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Crazy idea to teach myself Calculus

  1. Sep 2, 2010 #1
    (Let me start by saying this: I am not good at math, nor have I ever been. What I want to do is simply an experiment and nothing more.)

    First off, I just had this crazy idea to teach myself Calculus out of seemingly nowhere. The question I have is, what tools and resources do I need. And also, how much patience do I need to learn everything that encompasses an AP Calculus BC exam? What do I need to understand and familiarize myself with, and is getting books enough? I plan on getting a study guide for the AP exam, and any other calculus guides I can find.

    The highest level of math I've taken class-wise is Algebra II, which I did terribly in. I believe it's due to my lack of motivation and internet addiction personally. I was never one to study for a higher purpose beyond myself. Independent studying fascinates me. What I want to know is, if it's possible. Also, can someone not even in a Calc class enroll for an AP exam? Thank you in advance.
  2. jcsd
  3. Sep 2, 2010 #2
    you can teach yourself basic derivatives quite easily. Integrals are harder.

    I learned it studying electrodynamics and it was quite intuitive and very interesting. I couldnt put it down. unfortunately I've forgotten most of it by now.
  4. Sep 2, 2010 #3


    User Avatar
    Gold Member

    You can do any AP exam you want, there's no requirement of having taken the class.

    If you want to study Calculus, just grab a text by say, Spivak or Stewart.

    The problem is that if you can't study when grades are involved and a structured course to keep you on track, how do you think you'll be able to study without all those aspects of education? You need to figure out why you're not motivated and what prevents you from studying properly in the first place before you should really try to self-study.
  5. Sep 2, 2010 #4
    What prevents me from studying is feeling an obligation to a class. I have zero motivation to study for academia, but if I want to study for myself, I will.
  6. Sep 3, 2010 #5


    Staff: Mentor

    I applaud your goal of learning calculus, but your track record doesn't make me very optimistic. You said that you did terribly in Algebra II, so not having a solid foundation in this area will make it that much more difficult to comprehend the details of calculus explanations. You might be able to understand the concepts of calculus at a high level, but if you haven't mastered algebra and trig, you will very likely bog down in the details.

    If you're determined to proceed with your experiment (as you called it), I would advise going back and learning (or relearning) algebra and trig. That way you'll have a better chance of being successful.
  7. Sep 3, 2010 #6
    Go ahead and do it! I encourage everyone to excel in math and go beyond. The thing is though, you have to have a good solid understanding of algebra and trigonometry to be able to understand some Calculus. I am currently teaching myself Calculus 1, and I can see people getting lost in this course if they don't have a firm understanding of math. Review your algebra and Trig. A great website to get your review materials and much more is this site:


    A very helpful site, and helped me get started with math. I wish you luck in your math adventure :)
  8. Sep 5, 2010 #7
    Lamar is a very good website.

    I teach Calculus and you will find that most of the problems are half Calculus and the other half algebra [like long division of polynomials, complete the square, fractional arithmetic, etc] and trigonometry [identities]. So if you are weak in Math you can learn but will have great difficulty finishing the solutions to most problems other than finding derviatives and integrals of elemantary functions.

    Integration technique is not easy if you are weak in anything that came before it.

    But reading a well written text like Sprang or Sylvanus Thompson can not hurt you.

    Good luck
  9. Sep 6, 2010 #8
    I did this successfully in high school and got a 5 on Calc BC. I'm sure you could do it even if I could. I'd strongly advise you not to use Spivak. Spivak's calculus is really an introduction to real analysis and has much harder material then a normal "calculus" textbook. I'm not saying its not a very good book but it doesn't appear to be what you are looking for. The book I used was Calculus by Ron Larson and I thought it did a very good job of preparing me for the BC test. Good luck.
    Last edited: Sep 6, 2010
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