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AP Calculus/college calc

mom2threemom2three 727 replies83 threads Member
edited June 2008 in Parents Forum
Both of my older two boys went straight into Calc III after earning 5's on the AP Calc BC test. Both, despite being VERY strong in math, struggled. It seems there was stuff they were expected to know that they somehow hadn't mastered, despite the high grades and AP scores.

Son #3 just got his junior year AP scores back. 5 on AP Calc AB. He'll take BC next year. Were sons' 1 & 2 experiences an anomaly? We're thinking about insisting that son 3 take no higher than Calc II as a freshman, no matter what he scores on the AP exam.

What are your kids experiences with college calculus after AP calc?
edited June 2008
20 replies
Post edited by mom2three on
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Replies to: AP Calculus/college calc

  • ellemenopeellemenope 11344 replies36 threads Senior Member
    D took 2 years of AP Calc in high school and started in college at the Calc 2 level. She said that is a good place to start in college. Calc 2 itself is a very challenging course and I would be surprised if a high school could do it justice, even in a year long course.
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  • InthebizInthebiz 626 replies10 threads Member
    Although I have seen some students go directly to Calc III from Calc BC, most do struggle. Some even struggle with Calc II even though they got a 5 on the BC exam.

    No matter what the AP folks say, an AP course is not the same as a college course.

    In some areas, this isn't a problem (for example history, which is my field) because not having mastered the college survey course in, say, American History, isn't a problem for students who go on to upper-level history courses. The same cannot be said for courses in the sciences or math, where mastery of material in the lower-level courses is important for success in upper-level courses.

    In the past several years, I have found more and more students and their parents asking about whether to decline certain AP credit and "retake" the course in college. There is, of course, no single right answer to that question which will apply to everyone. But it's a good question to ask and consider all the possibilities. The bottom line is you want your child to succeed in college with out struggling unnecessarily.
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  • frazzled1frazzled1 5611 replies247 threads Senior Member
    My oldest ds, both strong math students with 5s on the Calc AB exam, struggled with Calc II in college. One wound up with a B, and one with a B-plus, but they tell me they really fought for those grades. Interestingly, each thinks the college instructor's very strong accent impeded their ability to follow the classroom lectures - though they were different colleges and different accents. :)
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  • mom2threemom2three 727 replies83 threads Member
    My son also commented that the accent was a barrier in his Calc III class. This was when I suggested he go speak with the professor and ask for extra help. He said that wouldn't work, because he couldn't understand him anyway.

    He's retaking it this fall, and at least the name of the professor sounds like he's from the western hemisphere. I HATE to say things like that. I LOVE diversity. But you have to be able to communicate your knowledge.

    Another reason that these "5 on the AP" kids struggle is that they have no experience in asking for and getting help. They think if they just work harder they'll get it - that's always worked in the past. So they walk past all the FREE help and tutoring available until it's too late. Anyway, it doesn't sound like it's just my kids. Looks like Calc 1 or 2 for DS#3.

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  • originaloogoriginaloog 2631 replies14 threads Senior Member
    I disagree that AP courses may not equivelent to college level courses. In our district they are taught at a very high level and students exceed expectations on both the AP test and in college level courses. Our son got a B- in his APCalcBC class(82%) but got a 5 on the AP test, skipped Calc 1&2 in college and earned an A in Calc3 and 3-A's and 1-B in the four other maths he took as an undergrad at RPI, home of the infamous 'Tute Screw and C-vortex phenomena.

    I think the problem with many hs AP courses is that they are open to too many students and that students are permitted to take too many AP courses per year. This encourages teachers to water down course content. In our district AP classes are normally open to only top jr/sr students and they may take no more than three AP classes each year. Our son's hs has 1100 students but had openings for no more than 60 students in the 2 APCalc classes offerred, 1 CalcAB and 1 CalcBC section, about the top 5% of the class.

    And lest you think that this policy adversely impacts college admissions, that does not appear to be the case because students in honors sections are encouraged to sit for the AP exams and do quite well. Pass rates for AP class sections are extraordinarily high and pass rates for honors section students opting to take the exams is quite good too, probably as good or better than most peer hs's.
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  • Burb ParentBurb Parent 2010 replies90 threads Senior Member
    This doesn't answer your question directly, but I thought I would add my $0.02. Decades ago, I took CalcI & II at a competitive college taught by the math depart and received As in both. After that, I went on to CalcIII as an applied Economics course. I struggled to get a B. My instructor spoke perfect English, and I cannot fault him. My experience was that by the time I reached CalcIII, I was in a class composed of people who loved math and wanted to take it. As a result, it was difficult to be a top student.

