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Conquering Calculus

2 min

In college, calculus was consistently was my highest grade. I took this course in my first semester. I didn’t understand why I liked it so much. I had a strategy to learn the material that was unbeatable. I had no idea at the time because these were not intentional acts. I moved through the cues I thought were best. In this experiment, it happened to work out well with an A at the end. This allowed me to ultimately be admitted into business school at the end of the year.

Everyone dreaded the fact that this five-credit course was every day Monday through Friday from 2:30 to 3:25. Secretly, I liked it. It was baked into my weekly routine. It forced me to pay attention and chip away every day. We had weekly quizzes and daily homework assignments.

I used to think what’s the point of doing so well in such a specialized skill? I didn’t end up pursuing a major in math (thank goodness). I didn’t realize that at the time the strategy I had developed was impeccable. Because I already took calculus the year before in high school, the baseline of the chunks were there. After only achieving a one out of five on the AP test, the credits didn’t transfer. I had to retake it. I was furious about it for the longest time because my course grade was above average. When it came to taking a standardized accumulative test, I flunked.

In hindsight, taking the course in high school was not at all a waste. It provided the context of the concepts. I compounded the ideas again a second-time college which allowed them to stick better. I had a regimented routine where I went to the quietest floor of the library each day to go complete the homework after class. There was a progression of the homework. Multiple submissions for a question were allowed, so if I struggled then I had classmates that could struggle with me. On Fridays before the quiz, I met and got pizza with a classmate. We talked over the concepts and explained them to each other. Little did I know, this is an aspect of the Feynman technique. It is a goldmine to learning to teach to someone else.

All in all, this system shows how I definitely didn’t have an innate talent to be good at calculus. It was that I figured out how to learn. Do I remember how to solve a limit problem five years later today? Probably not. If I reviewed it, maybe. Without a purpose for learning, the attitude of how much effort to push forward does not exist. There is an opportunity cost.


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