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Courses Should I take Calc I or not?

  1. Sep 13, 2016 #1

    I'm a freshman and I plan to get my bachelor's in Physics. I couldn't get any Physics or Math classes this semester as most were either full or clashing with my mandatory History and English classes.

    I gave the Math Placement Test at my university and was able to skip Precalculus classes. Now I got to know about CLEP and I'm planning to skip Calc I and Calc II. I already know a lot of Calc I, but will have to study for Calc II. The is argument I could come up with for and against each for giving both the CELP exams:

    1) For: a) If I give the exam, I will not have to sleep through these two classes and will take more advanced classes where I'll actually have to put my brain in.

    b) When I apply for grad school, I think that it'll be beneficial for me if they see more advanced classes in my CV.

    2) Against: a) Because I have no Math or Physics this semester and only 3 or 4 more core requirements to complete, I feel like it'll get a little too difficult doing only higher Math and Physics so having a few relaxed classes would help.

    b) As these are not as advanced classes as Calc III, they will require relatively less effort and would help me boost my GPA.

    Any help would be highly appreciated, thanks!
  2. jcsd
  3. Sep 13, 2016 #2
    Yeah sure, but that only applies if you get good grades in those classes. If you skip Calc I and end up with a lack of knowledge in later classes, that could cause you bad grades. The grad schools will have no sympathy for you then.
  4. Sep 13, 2016 #3


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    You seem to be confident that you have mastered Calc I and, from my experience, students tend to underestimate their abilities and place themselves at a lower level than what they can handle. I think you should go straight into Calc II at the first opportunity. If by youe own admission you have to study for it, you haven't mastered it; you can always pick something up that you didn't know or understand if you take the actual course. Besides, if Calc II is an easy course to you, you are looking for easy courses are you not?

    Grad school is far in the future for you and you don't have to worry about it yet. If you plan to go to grad school in physics, it's your physics grades that will count more than the math courses, and, believe me, if you don't do well in math, you will not do well in physics. That's why you need to put in place a solid mathematical foundation and build your physics courses on it.
  5. Sep 13, 2016 #4


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    One thing you're potentially discounting is the difficulty of a challenging university class.

    Remember, in high school, even in the advanced classes, you're still for the most part being measured against the general population. The people that end up pursuing mathematics beyond the first year level at university are almost exclusively the ones who got the high grades in high school. So there's a bottleneck - most students who were at the top of their class in high school become average in university. And the professors now teach to this level, covering more material, expecting students to cover more on their own, and obviously deal with more advanced concepts. On top of this, most students are now on their own. No one cares whether they show up to class. No one get them out of bed. No one cleans up after them. That can be a lot to deal with.

    If you've never taken a university mathematics class before (while at university - taught by a professor) then there is some wisdom in starting out by taking something you're moderately comfortable with, filling in any holes, and building a solid foundation. Skipping the "easy" courses, and diving head first into a course that will be targeted at students who have mastered the previous material comes with a lot of risk from what I've observed. It's one thing to do this with courses that aren't related to your major. But if you plan on going forward with physics, I would only skip the first year courses if I had some very strong evidence that I was operating at a level where I was in a position to do very well (not just keep up) in the more advanced courses.
  6. Sep 13, 2016 #5

    Fervent Freyja

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    Instead, why not try to get CLEP credits in other areas, like English, history, or a foreign language? Then, take the Cal I & II courses, that way you can get more practice in something that will serve you more later on. Also, I'm not sure if CLEP credits would be acceptable for courses that require the Calculus courses as prerequisites. You may want to check if any of the graduate programs you intend to apply for even accept the credit, many do not.

    Really, you would be better off avoiding trying to use CLEP credits at all. You will need to prepare for the exam and spend at least a few hours on it anyway. Think about how better it would look: two pretty A's in Calculus from your institution versus 8 CLEP credits in Calculus at the bottom of your transcript (which does not have an assigned letter grade from what I know) and a possible B or C in just two other advanced courses (if you really want to take those, you can use elective credits for that later). I think you should just take the courses, get to know the faculty and be happy you won't need a tutor for the class...
    Last edited: Sep 14, 2016
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