Math? College?
July 20, 2014 5:38 PM   Subscribe

The best way to pursue my college goals given my situation.

Last summer I went back to college and I took an Algebra and then A Pre-Calc course. I did well enough, A's in both. I never felt like I was really making any connections though. I started a career and as a result stopped pursuing school. I would now like to continue attending school on the side. I want to pursue more math and science courses but am not sure if it is a bad idea to try to take a Calc 1 class given the gap from the previous math courses last year. I am all for learning on my own, and am with several subjects, but math just does not seem like the kind of topic I can jump right into on my own and make any significant headway. Any suggestions on specific resources to get me up to speed or thoughts on what would be best in this case? I never really tried at the math and sciences when I was growing up and only gave it a shot for the first time last summer so I am not drawing on a significant base of knowledge. Thanks, I appreciate it.
posted by mrdrummed to Science & Nature (12 answers total)
To be honest, if you got A's last year, I think you'll be fine. Calculus will not be extremely difficult, and in some ways you're starting from scratch in learning a lot of new concepts in Calc-- and if you have a specific difficulty you can always have it addressed by a teacher or tutor. I would say go for it!

If you have a chance to take an Intro to Abstract Math-style course where you learn proof writing, I would highly recommend that, as it will increase your confidence in jumping into math on your own a hundredfold.
posted by stoneandstar at 5:54 PM on July 20, 2014 [1 favorite]

I'm assuming you're not pursuing a particular degree at this time? If so, you don't particularly care about a GPA, progress towards a degree, major requirements?

If thats the case, go for Calc 1! What do you have to loose? If you do well, you've saved a semester's work! If you do poorly? You would not be the first person who prepared for calc 1 by failing calc 1 the first time.

As a backup, figure out when the drop date is, (usually 2 weeks in). This means you can drop the class with out transcript/grade penalty, and usually financial obligation.

Math is like any other subject, you can get better at it through hard work.

Good luck!
posted by fontophilic at 5:56 PM on July 20, 2014 [1 favorite]

Calc 1 and physics w/calc/mechanics always seemed to go hand in hand to me. Physics had the applications that grounded it and made sense, but not the math theory/background behind integrals. (Not that I like anti-derivatives in calc).
posted by TheAdamist at 6:43 PM on July 20, 2014

I was...not great at algebra and geometry, never took trigonometry (but spent some time self-studying. barely any time though) and I did well in calculus! If you work hard you can definitely get it. And I am not a math person. Paul's notes are a great resource and the best bet is always to do a ton of problems.
posted by hejrat at 7:07 PM on July 20, 2014

YAY MATH! I'm always happy to see people who are interested in studying it more.

Go for it! Since you did well in Pre-Calc, you should be fine.

What sort of math and science courses would you like to pursue in the future? Calculus I tends to be prerequisite for many (if not all, depending on the school) further math courses and many science courses in college, so you'd be on the right track. If you'd like to explore more of math itself, Discrete Math is a lot of fun and doesn't generally require Calculus. Proofs courses are a great gateway to more math. If you're interested, the algorithms-related courses in Computer Science are a nice mix of math and CS.

+ Paul's Math Notes:
+ Khan Academy tends to be more about methods than making connections, but can be useful for practice.
+ looks like a good listing of resources:

Good luck! Feel free to MeMail if you want to chat more about math.
posted by wiskunde at 7:33 PM on July 20, 2014 [3 favorites]

I think you can definitely go for it. I don't feel like I really made significant "connections" until Calculus 2 (moving forward from there, I truly began to love math). A decent amount of time in Calculus 1 will be applying procedures from trigonometry, so you will get a chance to reinforce some of those ideas. The other thing I found was that although the material is sort of cumulative, each step forward gives you more opportunity and context than you could have had to understand previous material.
posted by heycoder at 9:29 PM on July 20, 2014

Calc 1 is easier than pre-calc, IMO.

Pre-calc is kind of an incoherent mess of barely related topics that you just need to know before calc makes sense. Calculus, by contrast, is elegant, beautiful and flows nicely from topic to topic, with lots of useful applications. Calculus will probably help you remember a lot of what you learned in pre-calc, because now you'll understand why they were teaching it to you.
posted by empath at 4:46 AM on July 21, 2014 [1 favorite]

One way to decide if you can handle it or not would be to review your pre-calc for a short time (say, 3-4 hours spaced out over a week), then take a college-level math placement test (tons of those floating around online) and see how you score. If you score in the ready for calculus section (or even reasonably close to it), then you're probably in a good spot where you can take calculus and spot refresh anything that you may have forgotten. If it goes poorly, then you should probably take a more intensive refresher before diving into calculus.
posted by anaelith at 5:41 AM on July 21, 2014

(There are also review booklets from various universities available online, or you could see if your institution has one. My university published a crummy 10-page booklet which was basically just a list of topics with one example from each, but it was enough to get you started and reveal any major I-don't-even-know-what-that-is holes.)
posted by anaelith at 5:42 AM on July 21, 2014

I had a 1.5 year+ break between taking Calculus 1 (AP Calc AB in high school) and Calculus 2 (second semester of my sophomore year of college). I tanked the first test but ended up with an A-. It came back to me pretty fast.
posted by mskyle at 8:04 AM on July 21, 2014

I'm going to be in the very same boat. Did some self study with Khan Academy and an old Algebra textbook I found online, placed into PreCalculus II - Trig, and I just completed it last quarter with a 3.5. Then, I got a 5 to 11 month contract job. When that ends, I'll go into Calculus I, but that won't be for another few months or so.

Maybe it'll be less daunting if you look at some Calculus resources online? I found this free resource, run by Ohio State University: Mooculus. You need a Coursera account to use some of the resources, like the forums, but it's free. The entire course is self-paced, and even comes with a free textbook.
posted by spinifex23 at 11:35 AM on July 21, 2014

MIT has some great free (no credit) math classes online. Gilbert Strang's calculus lectures are very good for the big picture. I also like the series of black-and-white calculus videos from an old correspondence course (also online), but I don't remember what it's called.
posted by Comet Bug at 6:07 PM on July 21, 2014

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