Let’s explore why I’m glad I failed Calculus.

This is college. Classes are hard–a lot harder than high school–and there’s a lot more work and responsibility to handle.

With that said, some of us are going to have to retake classes. It’s a simple fact of moving up the academic ladder. Success isn’t always straightforward.

I find that a lot of people in the engineering and technical-specialized-stuff disciplines–you know, the kids who pride themselves on being the “supersmart geniuses”–are really averse to the topic of “not doing so well,” having to retake a class, not being “ahead,” or having to get tutoring, or the like. Well, I have news for you.

It’s a heck of a lot worse to fail or barely scrape by and end up having ten times the difficulty in higher-level classes instead of asking for help, going to tutoring sessions, forming study groups, and in some cases, taking another shot at it. You’re a damn engineer. Since when has “hacking at it repeatedly with the exact same technique hoping it’ll magically work this time” ever EVER been a viable solution to a problem?????? UGH. What’s the first step to finding a solution? Look at your options. Not just the option you “really like.” Look at ALL THE OPTIONS.

I’m taking Calc 2 for the second time. And you know what? First Calc 2 class I took here at Lehigh, my final grade was something horrid. It was like… 54% or something. I barely understood what I was doing and panicked and just tried memorizing a bazillion formulas before the test. Ha ha ha. Not gonna fly, obviously. So, I’m still in Calc 2 right now while some of my engineering peers are taking–what is it?–linear algebra? I think so. But also–guess what?

Just got my 4:00 exam back, and it’s 100% this time. I’m not kidding–one hundred freaking percent. Perfect score. I literally aced the test. And on top of that, my confidence and fluidity when using calculus to solve problems is tenfold now, and–example of my ultimate nerdiness–I was so happy about my mastery of the material that I actually taught my mom how to calculate arc lengths over the phone. Sure, I could have studied a bit more last semester and barely scraped by with a C-, but I would have a C- sitting on my GPA like an elephant PLUS I’d probably have failed Calc 3 and had to take a class over again anyway.

Like I said, success isn’t always straightforward. I’m actually pretty glad I’m where I am with calculus–despite dreaming since I was 4 of being an engineer, my relationship with math is sometimes a bit rocky, and I really prefer being able to say “I aced my test and there’s literally not a single thing I don’t understand” instead of “I’m having a lot of trouble and I don’t totally understand what I’m doing but I didn’t fail so I must be doing something okay.”

If you end up “failing” and/or having to retake a class, or you’re worried about a grade in a particular class, take a deep breath. Retaking a class is not the end of the world, and sometimes, it could possibly yield a net benefit greater than the net benefit of not retaking in the long-run–which isn’t something often considered. (How do you think that shiny lil’ 100% is going to look when replacing that putrid 54% in my GPA, after all?)

Don’t listen to anyone who tells you retaking a class, going to get tutoring, or asking for help is bad, or that you’re somehow “less intelligent” or “failing” or “not good enough.” Oh, and that includes yourself. Please don’t talk yourself into thinking you’re not doing good enough if something doesn’t turn out how you expected it to, or–to put it frankly–you don’t end up meeting your own expectations. Seriously. You’re not a fortune-teller–you don’t know what’s going to happen between now and then that might affect the feasibility of your goal! Technically speaking, you can’t even be 100% sure that the goal you’ve set is completely possible on its own. Set goals to the best of your ability, but don’t think those goals have to be completely inflexible. A failed goal is when you give up, not when you try a different attack angle or rethink what the goal is. Remember: engineers don’t try one solution to a problem, especially when that friggin’ solution doesn’t work.

And to finish off, here’s a few resources to help you out, if you don’t know where to start.

http://getcalculus.com/ — Lehigh’s very own Professor Salathe put together a companion “textbook” (not really a full textbook–it’s meant to be a complement to your calculus class) to go along with most Calc 1 and 2 classes. It’s actually really helpful, and isn’t too expensive–like, under $20.

Tutoring — Lehigh’s Center for Academic Success offers tutoring in various forms–walk-in tutoring for a variety of topics, weekly sessions in some of the larger freshman res halls, and regular group sessions on a lot of first- and second-year classes.

PurpleMath — For those of you like me, sometimes you need a reminder of more basic things. EVERYTHING related to algebra, trigonometry, and even some calculus-related topics like series and sequences are all there, covered in glorious step-by-step format. Also REALLY helpful for engineers who need a review on matrices/vectors, systems of equations, and there’s also literally an entire section dedicated to how to pick apart word problems.

  • For a more calculus-based how-to, check out PatrickJMT on YouTube. If you’re stuck and need a quick explanation, his videos tend to do pretty well, but also talk to your professor if you really don’t understand something–there’s a HUGE benefit to actually being able to ask questions! I’d suggest watching the entire video really closely one time through, then watch it again and try to work through your problem at the same time, following each step he makes.

Study Skills at Lehigh — Also offered by the Center for Academic Success is help with study skills. Time management and reward/motivation, memory, stress, learning styles and conflicts, and anxiety are just a few of the topics touched upon. Basically: if you’re having trouble getting homework done or aren’t doing so well in a class and either aren’t sure why or aren’t sure what to try different, go here and request to talk to someone seriously do it do it do it. Let’s be real–sometimes you need another set of eyes on a problem. It’s literally just like how you sometimes have to have someone else look at your math problem to point out where you’re messing up, because a lot of the time, you just simply can’t see it. They also do workshops for student groups, teams, organizations, clubs, fraternities, sororities, res halls… you name it.

And finally: Lehigh University Directory. A lot of the time, one of the best people to ask is your professor. That link will take you to a person-look-up-type thing where you can type in your professor’s or TA’s last name and find their website, email, address, and sometimes office phone number, too.

Wow. This is a really long post. Anyway, thanks for sticking with me, and I hope I could provide some useful advice and/or help!

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3 thoughts on “Let’s explore why I’m glad I failed Calculus.

  1. I’m going back to school this semester and I’m taking one class, Calculus. I have over 60 credit hours overall but I never took Calc, and I regret it. I have my first exam tomorrow and I am going to fail. I paid for this class out of pocket to help get my confidence and momentum going to go back to school full time. Now I think I’ll be dropping out and not looking back, I literally cannot afford to fail. I’m an idiot

  2. Hi! Thanks for writing this post. I’ve been in tears constantly recently due to Calc 2. I thought, I’m smart, and I did OK is calc 1, this should be a breeze. And then I got a 40% on a quiz. (I’ve never failed any test before….ever- humbling.) I was cramming to memorize trig identities and the like before an exam, just like you mentioned. So, I’ve been seriously down on myself. Your post is the first I’ve come across that’s actually encouraging, rather than saying, “you aren’t studying enough! or You aren’t studying the right way! etc”. I actually feel better right now after reading your words.
    You must be all done with your undergrad now, so congrats!

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