Where can I get a crash course in calculus?
December 16, 2004 7:48 PM   Subscribe

I need a crash course in calculus. Something easy to understand, but decently thorough. It can assume some basic knowledge of the subject (I'm talking went-to-class-for-two-months-then-decided-to-sleep-in basic).

Note to any college students in the audience: don't schedule yourself for 8am math classes. You won't go.
posted by billybunny to Education (19 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
The quickest way would probably be to work with a tutor and go through the materials from your class. Can you get homeworks, quizzes, midterm and final from the a classmate or the professor? Do you need a crash-course to get ready for the final exam, or are you taking a class that requires a knowledge of calc as a prerequisite or what? I took Calc in high school and again in college, and the two classes covered quite different territory (the concepts are the same, but the college class was all about proofs, and we never did them in high school). There's a book called Calculus the Easy Way which I found a helpful supplement to my college class, but I still think having a tutor will make things go much easier and more quickly for you. Good luck.
posted by bonheur at 8:28 PM on December 16, 2004 [1 favorite]

don't schedule yourself for 8am math classes. You won't go.
sound advice, but, at least for me, I rarely had a choice.

Are you then asking for a book or webpage, or do you mean a tutor of some sort? Calculus is a fairly broad topic. How far into it do you need to learn and how quickly do you need to learn it?

on preview: see boheur
posted by SAC at 8:31 PM on December 16, 2004

I'm mostly looking for an online intro-to-basic-calc tutorial thing. Books are good, too, though it might be a little late for those. I'm cramming for a final, and the book that the class uses (Early Transcendentals Single Variable Calculus by James Stewart) is atrociously written. At least from the perspective of a math-hating guy who should probably be an English major.

I don't need anything too in-depth, just kind of a general overview of what would be taught in a semester of intro-to-calculus.
posted by billybunny at 8:48 PM on December 16, 2004

Not sure I can help your specific need here, but if you plan on taking Calc II, you damn well better make all the classes 'cause it's the weedout class and has left many found on the roadside dead and horribly mangled.
posted by Pressed Rat at 8:52 PM on December 16, 2004

Okay, in that case, go back over all of the homework assignments and the midterm. If you can't do a problem, ask a smart and patient friend to explain it to you. Rinse. Repeat. Eventually you'll know how to tackle all of the problems, and then you will be ready for your exam. I'm not sure why, but at least at my school a lot of math-enthusiasts were actually really excited about helping less enthusiastic students with their math homework. If you don't know anyone who could help, mark all of the problems you don't know how to start or can't finish, then hire a tutor to sit with you for a few hours and teach you how to do the toughies.
posted by bonheur at 9:02 PM on December 16, 2004

The Stewart book is indeed a craptacular piece of dead weight.

Some people have said good things about this book, but it's full of cutesy-cartoony illustrations which may not be your cup of tea. Same for this site.

In the end it all boils down to rates of change.
posted by casarkos at 9:11 PM on December 16, 2004

So I'm looking around for a good on-line tutorial and I found this.

It may be too basic for you though. I've only sat through lesson one of chapter two. If you're really having a hard time understanding the basics of Calculus, this seems to explain it pretty well with (bad) animation. If you understand well the first few classes you attended, then you'll probably want to skip this.
posted by SAC at 9:56 PM on December 16, 2004

I've tried searching around and every site I've visited just turns into a textbook.

I'd say talk to a classmate that you think may go to a lot of the office hours and reviews. You'd be amazed at how much they manage to get out of the profs with regards to what will be on the test.
posted by SAC at 10:09 PM on December 16, 2004

If you're willing to learn how to use one, get a higher end graphing calculator like a TI-89. They will do a great deal of the work for you if you know how to enter the correct info/formulas. I went to my calculus class five times for the entire semester and got a B because of that. A calculator like that will factor and solve formulas with variables and you can even write/find programs that do work for you as well. It's an easy way out if you can take a crash course in how to use one in a short period of time.
posted by bakerwc1369 at 10:32 PM on December 16, 2004

In the end it all boils down to rates of change.


You wanna learn Calculus? Here you go:

How do you find the slope of a straight line? You just take two arbitrary points anywhere on the line and use the (x2-x1) / (y2-y1) formula. I figure you know that already. With a curve it's not so simple, because the slope keeps changing. So if you take two arbitrary points and use that formula, the answer isn't very accurate.

But -- and here's the genius -- if you take two points that are close to each other, you get a more accurate answer. The closer those points are to each other, the more correct your answer. This is the very basic description of what we call the derivative.

The single most awesomest online tutorial on Calculus (complete with fantastic Flash pages with lots of pictures) is The Visual Guide to Calculus.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 10:48 PM on December 16, 2004

Whoops, here is the index.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 10:48 PM on December 16, 2004

Heh - the nutjobs at my school who live to study even more than the rest of us mostly bought that Calculus book in addition to the one we were supposed to have, and proceeded to swear by it.

My advice: Try to lay hold on the most complete solutions manual you can find for that book. Go through the problems and see how the solutions manual does it. Hell, you might only need the solutions manual, not the book.

The derivative of a constant is zero. The derivative of x^n is nx^n-1. The derivative of sin is cos. The derivative of cos is -sin. The derivative of ln x is 1/x. The derivative of e^x is e^x. (There's a math joke in there.) The derivative of a constant times a function is that constant times the derivative of that function. The derivative the product of functions f times g is the derivative of f, times g, plus the derivative of g, times f. The derivative of f/g is g times the derivative of f minus f times the derivative of g, all over g squared.

Those are the important ones. Integration is harder, but it is more or less just going backwards from differentiation. Your calculator can numerically solve whatever definite integrals can be numerically solved, but will only do indefinite integrals if you are lucky. The area under a curve from x coords a -> b is the integral from a to b, but make sure you don't end up with a negative area.

Have fun!
posted by TheOnlyCoolTim at 11:36 PM on December 16, 2004

If you want the more intuitive explanation (as opposed to the one with rigor), here's an online text. I've heard a lot about this book, as well.
posted by Gyan at 2:20 AM on December 17, 2004

I've got a graphing calculator that's been sitting on my desk, unused, for the past year or so. I keep getting teachers who won't let me use it. It's very annoying.

The calculus-phobe tutorial is good--it's a bit basic, but it was a pretty good review of the first half of the class. If it had had related rates finished up, it would've been gold. Stupid lack of related rates.

Thanks for the links everybody, they've all been really helpful. Way more helpful than the pos math book. Thank god for ebay, otherwise this thing would've just sat in my bookshelf until I move and throw it out.
posted by billybunny at 4:46 AM on December 17, 2004

This is the best summary of a 3-semester Calculus course I've ever seen. In your case, it would work well as a study/cram guide.
posted by klarck at 5:10 AM on December 17, 2004

And next semester, billy, attend the classes you're paying for.
posted by Doohickie at 6:52 AM on December 17, 2004

What about the MIT OpenCourseWare Project? It has a Single Variable Calculus class listed.

Good luck!
posted by LouMac at 9:52 AM on December 17, 2004

Billybunny: Contact me at jeanettev@gmail.com. I am used to giving calculus crash courses. If you have AIM, I'm vestadunning and I'm available after roughly 6 PM central time. We'll get you up and running in an hour or two if you're ready to learn.
posted by u.n. owen at 1:23 PM on December 17, 2004

aw man. i should asked you guys for help with my number theory class. primitive roots *shudder*.
posted by juv3nal at 1:42 PM on December 17, 2004

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