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Calculus and physics: are they really that hard?

July 11, 2022

Before I even stepped foot into university, I was terrified to take calculus and physics.

This was mainly because I never took them in high school since they weren’t prerequisites for my program: Life Sciences. Instead, upon starting university I was able to take Introductory Calculus and Introductory Physics in the Fall semester. This would then lead nicely into Calc II and Physics for Biosciences in the Winter semester. 

I think I was consistently in a terrified state. Just terrified of anything that had to do with math at the university level. Terrified of not understanding what was going on or just failing entirely. If this is you, I really empathize with how you’re feeling. But just know, you don’t have to go through these classes or these feelings alone! There are so many supports on campus to help you and I took full advantage of them when I was taking these classes.

So, are these classes really that hard?

The short answer is, no.

Is it going to be challenging at times? 

Will you have to work hard for your grade? 

Can you succeed? 

The whole reason I say they’re not as hard as you think they are is because of the lessons I’ve learned through taking challenging classes like these that really helped me:

Come to class ready to learn

Calculus and physics are application-based classes and the best way to learn is by doing practice problems! In my experience with these classes, a professor will walk you through an example, give you time to try it on your own, and leave time for you to ask questions if you need clarification. Take advantage of this! If you don’t know where to start, ask! If you get lost midway through a question, ask! Your professor will be more than happy to help you through whatever you’re struggling with. 


Most times you’ll be assigned homework so make sure you do it! The only way you’re going to learn the material is by practicing! My calculus professor always advised us to attempt the homework questions as if we were writing a test. Try to do the questions without consulting your notes so you can see where your strengths and weaknesses lie. If something comes easily to you, don’t spend too much time on it. Really spend the majority of your time practicing the hard concepts! This will also help you identify where you get stuck in the more challenging problems so you can ask for help if you need it! Also if you have access to practice midterms, do them! Those are very valuable study tools for assessing the difficulty level, types of questions, length, etc. that you might see on your actual midterm.

Seek out help in environments you’re most comfortable in

If asking for help during a lecture isn’t something you’re comfortable doing (which I totally get, I’ve been embarrassed to ask for help too!), find another time or place to get clarification. This could be by attending:

I’m recommending these services because I’ve personally been to all of them and they are all helpful in their own way. It just depends on the type of help you need! Try them out and see what works best for you! 

You don’t have to understand everything on the first attempt

Read that again! It’s a nice fantasy to think that you’ll go to every lecture and understand everything completely after hearing about it once. If you can, that’s amazing! But that was not the reality for me. Practice most certainly makes perfect or close to it. I learned to not get discouraged if I couldn’t wrap my head around a concept during the first run-through. 

Start studying early 

Cramming might work in other classes but it definitely would not have worked for me in calculus and physics. Keep up with your homework, class assignments, tutorials, and study as you go. That way you can just lightly review instead of having to worry about teaching yourself everything starting at lecture 1 the night before the midterm or exam.

I hope these tips help you out! Just know if I could make it through these classes, you most certainly can too! All the best!