How to Get an A in Calculus

By Jessica Purcell

You will get an A in Calculus if and only if you do well on the exams. This guide essentially helps you prepare for the exams.

First: Realize the class and the tests will be HARD! There will be test problems as hard as the hardest homework problems - and there will be hard homework problems. You won't be able to cram for the exams. You will have to start today and put in a lot of effort each week. You may have to work harder than you have ever worked before in a class.

Listed below are my study suggestions broken up into things to do weekly, before, during, and after an exam to ensure you do well in the course.

  • Daily: When attending lectures and section:
    1. Keep a list of THINGS TO MEMORIZE.
      These include definitions, theorems, etc. I'll try to flag things that belong on this list during section.
    2. Watch for example problems.
      Write example problems in your notes in such a way that you can cover up the solutions and try doing them on your own. Put hard example problems on your HARD PROBLEMS list, explained below.
  • Weekly: When doing your homework:
    1. Know how to do every homework problem assigned!
      Ask friends, come see me, other TA's or the professor for help. You will have to start the homework at least a few days before it is due to be sure you get it all done. Expect that you will get stuck on problems and need extra help.
    2. Keep a running list of HARD PROBLEMS.
      These are the problems you'll want to practice. They include any problem you had any difficulty with at all!

      With the HARD PROBLEMS: Practice doing these problems over and over until you can write down the complete correct solution without peeking at the solution or getting help.

      Then: Try similar problems until you can do them without help. You can often find similar problems before or after an assigned homework problem in the text. If not, come to me and I'll make some up for you.

    3. When you get your homework back: Look over the things you got wrong.
      If you made more than a simple algebraic error on a problem, try rewriting the problem completely until you can do it perfectly without help or hints. Put the problem on your list of HARD PROBLEMS.
  • (Starting a few days) Before the Exam:
    1. Review your list of THINGS TO MEMORIZE until you have them in (at least short term) memory.
    2. Look over the problems on your HARD PROBLEMS list, and make sure you remember how to do them all.
    3. Find a quiet place, set a timer for the amount of time you'll have in the exam, and take the practice test. Don't look at the practice test before you do this.
    4. When time is up, stop. Mark the problems you couldn't finish.
    5. After marking them, finish all the problems you couldn't finish. Put them on your HARD PROBLEMS list. You'll need to practice doing them quickly.
    6. Go through the practice test with the solutions. Check your work. Put anything you missed on your HARD PROBLEMS list.
    7. Practice doing the HARD PROBLEMS over and over until you can write down the complete correct solution without peeking.
    8. Repeat as necessary.

  • During the Exam:
    Relax, you are prepared.
    1. If a problem is hard, skip it and come back later.
    2. Do a quick check of each problem to be sure your solution is reasonable. E.g. if the problem asks for a distance, is your solution positive?
      If your answer is not reasonable, mark it and come back to it later.
    3. Write SOMETHING on every problem. The grader really wants to be able to give you some partial credit.
    4. When you've tried everything, go back to the problems worth the most points first.
    5. Given time, double check your algebra carefully!

  • After the Exam:
    1. How did you do?
      • Really well! My hard work paid off!
        Keep up the good work. Don't get too confident and slack off. Unfortunately the course just keeps getting harder, and the last test wasn't worth as much as the next one will be.

      • Ack! I did worse than I had hoped to do!
        Look over the test. See what you got wrong and why. Try to figure out why you didn't do as well as you'd hoped. Was the test on a bad day? Did you study enough? Did you study the wrong problems?

        Come up with a strategy for doing better on the next test. Talk to me about it - I would be more than happy to help. I can help you follow up on your study goals, as well.

        Finally, if you didn't do as well as you'd hoped, it's not the end of the world - or even the end of your chances for an A. This test wasn't worth as much as the next will be. You can make it up then.

Good luck in the class this quarter. Remember, the TA's are here to help you set and meet your goals.

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dfuter at math stanford edu
Last modified: Tue Dec 7 00:11:12 PST 2004