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I'm about to fail Calc 1. Should I give up or retake it this fall?

  1. Aug 4, 2014 #1


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    After taking an astronomy course in college, I decided I want to major in physics with a concentration in astronomy. My current major has nothing to do with science or mathematics.

    This summer I took a physics class and I'm currently still taking Calc 1. I got an A in physics, but so far in calculus I have done HORRIBLE on all three of my exams, there's only one more week of class left, and I don't think it's possible for me to pass even if I miraculously got a 100% on the final. I study so hard for the exams but I failed miserably every time.

    So my question is, should I retake Calc 1 this fall where I have more time to absorb the material than I do during summer, or should I just give up on this whole thing?

    Thanks, and please no rude answers.
  2. jcsd
  3. Aug 4, 2014 #2
    First, at least give your best shot for the final exam---some instructors like to bump up a grade of someone who showed some improvement on the final ("if you can do well on a cumulative exam, perhaps the student should deserve more than a failing grade"). Of course, not every instructor has this policy, and you may end up failing the course anyway, but nevertheless it may be worth a shot.

    Now, if you are planning to retake the class, you need to know why you did miserable on each exam. Did you actually the material for the test? Studying for a calculus exam requires more than just simply memorizing rules and formulas, but you need to learn the techniques you used to solve each problem. How did you do on the homework sets? Did you do well on them? If so, did you try those problems again before the midterm to solidify your understandings?

    It is not uncommon to do miserable on a few classes here and there in college, but you need to understand what lead you to such failures. I suggest you to set up an appointment with your instructor, and talk about what you can do to improve in future, based on your performance in that class.
  4. Aug 4, 2014 #3
    I am taking an 8 week Calculus class over the summer as well (ends next week too). It is hard, I currently have a 85% and I only took one more class over the summer that was easy. You took on a large load. I say analyze where you went wrong and try to fix it in the fall. Don't give up yet. If I gave up the first time I failed a math class I would be stuck back in geometry. It is a feat to get to calculus and you ( and I) are one of the few to dear venture that path. Summer wasn't for you I am sure. Give it another shot, we need more people that love the sciences!
  5. Aug 4, 2014 #4


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    Yes, take again in the Fall. You are not learning it well enough right now and "bumping-up" your grade will be meaningless. If you are in a short, summer session of Calculus 1, this could be a main reason why you are not learning well.
  6. Aug 4, 2014 #5
    A good point. One more thing to add to my previous comment---Calculus I is a very sequential course, meaning, the material you learn in the course will build up what you have learned previously. It's like building an apartment complex with multiple stories---you first build the ground floor, then the second floor, then the third floor---and your apartment will collapse if one of the floor is not build firmly. For instance, if you did not learn the chain rule in that class, you will be doomed as it comes back over and over (implicit differentiation, related rates, the substitution method, and etc). And of course, if you have weak algebra background (which is a prerequisite to the course), that's like you're building an apartment on a mud.
  7. Aug 4, 2014 #6


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    If you're going to major in physics you shouldn't even bother with the non-calculus based physics classes and take a GE requirement in its place.

    Just what are you having the most trouble with in calculus?
  8. Aug 5, 2014 #7


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    First of all I would like to thank everyone in this thread for the advice! :)

    I've actually finished my GE requirements (I'm most likely going to be older than all my classmates when I take classes for this major). I need to take a physics readiness test before taking the calc-based physics class I had signed up for this fall, so I thought this would be a good way to prepare myself a little. In hindsight I should've only taken calculus by itself, though.

    Simply put, I'm having a hard time remembering a lot of these when test day comes. I think I'm okay at finding limits, derivatives, anti-derivatives, and Newton's laws, but it's difficult for me to remember a lot of the theorems and rules. I'm also not very good at differentiation.
  9. Aug 5, 2014 #8


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    Calculus isn't an easy class to take in the summer. The condensed format of a summer class likely played a large part in your problems with it. Taking it in the fall when you have more time to absorb and understand the material will likely help a great deal.

    As already mentioned, a "bumped" grade isn't going to help you in the long run if you really aren't understanding the material. It's true that some professors will reward improvement that has been demonstrated on the final exam, but if you're still having trouble with the material, you need to retake it so that you can adequately learn it.

    The methods you learn in Calc 1 will be central to Calc 2, Calc 3, Differential Equations, and a great deal of calculus based physics. Don't give up hope on it. There are a lot of people who struggle initially with calculus, who ultimately end up getting it.

    I'm a math tutor, and for what it's worth, I've seen a lot of calculus students who have struggled with their classes. The majority of these students were struggling with the algebra, not the calculus. A lot of students go into calculus thinking that it's going to be fundamentally different than algebra, and it really isn't. Calculus is little more than algebra with limits. You might want to look more closely at some of your mistakes and see if they're algebraic mistakes, or mistakes caused by misunderstanding of the calculus itself.
    Last edited: Aug 5, 2014
  10. Aug 5, 2014 #9


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    I'm taking Calc 1 in the fall, if you want a study partner. I know chunks of the Calc 1 material like limits, derivatives, and integrals. Some pieces here and there with weird notation I skipped for better understanding. You can add me on Facebook if you want to collaborate anytime. I'm always down for some math problems. Names Lonnie Joe Rich.
  11. Aug 5, 2014 #10
    I am just basically regurgitating what everyone else has already said on this thread but I will say it anyways. I don't think you should be discouraged and give up, I know a lot of people who failed calc I and then repeated the course the second go around and passed.

    You should definitely figure out why you were having difficulties with the class the first time though. Was it the condensed format because it was in the summer? Is it your preparation in other areas like algebra and trig? Believe it or not, the actual concepts of calculus at the undergraduate level are not that difficult. Very rarely do professors require you to understand the actual proofs at that level. What gets most students is their lack of preparedness in the other areas as I stated before.

    Basically, what I am saying is that if this is the case do not be afraid to go backwards in order to progress. When I left the military I realized I had to dust off the cobwebs and I went and took a pre-calculus class again even though I had calculus in high school. Best choice I could have made, anyways, just some advice for you to chew on, but the main point is don't be discouraged.
  12. Aug 11, 2014 #11
    I'd definitely take it over. You don't want to be starting from behind with Calc I. In fact, you want Calc I to become as second nature as arithmetic. Limping out of it and then jumping forward may leave you feeling like you are always behind and trying to catch up.
  13. Aug 12, 2014 #12

    jim hardy

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    I struggled with math. Seemed it was paced just a little faster than i could absorb
    and i spent about three hours every night on my math homework - calc 1-3, diff eq . The other courses i could keep up with between classes in daytime.

    So there is hope for us plodders. Just dig in and work that homework.

    You've gotta keep up with it. That's the key - never get behind. Take it again.
  14. Aug 12, 2014 #13
    You have to take it again in the Fall. Failure to do this will affect you in your future courses.
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