I used was Calculus by James Stewart (I am sure any edition would be fine).
  13. Jul 28, 2011 #12


    User Avatar
    Gold Member

    I don't know what you mean when you say "Orientation leader," but I think you're right to pursue an academic counselor. We can't make any assumptions about your knowledge or abilities without seeing your test. Additionally, placement tests usually evaluate more than just basic algebra skills; are you sure you took the appropriate test?
  14. Jul 28, 2011 #13
    Heh, when we're reduced to "man up," I think it's clear that it's down to personal opinion. If taking calculus put hair on your chest, there would be a lot fewer nerds getting wedgies.

    But from a practical aspect, if you take pre-calc and you don't need it, you'll get an easy A. If you don't take it and you need it, you'll screw up your GPA, and possibly have to re-take calculus.

    Just as a side note, shouldn't your Orientation leader stick to Chinese?
  15. Jul 28, 2011 #14
    This is borderline useless advice. I have never taken a class on how to fly a helicopter. Maybe I should just harden up and fly the damn thing.
  16. Jul 28, 2011 #15


    User Avatar

    I'm going to go out on a limb here, and say that calc 1 is both less dangerous and less difficult than flying a helicopter.
  17. Jul 28, 2011 #16
    I didn't tell him to harden up and start doing calculus. I told him to harden up and take a class on how to do calculus.

    In your example, maybe you should harden up and take a class on how to fly a helicopter if that's what you want to do.

    Your analogy fails.
  18. Jul 28, 2011 #17
    Just go to a website like Khanacademy.com (or similar) and make sure you know all the topics from start-precalculus. Then perhaps refresh yourself on conics and teach yourself trigonometry. Trig really isn't difficult at all. For the most part, Pre-calculus is just a refresher of algebra with the difference quotient (which you will learn more about in calculus anyway, in pre-calc they don't even explain what is is/means). Trig is the only thing you might want to really study though, fortunately there is not much "substance" to it, and you can learn it really quickly.
  19. Jul 28, 2011 #18
    All the pre-calculus you need for calculus should be covered in most calculus textbooks
  20. Jul 29, 2011 #19
    Thanks for all the replies everyone. I register for my classes tomorrow morning and it looks like I'm going to try to get into Math 17A (Calc for bio-majors). I have the Stewart pre-cal textbook and will begin to self study for the rest of the summer.

    In response to those who are confused about the situation, I am currently at summer orientation for the College of Biological Sciences at UC Davis. Because of the fact that I could only apply as one major (I chose evolutionary bio), I have to wait until school starts before I can declare Chinese as a second major.

    Any other words of advice or anecdotes from anyone?
  21. Jul 29, 2011 #20
    Since you are short on time, I'd say you should concentrate on chapters 1-7.

    In case my edition of Stewart differs from yours, that means to concentrate on polynomial, exponential, and logarithmic functions, and trig, because that is what most calculus classes assume from the outset. The stuff on polar coordinates, sequences and series, systems of equations, and conic sections is less essential for now, because a "calculus for bio majors" class will almost certainly begin those subjects from the ground up, if it gets to them at all. And every calc class takes you through limits.

    You should get a free graphing program off the internet to help you visualize functions. One of my favorites is simply called "graph," but there are many. There are also free full-blown CAS programs like Maxima, or even expensive ones like Maple or Mathematica if your school has them, but they take a lot longer to learn, so I'd stick with a simpler one for now.

    Also be aware that in the beginning of the CALCULUS text of Stewart (and perhaps others), there is a diagnostic test at the beginning, which will tell you where your weakest areas of precalc are. You might borrow that book from a friend or the library and take the test to see where you need the most work.

    Good luck to you.
    Last edited: Jul 29, 2011
Share this great discussion with others via Reddit, Google+, Twitter, or Facebook