To a lot of people, “calculus” is one of those big words with a lot of scary connotations. There seem to be a lot of associations with “smart people” and long complicated equations, and that’s intimidating for a lot of people who have the choice to take the first class of the calculus sequence. To help people cope with going into Calculus I, and to give people more of an idea of what’s involved, here we’re going to take a look at the basic topics covered in this course and what you can expect if you’re considering taking it yourself, as well as some tips to help you through.

The main difference between algebra and calculus starting off is that calculus basically centers around learning how to do two new operations on functions. Calculus I centers around one of these operations, called a derivative. A derivative can be used for a wide range of applications that are outside the scope of our discussion here, but it suffices to know that they are very useful. Most of Calculus I involves learning how to take the derivative of various types of functions based on different patterns, and by the time you’re finished with Calculus I, there aren’t many functions of one variable that you won’t be able to take the derivative of.

As far as the level of difficulty goes, Calculus I isn’t necessarily harder than the algebra classes that lead up to it, but it’s definitely a different kind of material being covered. While algebra is based around very concrete values like exact measurements, calculus often deals with more abstract concepts and is sometimes based more on feel than pure calculation. Some people think calculus is easier than algebra, while some people also think algebra was easier than calculus, so it totally depends on the person when it comes to which is the most difficult.

To increase your chances of success in Calculus I, there are a number of special things you can do that unfortunately are often taken for granted or aren’t always emphasized properly in the classroom. The main thing you should do, and this is absolutely critical, is to study calculus on a daily basis, even if it’s only for 10 or 15 minutes to review what was covered in the previous class and remind yourself of what’s coming next. This is a particularly difficult habit for people who breezed through algebra, but because calculus is a much different type of subject matter than algebra, different types of thought processes go into it. The point of reviewing every single day is to make yourself super familiar with what’s going on in your Calculus I class so that you never get behind, and are able to spot things that you will have trouble with before it’s too late.

Calculus I is the first class in a sequence that will open up mathematics to you in ways that you probably would have never imagined, but you have to take a lot of care with what you’re getting yourself into, because calculus is a subject that’s nothing like anything you’ve ever seen before.