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Calculus is seriously stressing me out.

  1. Sep 20, 2012 #1
    I'm in calculus I right now and we just had our first test. Turns out i got a 77 on it which is way below what I thought I got. I started studying for it a week before the test and I did reviews and went over tests from previous years and semesters. I felt like I had a good grasp on what the test was over and I felt good about the test walking out of it. Does anyone have any tips on what I should do now or how to do better on the next test?

    Also, I've always had this irrational fear of math and math tests, especially calculus, and going into the test I was so proud of myself because I wasn't afraid and I thought I was comfortable with the material. Now, knowing that I didn't do as well as I thought I did, my confidence is really shaken and I'm thinking about giving up.
  2. jcsd
  3. Sep 20, 2012 #2


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    I never look up answers and always try to figure out problems not using the book. I try to get to the point where I know exactly what it is that I don't understand or know. Then I use the book.
  4. Sep 21, 2012 #3
    To be perfectly honest, when i was an undergrad I found that being confident before an exam meant I was more prone to making dumb mistakes because I didn't check my answers as thoroughly. If I left a test feeling I aced it, usually I did poorly. If I left a test thinking I messed it up, I always did better than expected.

    What was the cause of your low grade this time? Was it just dumb algebra mistakes or was it a fundamental lack of understanding of the material?

    Also, don't give up! Everyone has a bad test here or there. The issue is learning from your mistakes, which is exactly what it appears you are trying to do. You are going to be fine!
  5. Sep 21, 2012 #4
    Feeling bad and losing confidence in yourself seems fairly normal for any difficult science/math class. There have been numerous times in school where I felt like I wan't intelligent enough to make it through a course because of a difficult test. It's important to realize that one exam is not the end of the world.

    Perhaps you could go over your exam with your professor and analyze every mistake you made. Make sure you understand why you did them, and develop the intuition to solve similar problems correctly in the future (and on your final exam!).

    Calculus is supposed to be painful. Take solace in knowing that you're doing difficult work that not many others are willing to do.
  6. Sep 21, 2012 #5


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    Might also be useful to find out what the mean and high were. I had a physics instructor in college who specifically designed tests such that the high would be around 75. Frustrating to say the least.
  7. Sep 21, 2012 #6
    I disagree. And likely so do Newton, Leibniz, Gauss, and Euler, and many others.

    Here's a quote from Alfréd Rényi to think on:

    "If I feel unhappy, I do mathematics to become happy. If I am happy, I do mathematics to keep happy."
  8. Sep 21, 2012 #7
    I've had days when I felt frustrated seeing that I did bad on a Calculus test when I had expected a much higher grade. This happens with everyone; however, this does not mean that you should quit. Learn from your mistakes on the test, and practice the questions that you seem to be making mistakes on. Practice those questions as many times as you can as opposed to just looking at an answer key and claiming, "this isn't hard, I will easily ace the test."

    Basically, the simple idea of practice makes perfect comes into play here. Take this test as a reality check, learn from your mistakes, and practice. Simple, and yet effective tips.
  9. Sep 21, 2012 #8
    I'm new here. And I'm just going back for a new undergrad degree in Physics. So I'm not exactly a fount of trustable knowledge--BUT I am concerned with the level of unhappiness in your written voice.

    Granted math in general is challenging. But if it causes you pain--maybe it's not the right fit?

    Not really offering a rationale for conceding defeat, but if it's a war and not a love affair then maybe you are not on your best path?

    ...hmm. I bet I post a similar disenchantment with calculus testing in about 5 months. Mark your calendar. :)
  10. Sep 21, 2012 #9
    Is there tutoring at your school? Maybe you can get somebody to drill you and keep you focused during your practice. That's what my father would do with my grandfather (who was an engineer).

    I might also add that one of may father's close friends took an aptitude test near the end of high school and was told that he should avoid mathematics in the future. Lo and behold, he ended up with a BA in mathematics. Don't let the results of one test discourage you.
    Last edited: Sep 21, 2012
  11. Sep 21, 2012 #10


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    Your reaction to this should depend on your life plans. If your life plan is to be a physicist, then this is your wake-up call to change your life plan. If your life plan is to be a podiatrist, then that's a whole different issue.
  12. Sep 21, 2012 #11
    "If your life plan is to be a physicist, then this is your wake-up call to change your life plan."

    A 77% on one calculus test should be enough to dissuade him/her from being a physicist? Have I misinterpreted your post? Or were you referring to his/her reaction and overall mentality about the subject? I apologize in advance for any potential oversights.
    Last edited: Sep 21, 2012
  13. Sep 22, 2012 #12
    I remember this from starting college. In high school I would go into an exam "basically understanding the material", and getting a 95% on an exam... This included calculus 1. When I got to college and had to take calc 2 and differential equations... some of the problems would get really loooong... a few would take 2 pages to solve entire problems ... and over time in these, i would only "understand" what I was doing overall, but I would get fewer practice problems under my belt because each one would simply take more time/effort to do. This served me poorly on the tests. my grades dropped a bit.

    Nowadays, this is my study technique: go to google and search for a solution manual to a textbook. Either to the one your class is using, or find a textbook and sol. man. your class isn't using. Then, do as many practice problems as required on each topic on the next test... until you KNOW that you understand how to solve every problem.

    It might sound like overkill but you need to essentially KNOW what you know and not rely on a gut feeling about what you know. This should help, and this study method takes less time than you think.
  14. Sep 22, 2012 #13
    My teacher said that last semester. She was a HORRIBLE professor.

    This guy is an excellent professor. I watch his videos and take notes before I go to class. It covers calc I and II at my school.


    Work problems everyday.
  15. Sep 22, 2012 #14


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    The context was that I was asking for more information. We have a sample size of 1 from this person's entire academic life: one exam grade. The OP provided us with that sample and discussed "giving up." If the OP wants better advice, s/he needs to provide us with a clearer picture. What would s/he be "giving up" on? Calc I? College? Becoming a pharmacist? Doing particle theory? How did the OP do in high school math? A's? F's?
  16. Sep 22, 2012 #15

    Stephen Tashi

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    There is a difference between understanding and drill. You can understand a topic but not be able to work problems in it efficiently. To do the "routine" problems on tests, you should drill.
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