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I need to learn Calculus 2 without dying

  1. Apr 2, 2015 #1

    I'm a college freshman studying computer science. I'm required to take up to Calc 3 and I'm currently in Calc 2. At the mid term I have a C( should be lower). I've always struggled with reading texts that are dense, I can't read for more than 5-6 minutes at a time without my mind running. My current test prep method is to look through all the examples in Stewart Calc, memorize them, then basically rewrite them on the exam. This works decently because I got a B last semester but I want to get an A- this one. I know that an A- is possible because we have only taken one test (out of 3) and the final still remains(33% of our grade).

    My Calc 2 professor is trying his hardest to make the tests as easy as possible. I was pleasantly surprised when I got the first test because I knew how to integrate well but I completely bombed the volume section.

    I'm looking for a book that explains the purpose, and isn't dense like Stewart Calc. I plan on learning the material from the book then working out the examples in Stewart Calc because that's what is going to be on the test. I've tried Spivak and it seems like a book I would like to read eventually but I have other classes so I can't spend all my time on Spivak.
  2. jcsd
  3. Apr 2, 2015 #2


    Staff: Mentor

    I think this is a major problem that you should address. That hasn't been a problem for me, but maybe there are things in your environment that are disrupting your flow of thought, such as text messages coming to your phone, music, and so on. Possibly if you can minimize some of these external influences, maybe you can concentrate for a longer time.
    This is not a good strategy. It's better to understand how they work than to memorize them. If you happen to get a test question that's exactly like one of the examples you've memorized, that's great, but if the test question is slightly different, memorization won't help you.
    Stewart is one of the least rigorous calculus texts out there.
    Spivak is probably an order of magnitude higher in difficulty, so based on what you've said, I wouldn't recommend that. Maybe you could look at some of the videos on khanacademy.org.
  4. Apr 2, 2015 #3
    "My current test prep method is to look through all the examples in Stewart Calc, memorize them, then basically rewrite them on the exam. "

    Honestly, unless you change your attitude, you might not be cut out for CS. Are you going to memorize a 1000 line code for your future job?
  5. Apr 2, 2015 #4


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    Do you mean your mind wanders and you lose focus? Reading science and math texts is different from other reading. Try reading a paragraph. Before moving onto the next one, explain what the paragraph said in your own words. If you can't, that means you're not understanding something and you need to remedy that before going on. Work methodically through the text like this. When you get to examples, try to work them out on your own before looking at the solution.
    Once you get used to doing this, it will spend less time on reading than you do now and will get more out of it.

    I'm not sure how much a different textbook will make a difference. Either they'll be more advanced, which you're not ready for, or they'll pretty much cover the same material in similar ways. I think your problem stems from not knowing how to learn efficiently yet. Does your school offer resources to teach learning strategies? That'll probably help you out more in the long run.
  6. Apr 2, 2015 #5
    No because I actually like writing code.
  7. Apr 2, 2015 #6
    Do all the HW and ask for help on the questions you don't understand, that is really the best way to get better. Stewarts book is popular because it has so many problems, so I would take advantage of that.
  8. Apr 3, 2015 #7
    Well, the absolute easiest book on calculus is https://www.amazon.com/Calculus-Made-Easy-Silvanus-Thompson/dp/0312185480

    Regardless, your study method is awful. The thing is that you have to know calculus for a reason. You might encounter it later in CS. The way you study know doesn't yield an understanding of calculus. So basically, you're screwing yourself over.

    Also, computer science is one of the most theoretical degrees out there. If you truly only "like coding" and not the theory, then perhaps there are degrees better for you which focus mainly on the coding.
    Last edited by a moderator: May 7, 2017
  9. Apr 3, 2015 #8


    Staff: Mentor

    To expand on what micromass said, there's a big difference between writing code and a degree in CS.
  10. Apr 3, 2015 #9


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    I think there's not much reason for a CS major to learn calculus; having to learn it is pretty much a historical artifact. CS is mostly about logic and other discrete math. The problem is that at most universities the path to proof-based mathematics always runs through calculus. This is reflected in high schools. See The Calculus Trap for a quick description.

    Not sure that the typical CS degree is any more theoretical than any other applied math degree. Sticking to pure math would be more theoretical in some sense. But in any case, for a programmer there's not much point in a CS degree -- coding is much more an engineering discipline than a mathematical one. Not that it wouldn't help, in the same way a physics degree might be useful to a mechanical engineer. Having a deeper understanding is in some sense better, but it is not necessary to doing the job competently.