    I never took the AP courses in high school, so I cannot answer your question directly. What I am trying to say is that by the time a student reaches CalcIII, the competition changes.
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  • JHSJHS 18503 replies72 threads Senior Member
    1. My kid ran out of steam when he hit Calc III, too. He was pleased to do well enough on the final to bring his grade up to B-. (He told me this AFTER the fact, which was probably a good strategy on his part.)

    2. Re accents: I'll repeat a story I've told before, courtesy of a cousin who got his math PhD at an unnamed Ivy League university: "I hate teaching. The students are so dumb and so whiny, and all they care about is their grades. The only pleasure I get out of teaching is watching them go from utter joy, when they find out they have a native English speaker teaching their section, to despair, as they figure out that they would have been better off with a teacher who only spoke Chinese but who gave a [crap] about them."
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  • archiemomarchiemom 1587 replies29 threads Senior Member
    My freshman S just received his year-end grades. He was very strong in math in HS; earned As in AP Calc BC and a 5 on the AP exam. He placed out of Calc I , took Calc II first semester and Calc III second. He earned (a fairly easy, according to him) A in Calc II, but worked hard for a C in Calc III. In context, he earned all As both semesters except for a B in Statics (a third year level course). His classes were taught by full professors.

    Could be that Calc III is just a more challenging subject, even for the most talented students.
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  • mathmommathmom 33186 replies161 threads Senior Member
    I repeated Calculus in college because I'd gotten a 2 on the exam and taken a year off. There was nothing in the course I hadn't seen already in BC Calculus. Carnegie Mellon requires taking a calculus placement exam in addition to looking at the AP scores. There feeling is that if you can't pass their exam over the summer you don't remember enough calculus to take the course in the fall. Some kids do well, some don't - leading me to suspect that there is some variability in what is taught in classes. Remember you can get a 5 on the AP while still getting quite a few questions wrong.
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  • BCEagle91BCEagle91 22635 replies127 threads Senior Member
    My son took Calc I at a local university, Calc II at a community college, Calc III using Netmath at UIUC, Linear Algebra at UIUC and Discrete Structures at a university and, as a result, didn't have any problems with science and math classes at the college level. I don't like the idea of the AP where I think that too much is geared to a test covering two semesters with a lot of pressure on both the school and the student to perform well on the test - instead of learning the material. It's obvious that there are high-schools that do a better job of teaching the material.

    I went from AP Calc BC to Honors Multivariable way back when and struggled. It was quite interesting watching my son going through the same material - he obviously learned the material at all levels far better than I did.
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  • MomofWildChildMomofWildChild 23881 replies208 threads Senior Member
    I personally know two students who have flunked Calc II at 2 different schools- one at UW Lacrosse (she managed to flunk it twice) and one at Miami-Ohio. The Miami girl was a strong math student and the UW girl not so much. My son struggled with Calc I (hadn't taken AP, but had taken a rigorous hs calc class), got a tutor and got an A. Same with Calc II. Also had a problem with the TA not being able to communicate.
    College calculus is really hard and you are in a curve with kids who are engineering students or math majors.
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  • maritemarite 21343 replies243 threads Senior Member
    Several years back, I talked to the instructor of MVCalc and LA at the Harvard Extension School. He had noticed that more high schoolers were taking his class every year. So he took a count: more than half the class of 80+ was made up of high schoolers. He also said that on the whole, they seemed to do better than the college students. It is probably right that the Calc III student population is different than from Calc I, just as those who excelled in arithmetics up to the 6th or seventh grade are not necessary the ones who will do the best in algebra. So I was not too surprised that high schoolers did better than college students in Calc III. They were there because they were advanced. The college students, by and large, were not prospective math majors.
    On the subject of accents: S claims that there areprofs who mumble into the blackboard, erasing equations as they go along before students have had a chance to copy them. Another big issue is problem sets that are handed out still riddled with errors. Difficult to understand accents are much less of an issue. The accents, by the way are as likely to be Russian or Eastern European, British, French as Chinese.
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  • BCEagle91BCEagle91 22635 replies127 threads Senior Member
    In our son's Calc I class (taken during the summer), just about every student there had flunked it during the regular semesters at least once. In his community college Calc II course, only half the original class survived. Some of the students were hopelessly behind after one week. In his physics class, he heard that the attrition rate in Calc was pretty high and if you're struggling in Calc, you have no chance at physics.

