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The Official Student Publication of University of the Philippines- College of Management, Iloilo City

How to Ace a Calculus

by Ralph Dan Gillo

There’s this man in Texas, USA whom everyone hails as a “hero” because he saved thirty people from a roller coaster accident. He was wondering why the ride lasted three minutes longer than it used to, so he started to investigate. Realizing the vastness of the place, he asked for a pen and a piece of paper. Minutes after, he found out the exact location or part of the machine that malfunctioned, thus saving those thirty people who were suppose to be in that canceled ride. Amazing, isn’t it? Now, how did he do it? One word: Calculus.

According to 1993 edition of Webster’s Dictionary, Calculus is defined as any branch of mathematics that employs symbolic computations, especially integral calculus and differential calculus. Sounds alien? Try this: According to 9 out of 10 UPV students, Calculus is defined as hell, something enigmatic, perplexing, laborious, a.k.a difficult. Now I’m sure you’re wondering why the heck I am writing about this one. I am not any Calculus geek, because in fact, I am one of those 9 students! But come to think of it, isn’t there a room of optimism? There are a lot of ways to kill a cat – or in this case, Calculus. So maybe that’s the reason why this article existed, to shed light and hope my fellow students who are in the dark abyss of calculus. And at the same time, to inform those who will be taking it. So brace yourself for the combined tips from various internet pages and from Sir Ryan Ocumen himself (yehey!).

Tip Number 1: Know your Instructor. By this tip, I mean not only knowing the name, but also the educational background, the teaching techniques, and stuff of your instructor (or future instructor!). How? Well, one way is asking his/her former students. Now, this tip may be sometimes misleading as in the case of my Calculus instructor (and at the same time, my interviewee!) who was rumored to be a “terrorist”, who loves to fail students and give difficult exams, no other than…(drum roll, please)… Sir Ryan! Actually, he’s not a terrorist, In fact, he’s funny, and a very good teacher. Although it came from him that one out of every four students fails in his class, this may not necessarily mean that it’s completely his fault. It may be the student’s, right? Take it from me, he’s a great teacher.

So how to deal with your instructor? Just don’t be rude to them. Be polite and address them properly, and I tell you, at the end of the semester, it really pays!

Tip Number 2: Never miss a Class. Classes are held for our benefit. If it isn’t, then maybe a unit of this subject course will cost a peso only. Classes are important because it is in these hours that the instructor will give examples which are more likely not in the reference book. The instructor might teach you a shortcut or a tip on how to solve this and do that, and missing these wouldn’t help you. Time spent on classes are investments for our education, remember that.

Tip Number 3: Pay Attention and Jot Down Notes. Some problems might not be taken in the reference book, so its better to have your own copy of it. There’s a difference between staring at the board and jotting it down. You might be assured that you understand the topic, or the method but a week later, there’s a possibility that you’ll forget it, so its better to have a back up copy in case you need to refresh your memory. Pens and papers are also investments.

Tip Number 4: Ask. Sometimes, you’d realize that your instructor is speaking alien or maybe in such a haste that you don’t understand a thing he or she is blabbering. Ask for some clarifications, for some problems, or maybe additional examples, anything that would enhance your understanding of the topic. Dont be afraid to do so, because that’s the essence of going to school – to learn. Don’t be afraid to admit that you’re ignorant because, as what Socrates used to say, “ Ignorance is the first true act of wisdom”. Or something like that.

Tip Number 5: Do your Homework The fastest way to get intro trouble in Calculus is to not do your homework. Consider this, the problems given may be similar to the problems that would appear at the exams and quizzes where you are expected to work them quickly but accurately without the aid of the book or your notes. So consider doing your homework as a simulated exam, and when the real exams come, you’d realize that it really wasn’t that difficult.

Sir Ryan used to say that its not bad to copy the homework of your classmate, just as long as you understand it. Just don’t be too dependent on your classmate. Remember, you are graded based on your individual performance. So if you keep on copying your classmate’s work, you’ll end up making a fool of yourself. Why not have your own answer, and then compare with your classmate’s? That way, you’ll know your mistakes, and learn from them.

Tip Number 6: Study. I know this a very vague concept, but you know what I mean. Doing homework is studying. Reading and re-doing the problems is studying. Reviewing and understanding your notes is studying. Calculus is likely to require you to have a substantial investment of TIME. Just as you might play a lot of basketball or Rubik’s cube to be good at it, you must also do a lot of it in order to be successful. Understand the process of arriving at the answer, and it doesn’t really mean memorizing the steps or method because sometimes, your instructor would require you to find a different unknown. Don’t be contented on the examples given by your instructor. Exert extra effort in studying by looking for more problems, and answering them.

Tip Number 7: Engage in Group Studying One of the best ways to learn something is to explain it to someone else. And group-studies will give you this opportunity. You could do homework together, and then learn from each other’s mistakes. You could compare notes. Remember, your greatest assets are in the class with you– and those are your classmates! They might know something that you don’t, and by engaging in these activities, each member benefits.

Tip Number 8: Prepare for the Exam. Studying is preparing for the exam. Consult your instructor or the syllabus for the coverage of the exam. When actually taking it, read the problems carefully, because you might give an elegant answer to the wrong question. Do the easy problems first, you don’t want to waste time tackling the difficult ones when there are a lot of easy problems. Don’t leave a problem blank. It is a prerogative of a professor to grant you partial points for exerting effort. You may draw some illustration to show that you understood it. Just don’t ever leave a problem blank. Check or review your answers, because you may have overlooked something. And lastly, don’t beg. Get the grade you deserve.

Tip Number 9: Be Optimistic. As what Sir Ryan would say, “The worst enemy of your life is the fear that resides in you.” Believe in yourself. You are, after all, a UP student. Make room for optimism. Remember, its all in the mind and attitude. Ghosts exist because our mind created them. If the mind has this capability, then why can’t it make Calculus easier, right?

So there you have it, the tips on how to ace Calculus. Now I’m sure you would doubt these tips. The cynical in you would even scream, “Hey! These are just mere words! They are not effective!”. Here’s for you: Let’s just say that at this very moment, while I’m writing this article, I can say that I have passed my exams (so far) because of these tips. Now, it’s your turn to testify.

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