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How to Pass Calculus (Even if You’ve Never Studied for Math)

Updated: Jul 25, 2023

8 Tips for how to pass Calculus from an AP Calculus tutor/teacher and her successful students

Handing back the first graded Calculus test, a student’s posture slouched. His stomach dropped seeing his grade.

He never failed a math test in his life. He never had to study for math even! He couldn’t focus the rest of class, daydreaming about graduation that spring and worrying how this class might affect his future.

Who Else Wants to Pass Calculus?

You’ve excelled in math in previous years, but Calculus challenges you. You put in the time to do your assignments, but your test scores don’t match your ability.

Don’t give up hope; you can still understand and excel in Calculus! Here are some suggestions for improving your Calculus grade, from former students and me (a former teacher and current AP Calculus tutor).

How to Pass Calculus:

1. Go back and review Algebra. Many Calculus students soon realize that they make more Algebra mistakes on tests than Calculus mistakes. Avoid these mistakes. Also, review the Unit Circle from Pre-Calculus.

2. Actively participate in class. Write down all of the notes and problems solved during class even if you don’t know how to solve them right away. When I taught AP Calculus, I always started the class with a Warm Up, a challenging question related to the topic we've been covering. Sometimes these questions appeared on tests, or they were similar to test questions. So it's beneficial to go back to these difficult problems later and see if you can solve them.

3. Complete all assignments, on time and to the best of your ability. One student said, “If I could [take Calculus] over, I would complete all assignments. Homework is your key to success.” Solving extra problems is the best way to study for AP Calculus tests.

4. Ask questions—trust me, you’re not the only person who got the problem wrong! As one student reflects, “I should’ve asked more questions…on anything and everything that was even slightly confusing. Never stop asking questions even if they seem stupid because a solid understanding is worth it.”

5. Review daily: “Calculus was one of my most difficult classes because I needed to practice the concepts every day in order to understand them. Go back over notes and problems—you’ll learn something you didn’t pick up before.” Another student learned this the hard way: “What does NOT work is not practicing problems and then glancing over notes the class before a test.”

Put aside one hour in your calendar each weekday to complete the homework. Study with any extra time (the link above has great resources with extra practice problems that match the rigor of your tests!). Cycle back to older content if you’re comfortable with the current topics.

6. Can you fill in a multiple representations chart on the topic? See my video analyzing definite integrals or an example of the chart below. I try to look at all topics from a Graphical, Numerical, Analytical, and Written perspective.

how to pass Calculus
If you know how the different perspectives relate, you have a clear understanding of the topic.

7. Practice old AP® questions. Also, read my post on how to pass the AP® Calculus exam.

8. Get extra help if you need it. Find a study group, tutor, or extra resources. An AP® Calculus review book will help if you need topic by topic review. If you have specific questions or problems you want to go over, a tutor may be a better option.

Are your test questions harder than your homework questions? When I taught AP Calculus, my tests were composed of released AP exam questions. A tutor who is a current/past AP Calculus teacher can provide you with past tests and more AP exam level questions. Getting more practice with these questions aligned with your test questions will help improve test scores. Check out more tips for hiring the most effective Calculus tutor.

Have a Calculus Grade You Can Be Proud Of

Remember the student from the beginning who failed his first Calculus test? His advice is, “Never give up and stop doubting yourself. You’re smarter and stronger than you think. One grade doesn’t define you.”

The failing grade fueled him to learn how to study for a math test. From then on, he stormed into class each day asking me to check the homework before even taking a seat. He began to take pride in his work. And he started passing Calculus…by a lot. By the second semester, he earned A’s and B’s on every test.

Head high, shoulders back, and a puffed chest, he waltzed across the stage to accept his diploma. His wide grin forced his eyes to squint as he reflected the past year’s obstacles. He felt grateful for the challenge Calculus brought him. Now, he was confident to take on any college math course.

Follow these tips and you can have a similar success story!

If you need more support in Calculus, join me in Calculus Crew. The group sessions of Calculus Crew focus on challenging test questions and incorporate past AP exam equations, along with answering any questions students have.


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