    One guy I work with who went to CMU (Princeton for grad school) said that he took physics with a calc I/II background while many of the other students were taking Calc with physics. He said that many of them turned into business majors.
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  • WayOutWestMomWayOutWestMom 10979 replies235 threads Senior Member
    D took Calc BC as a junior, got a 4 on the exam and then took Calc 3 and Linear Analysis as a senior. D had been warned by her AP Calc teacher that there were topics that weren't covered in sufficent depth by the Calc BC course and that she would have "some catching up" to do for Calc 3. This proved to be true. D struggled with Calc 3, earning a B on a C centered curve.

    Her Calc 3 teacher told us parents that many kid struggle with Calc 3 because it covers so much material in a very short space of time and often times kids don't achieve mastery of the concepts before he has to move on to the next topic in order to cover all the material required by the curriculum. D thought LA was much easier than Calc 3, both conceptually and in term of numerical manipulation.

    D will retake Calc 3 and LA this fall when she starts college, both to improve her grades and to solidify her mastery of the concepts before moving on to other math classes. (BTW, she's not going to be a math, engineering or physical science major--she just likes math.)
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  • maritemarite 21343 replies243 threads Senior Member
    ^^ Good for her!
    Another factor is that college courses move much faster than high school courses and there is far less hand-holding, fewer exercises to make sure that the students have mastered the concepts.
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  • my-3-sonsmy-3-sons 2960 replies49 threads Senior Member
    S, an engineering major, just attended orientation at his university. During his engineering overview talk, the dean advised all incoming freshmen to retake their last hs math class unless they were an exceptional math student.
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  • MomofWildChildMomofWildChild 23881 replies208 threads Senior Member
    Part of why my son thought he was doing so poorly in his first college calc course was because he was getting 50s and even lower on the quizzes. Turns out with the curve those were As and A-s. To me, there is something wrong with that. He may opt for a minor instead of a double major simply based on having to take (or not) the next calc course.
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  • shennieshennie 2437 replies30 threads Senior Member
    I live in a town with a major university. A number of years ago I was at an event and ended up eating lunch with a couple of engineering professors. They see strong math students struggle in calc. all the time. They think that part of the problem is that in high school, the courses meet every day for a year, so students get it smaller bits and get time to digest the material. In college, the Calc III classes meet 3 times a week for a semester. The students who start in Calc I in college and move up learn their concepts in a semester, learn to ask for help when needed, etc. The profs said that the first semester freshmen that went right into Calc III just weren't prepared for the pace of the class and didn't ask for help when they floundered because they never floundered before. The profs also said that material covered really varied from high school to high school whereas the college material was consistent through the 3 courses.

    That being said, 2 of my sons went right into Calc III at 2 different colleges. One ended up with a B and the other with a B+. Both felt that they were prepared for Calc III and did not encounter anything that they were not prepared to handle. They did have excellent high school math teachers. Both got 5s on the AP BC exam.
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  • ericatbucknellericatbucknell 744 replies14 threads Member
    calculus 3 will be an easy course for anyone who has a strong conceptual understanding of concepts from calculus 1 and 2. unfortunately, a ton of people pass the ap calculus exams (and even many pass calculus 1 and 2 at the college level) who have not developed a strong conceptual framework.

    in practical terms, the kids who were taught to repetiviely plug certain pieces of information into an expression and integrate are going to really struggle in calc 3 because the the amount of information that needs to be 'plugged' in order to solve a given problem starts becoming too large to memorize. add in the pace of the course--faster than calc 1 or 2--and it is no wonder that many seemingly qualified students struggle.

    as such, throw me in the pool that recommends a retake of calc 2 for most students, especially those at high schools that do not teach calc ab and bc as a sequence.
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  • CalreaderCalreader 987 replies42 threads Senior Member
    One more thing to keep in mind - some colleges don't let students re-take calculus 1 or 2 if they have already taken it in high school. The college my daughter is heading off to this fall says that students must head to multivariable calculus if they have either a 3+ in AB or a 4+ in BC. But they have two different multivariable calculus courses, one for students who have seen infinite series and one for students who haven't.

    I imagine this leads to more similar backgrounds among the students who land in each course, which might make the courses easier to teach.
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