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The Saratoga Falcon

The Saratoga Falcon

With or without calculus, your future can still be bright

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Michelle Wan
Some migraine-inducing math concepts shouldn’t exist — or simply just calculus as a whole.

Calculus. The dreaded subject that all prior math classes build to. The eight-letter word that keeps you up all night and deprives you of all sleep. The feared course that many high schoolers know they must take but aren’t prepared to face. 

For many, learning calculus is almost like learning a foreign language — from derivatives to integrals to areas under curves, students are constantly (trying to) grasp new concepts and whether it’s even worth it. 

Walking into our AP Calculus AB classes at the start of the year, we suspected we were in for a long, miserable year. The first unit was pretty simple and we were able to survive basic derivatives and limits. It felt like a breeze, but it didn’t last long. 

About a month later, we were hit with implicit differentiation, and a few weeks after that we were learning optimization while recovering from the horrors of inverse trigonometric functions. At that point, our attitudes crumbled — calculus felt impossible. 

Then, after being subjected to the Fundamental Theorems of Calculus and Related Rates, we were left wondering, who from the nine circles of hell came up with this subject? 

Not only did the concepts get exponentially more difficult by the day, but our motivation to even finish our homework deteriorated once derivatives and related rates knocked our grades down by three letters.

This was eye-opening for us; we thought Pre-Calculus Honors was intended to prepare us for the hardships we would face in Calculus, but we were wrong. Not only are students expected to remember every single piece of trigonometry and all the rules learned throughout pre-calculus, but on top of this, they are required to quickly transition into completely foreign concepts like derivatives and integrals.

Not to mention, there’s a surplus of students who take summer math lessons to gain a head start. Those students tend to enter the class with a solid foundation for the subject. These particular students eventually score the highest on tests and quizzes and set the curve for the rest of the class — if there is one at all — unfavorably high, leaving those who are slower to learn with unsalvageable grades.

An extremely solid foundation in both Algebra II and Pre-Calculus is fundamental going into Calculus as graphing and a variety of other basic skills are crucial for success in the class. Most teachers expect students to already be 100% confident with these skills and don’t spend the time to review them. 

Prior to taking AP Calculus, math had been a strong suit for both of us — we’d be devastated if we received anything below an A on a test or a quiz. Now, C’s have become the new A’s, and it’s a miracle if we score any higher on exams. 

This class has certainly taken quite a toll on our GPAs and mental health because of its rigor and the heavy weight placed on exams. 

In our modern world, few jobs will ever require an indefinite integral or differentiable equation to be solved. While calculus may have been necessary before computers came along and it can serve as a useful aid for other subjects like physics, there are now numerous sorting algorithms that can solve an indefinite integral at a faster and more accurate rate than any human being. Take WolframAlpha — it’s more powerful in computation than any human!

The point is, putting students through the stress-inducing course that is calculus is futile. The standards for math classes are continuously rising, and the pressure every student here feels to take an AP Calculus class is unhealthy — and in the end, for what? While we do acknowledge that calculus, at a conceptual level, is important for many students to learn, it is not necessary for every student to master it at an AP level.

Look, if you’re a math person or tend to enjoy STEM-related topics, maybe AP Calc is for you — but it certainly wasn’t for us. With our current technology and the fact that it isn’t needed in many jobs, learning calculus has little utility and, for us, wasn’t worth the crushing stress of trying to master it.

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