    Programming is a relatively young discipline and desperately in need of practitioners who understand engineering principles. But as for mathematics, in my entire career as a programmer I never even came close to needing any knowledge of calculus, while basic knowledge of complexity theory, combinatorics, and graph theory was often handy. Some will need calculus, of course, but I'd put such knowledge in the same bucket as any other domain expertise a programmer might need for a specific job.

    My impression is that CS degrees have somewhat morphed into being more about programming, as there is little need for computer scientists compared to the need for programmers. Some places are now calling this degree Software Engineering rather than CS, which I think is a much better description.
  11. Apr 3, 2015 #10
    I understand my study method is terrible. Last night I tried the Pomodoro technique and that worked pretty well for me. You basically time yourself for 25 minutes then take a break in between. I got like 3 sections done last night and I'm gonna do it again.
  12. Apr 7, 2015 #11
    I'm also taking calc 2 now. What I've found helpful is watching videos like Khan Academy or educational channels on You Tube to review concepts I have difficulty with. I find this more effective than rereading the textbook (which can be wordy and confusing), and then I just do a lot of practice problems.
  13. Apr 7, 2015 #12


    Staff: Mentor

    This is a great improvement over the 5-6 minutes you said at the beginning of this thread!
  14. Apr 10, 2015 #13


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    "My current test prep method is to look through all the examples in Stewart Calc, memorize them, then basically rewrite them on the exam."

    This isn't a good way to study calculus. Calculus is the type of material that is constantly varying (pun not intended), and a few example problems aren't going to teach how to actually do calculus. There are a lot of little tricks and shortcuts to integration. There are also a lot of integration formulas to recognize.

    It's more important to understand the physical interpretation of what calculus represents. Of secondary importance, one must be able to recognize different types of integrals. There are usually multiple ways to approach an integral. But there's usually one way that's way easier than the other ways.
  15. Nov 12, 2015 #14
    Bump, but I got a B in the class with 100 on the final. It came down to just watching videos explaining the concepts then memorizing ways to solve types of problem.
  16. Nov 12, 2015 #15


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    Relying on just or mostly memorizing is a problem, regardless your earning B or not. Have you actually learned to memorize strategies and methods? Or just examples, as you seemed to say?
  17. Nov 12, 2015 #16
    So it sounds like you didn't really learn calculus at all then...
  18. Nov 12, 2015 #17


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    A couple of big, important ways to study Calculus and any Mathematics course are to read and think carefully the discussions in the book, and to do or try the example problems in the sections. The goal is to UNDERSTAND and develop skills in solving the problems. Both of the ways are important. One needs to study the discussions more than once; anything from three to ten times. One often needs to refer again to the discussions in the book section WHILE trying to solve example problems and the exercise problems.
  19. Nov 12, 2015 #18
    Try making some friends in class and working together on problem sets. Calculus two was actually pretty fun the only really boring part was the different integration techniques but working out hard integrals combining all the techniques and some algebra/trig tricks was fun. Really though I can't stress how important it is to work with others. It makes any class a lot more interesting when you work with others and usually someone in the group can help explain a topic to you much easier if you get stuck. Crank out as many problems as possible together and try to work through old exams if you have access to them even if they are from other instructors.
  20. Nov 12, 2015 #19
    Yea just memorizing the problems formatted the same way won't fly. You need to struggle in understanding the material. I'm currently in Calc 3 and compared to the infinite series in calc 2 i find that much harder than anything we've covered this semester. The infinite series are definitely something you cannot just memorize the mechanics and regurgitate on the exam. They are purely conceptual. As for the 5-6 minutes of reading, you basically just need to push through that habit and change your mindset. I was the same way when I first started taking school seriously. And over time you are able to sit for longer and longer. Now I pull 10 hour study sessions and wish I had more time because the test is the next day. It's all about your mindset. Yes, you currently are not able to focus than longer than 6ish minutes, but you are more than capable of changing that.
  21. Nov 12, 2015 #20
    Let's try being more positive, I don't think saying "You should just change your major" is very beneficial. This is something he/she is passionate about, so offer information that will help them achieve their goal. Not just dismissing their idea all together.
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