How to Ace Calc 2

Introduction to Math: It was 2 years ago that I started my journey back through the mathematical landscape.  My GRE’s were no where near competitive and hours of studying for them seemed to produce little to no results.  In June of 2009 I took remedial math at Nassau Community College (001 & 002 Preparatory math).  I learned how to add and subtract fractions.  As if my ego wasn’t damaged enough, challenging problems consisted of calculating percentage discounts on a grocery bill.  As I progressed through each course from remedial math to calculus, my grades represented my knowledge base accurately (of course I got all A’s).   Then Calculus 2 came.  The “Organic Chemistry of math,” so to speak.  It was this class that I earned the most accurate, humbling and most deserved B in my academic career .

The Calculus Myth: Every math professor spoke of the horrors of Calc 2 as they had uttered about all other math classes in which I quickly picked up the material.  In hind sight, it was naive not to believe them.  The Professor, Dr. Philip Cheifetz, talked of the same folk tale the first day of class.  Going as far to pulling students outside asking them if they were ready for this class (I know because I was one of them).  “I had a Master’s Degree,” I chuckled. “I have taken ANOVA, Multiple Regression / Multivariate Analysis, and Factor Analysis. This can’t be harder,” I gloated.  No matter what he said, it would not have produced the courage nor strength for the emotional, intellectual and spiritual challenge I was about to face.

Part 1 Integration: I had inquired with my Calc 1 professor, “If Calc 2 is so hard, how can I prepare?”  His response, “Learn the basic 8 integrals.  Know them by heart.”  Again, my arrogance reared its contorted view.  I had already done this, how much harder could it be?  Within the coming weeks Dr. Cheifetz hit us with integration by parts, then substitution, partial fractions, trigonometric substitutions, completing the square and problems that incorporated more than one of these methods to solve it.  The first exam approached like antelope trying to outrun a leopard.  In all, I did some 200+ problems in preparation, not including all the assigned homework.  I thought I was ready… 77 that’s what I earned and knew after all my practice.  I thought, “Where are the other 15 or 20 points?  Did he miss them?”  I began to question my resolve. Was I really not good at math?  Would this be the class that proves to everyone I’m not that “smart.”  How, after studying so much could I be so dumb…

Part 2 Measuring Solids: Dr. Cheifetz described this section as the “love part of a relationship.”  While integration, mainly mechanical, was “flirtatious.” Triangles turned into pyramids, circles into spheres and donuts, and cones twisted into shapes I had never seen before.  It was our job to calculate the volume of these objects, but why stop there!  In the proceeding weeks these objects began to take on densities and water pressure.  We now needed to discover “work” calculated in joules!  The antelope again fell to its predator.  100 problems later including redo’s from homework ( I ran out of problems in the book), I sat down to take this exam on Wednesday night with an emotional set I won’t ever forget.  Contempt and a fierce, burning sense of competition.  It was me Vs. Calc 2. On Monday two letters branded themselves onto a now fragile ego… 76

Part 3 Sequences & Series: I had never heard of either of these before calc 2.  The first week wasn’t very hard, but this old dog learned a new trick.  Look ahead, be prepared because you will not expect what’s coming.  I was right!  Sequences and series with the same formula perform differently.  There are over 7 ways to test for convergence!  Ratio tests, Limit comparisons all working against once another to create this beautiful cacophony of confusion! I did every bit of homework assigned, but something shifted in me.  Emotionally, I was readying for a humbling defeat, but could not stop marching on.  Nor guns, nor atom bombs let alone Taylor’s Series would stop me from the journey I had started 10 weeks ago.  Every exam felt like a battle losing pieces of myself and class mates too.  This time it would be different though. It was take home :)  Three numbers danced upon the war torn battle field… 100.  I smiled, rejoiced and ran forward in a mad dash, like the brave soilders at Piket’s Charge, for the war had yet to be won.

The Final Exam: I took stock of my ammunition.  Over 500+ problems completed.  I peered over my shoulder, only half the class remains.  I asked myself, “Why do you care so much?  It’s just Calc 2.  You’re here to learn not to get a grade.  You already have 2 degrees!”  I wasn’t able to answer that question then.  It rattled inside my head replenishing and stealing confidence, but I can answer it now.  I was challenged.  Every exam produced a flow state because I wanted to learn.  Dr. Cheifetz challenged us fairly and was a man of his word.  Unlike some professors he told you exactly what was expected.  Not only was I intellectually challenged, but emotionally as well.  Calc 2 retaught me about humility, preparation, and most importantly how I perform under adverse, difficult conditions.  When my own confidence becomes weak, the ego attacks and feedback through grades is in opposition to my success…  I keep pushing forward.  I had thought I was the antelope waiting for the exam to strike, but I truly was the leopard.

I believe calc 2 for me represented a great motif; that of life.  Do you give up? Do you march forward?  Whether it be calc 2, another course, or an event in life.  Perseverance is key.  As my Mix Martial Arts coach says, “Leave nothing in the ring, I’ll carry you out if I have to.”  What I received on the final exam I will never know, nor do I care.  In the end, I earned a B in Calc 2.

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  • Karoline

    I’m currently laughing after reading this because I am taking Prof. Cheifetz this semester and I have my first exam tomorrow. Did about 200 problems and I still feel unprepared. Good to hear someone else went through the same experience!