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Math Courses

BlueBeatBlueBeat Registered User Posts: 3 New Member
edited December 2014 in Engineering Majors
Is engineering Calculus 3 much harder than Calculus 2? I am currently a senior in high school and am still considering if I should do engineering or not. I am currently taking AP Calculus BC right now and it is not that hard for me. I have a friend who is a engineering major at Purdue and skipped Calculus 2 to Calculus 3 and is having a hard time right now. He was really good at math when he went to my school, but he barely made a C in his Calculus 3 class in college. The only students that got an A in his class were 6 chinese students.
As a result, I'm kind of wondering if I can really do engineering math or not...

Replies to: Math Courses

  • boneh3adboneh3ad Forum Champion Engineering Posts: 7,422 Forum Champion
    It's different for every person, but most people would say that multivariable calculus (what is generally labeled Calculus 3) is easier than the first time you see integral calculus (Calculus 2). Then again, your mileage may vary.

    The real question is how well your high school prepares you. It isn't likely an issue of this person not being very good at math. It probably is more likely that he was good compared to the expectations of your high school but really wasn't as good at it as his grades made it appear. There is a very wide range in quality of high school math instruction, even at the AP level. Some AP courses/teachers do a good job; others don't.

    If this sort of thing scares you too much but you still want to do engineering, you can always just take one or more of the calculus courses again when you get to the university. The words case scenario is that you really were good enough to skip ahead and now you have one or two easy A's on your transcript.
  • eyemgheyemgh Registered User Posts: 4,926 Senior Member
    This varies person to person. Many test right into calc III and do just fine. With that said, many also do not. Don't take an A in Calc BC or a 5 on your AP test as evidence that it'll be a breeze in college. The material comes faster and you will not be coddled. Make sure to get Calc I and Calc II tests from the school you'll be attending to make sure you're ready for the material. If they aren't available online, call the department. They are interested in your success and won't want you in over your head. Good luck.
  • eyemgheyemgh Registered User Posts: 4,926 Senior Member
    That's funny. We were typing simultaneously. I'm a bit slow on the iPad though. I wouldn't have repeated everything you said. I was just parroting what I knew you'd offer anyway. @BlueBeat‌, listen to @boneh3ad‌. The advice is always sage. :D
  • LakeWashingtonLakeWashington Registered User Posts: 9,305 Senior Member
    Absolutely agree with Bon3head and Eyemgh. Lake Jr. did well in AP Calc and decided to jump right in to Calc 2 as a college freshman ChE major. It didn't take long to realize college Calc is a whole new harder and faster challenge. Calc 3 wasn't easy, but at least by then he had one semester of college level Calc under his belt.
  • rhandcorhandco Registered User Posts: 4,290 Senior Member
    The instructors definitely matter. I had a Calc 3 instructor who could barely speak English - great researcher but terrible teacher. I am recommending that my son start at Calc 1 in college, even though he is currently in AP Calc BC. I feel that each school stresses different aspects of math, and colleges stress different skills than high schools do.

    To be honest, AP classes are really teaching to the test, whatever the AP test is at the moment. College classes teach towards being able to apply your skills (with a few exceptions).
  • eyemgheyemgh Registered User Posts: 4,926 Senior Member
    My son took the opposite approach and was placed directly into Calc 3. He did however spend some time over the summer reviewing what was covered in I and II, especially infinite series as recommended by @boneh3ad‌. He adapted to the material fine, but experienced something he'd never experienced before on his first test, a C. It was about the pace of the test more than the concepts of the materials. It was a great eye opener. Fortunately he pulled his final grade up to an A.

    The reason I tell this story is that it could have happened to him in Calc I. There's no guarantee you'll fly through the series at the collegiate level just because you start over. It's really more about the fundamental understanding of the concepts rather than previous grades.

    The advantages of skipping ahead however are not small. It opens opportunities to finish early (or on time if your school tends to go past 4 years) and as they say, time is money. Alternatively, it allows one to either take more technical courses or courses not related to engineering simply for interest's sake.

    Again, each person's route should be the one that fits them best. There is no right way.
  • ucbalumnusucbalumnus Registered User Posts: 72,933 Senior Member
    edited December 2014
    rhandco wrote:
    I am recommending that my son start at Calc 1 in college, even though he is currently in AP Calc BC. I feel that each school stresses different aspects of math, and colleges stress different skills than high schools do.

    It may be better for him to try the old calculus 1 and 2 final exams from the college he will attend, so that he can make a more accurate placement decision. Skipping ahead too far can be a problem, but repeating what one already knows well is a waste of time and tuition. Also, starting in calculus 2 or higher (allowing starting the physics sequence a semester earlier) can shorten the longest prerequisite sequence for an engineering major, reducing the schedule pressure and risk of late graduation, and the student will gain one or more free electives later.
  • LakeWashingtonLakeWashington Registered User Posts: 9,305 Senior Member
    Eyemgh, I think you hit it on the head; for some kids at college it's about pace of study in the STEM courses.
  • da6onetda6onet Registered User Posts: 653 Member
    edited December 2014
    I'm going to offer up that I found math in a large lecture format with ta led discussions did not work the best for me. Same goes for pretty much any introductory problem solving type class (physics, chem, statics, etc).

    This works both ways however. The format and pacing can be a shock, but if you know the material it's a safer way to get used to it than hopping feet first into calc III.

    An alternative if you have a decent CC near the high school is to dual enroll (or just enroll at the CC whenever before switching over to the university).
  • jimmyboy23jimmyboy23 Registered User Posts: 608 Member
    As a person who did calc 3 this semester as a freshman after taking AP, I don't believe there is any difference in terms of content between college level calculus and AP calculus if you had a somewhat decent teacher in high school (one that does not obscenely teach to the test i.e. teaching you derivative formulas without teaching the concept of a derivative). The main difference for me was the college environment. I had classes two days a week and only had a semester to learn the material. Adjusting to the new environment was the only hard part about calc 3 after that it wasn't too bad.

    I was able to receive an A in the class with a heavy course load and active involvement in extracurriculars.

    Also, I don't think reviewing calc 1 or 2 would be extremely beneficial as long. As you know the main concepts of the material, then you will only need to look up a formula here and there.
  • ucbalumnusucbalumnus Registered User Posts: 72,933 Senior Member
    Some reasons why college math courses may be a shock to students who previously had high school AP math courses:

    1. Many students had calculus AB, or a two year AB and BC sequence. This is slower paced than an actual college frosh calculus sequence, where all of AB and BC material are covered in two semesters (rather than two years).

    2. High school courses, including AP courses, tend to have more hand holding and progress monitoring (daily homework is a part of this), so that a student cannot fall behind easily. College courses require more student self-motivation to stay on top of the course.

    3. High school tests tend to be loaded with easy problems so that C students can get 70% (or whatever) correct. College tests may have fewer easy problems and more hard problems, so that a typical median score may be something like 50%, but "graded on a curve" so that such a score is a C+/B- rather than an F. Of course, all of those A/B students in high school find out that not all of them will be A/B students in college.
  • eyemgheyemgh Registered User Posts: 4,926 Senior Member
    @jimmyboy23, I think you hit it pretty spot on. The reason to review and to look at old test is to verify whether or not your HS teacher had the chops or not. That's the most objective way to test the hypothesis that you're ready. the alternative, which works too, sometimes, is to jump both feet in and hope for the best.

    Additionally, even though math is math, there is some variation between schools and even between instructors at schools, especially if you are placed into an honors section.

    Good luck OP. You'll be fine.
This discussion has been closed.