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Returning college student with a math dilemma.

  1. Jun 30, 2013 #1
    Hello all!

    Before I ask my question let me give a little background about myself. I’m 32 years old and am a returning student. I originally went to college straight out of high school as a pre-med major. I was pushed into pre-med by my parents. I had no desire to be a doctor, and I hated school because of my decision. In an act of rebellion, which I’ve come to regret, I dropped out after two semesters.

    I’ve wanted to return to school for a long time but never did. The longer I was out of school the more afraid I became to go back to school. A fear of not being able to succeed, of not being smart enough to make it anymore. I recently got over that fear and was accepted at my local university. My intention is to major in a STEM field. I’m leaning toward an engineering discipline, but that may change. Mechanical engineering was what I wanted to go to school for as a young man. Regardless, at my school I need to take through Calculus III and Linear Algebra no matter which STEM major I choose.

    As it’s been over thirteen years since I was last in school I had to take a placement exam to determine what courses I would be eligible for. As I expected I needed no remedial classes in any area. To the surprise of my advisor, and myself, I tested into Calculus I for math.

    Math was never my strongest area, but it was far from my worst, and in high school I took Calculus I my senior year. I even remember some of what I learned in calculus, such as limits and differentiation. This brings me to my problem.

    Since it’s been thirteen years since I last took a math course my advisor is pressuring me to take the pre-calculus sequence at my school. This means taking a three credit algebra course and a two credit trigonometry course, both of which can be taken in the same semester. My advisor feels that, given the time gap in my education, I should take the pre-calculus sequence instead of jumping straight into Calculus I despite my placement scores.

    I’m conflicted on this as part of me agrees with her. Thirteen years is a long time, and regardless of my ability to do well on the placement exam it might be a good idea to take pre-calculus. However, I’m worried that this is just an extension of the same paranoia which kept me from returning to school for so long.

    Part of me feels that if my exam scores put me in Calculus I then I should just register for Calculus I, and maybe do some review of relevant pre-calculus topics in the time before the semester starts.

    I’m really just looking for some advice from people who have more experience with college level math than I do. Any advice you have would be appreciated. Thanks!

  2. jcsd
  3. Jun 30, 2013 #2


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    Education Advisor

    I was in a fairly similar situation. I returned to college at 25, so it hadn't been quite as long as yourself, but most of the math that I knew was gone. I tested into calc I, by my adviser also highly recommended that I take college algebra and trig first. So, I did...and I'm very glad that I did. I'm going to be MUCH more prepared to start calculus this fall now that I've taken them.

    Placement tests often aren't really that accurate. They definitely do not cover all of the material that you will be using in calculus. I'd suggest at the minimum going online to a site like Khan Academy and reviewing some of the algebra and trig stuff on there.
  4. Jun 30, 2013 #3


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    You placed into Calc so I wouldn't discount your skills. How much of a self-starter are yoù. Can you study on your own? If so, get Schaum's trig and pre-calc workbooks and.work problems from the beginning. If they're easy for you, keep progressing. If you get stuck, work on learning the concepts from Schaum's (brief summaries only) or from a text. You can always get help here, too. If you get through the material this summer, you're good to go.If you're lost, take the remedial classes.
  5. Jul 1, 2013 #4
    I would take the remedial sequence if I were you, it's important to have a strong foundation. I could have started at calculus 1 when I got to college but chose to start at algebra to really learn the basics. Doing so made calculus 1 & 2 a breeze.

    I go to a community college and it's currently the summer semester, as such there are many transient students from strong state universities. I'm the only student in my calculus 3 class from my CC and surprisingly I'm the ONLY student passing the course,
    not to mention with a 98 average (the professor puts a lot of proofs on exams which the students aren't comfortable with). I would bet a lot of these students are struggling due to them starting off with calculus 1 their first semester like many freshman do.

    What you get out of a class is directly related to the effort you put into the class. While taking these remedial classes try to truly get a grasp on what it is the math is attempting to model/explain, practice deriving relationships and proving things, this will only make it easier later on. You should also take the time to really learn how to read a math textbook and be able to comprehend the material on your own. I'll sometimes spend 9-10 hours in a single session reading my calculus book and taking my own notes on the section.

    Point is, never think a course is "beneath" you, there is always a deeper understanding to be obtained.
    Last edited: Jul 1, 2013
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