Mathochism: The toughest part is yet to come

One woman’s attempt to revisit the math that plagued her in school. But can determination make up for 25 years of math neglect?
Uchitel veered into calculus again during the last class.

“There are only four problems in calculus,” he said. “And two are based on geometry.”

Of the two problems he was referring to, one included the rate of change, or slope, of a wave. He chalked in the area beneath said wave, and told us calculating that was really no different from calculating the area of a lake, or a plain, or any uneven territory without a defined shape. Triangles, circles or squares are easy — blobs aren’t.

I’m sure I’m not describing it as clearly as I should, but the idea that geometry will help me in calculus is a very comforting one. It makes overcoming my distaste for this particular phase worth it.

Less comforting? According to Uchitel, pre-calc is a real bear.

“That is a very hard class,” he said.
Then he noticed our panic.
“But if you learn that, calculus will be no problem!”

I’m hoping to take pre-calc this summer. The summer term is only six weeks long. It is intense, with four two-hour classes a week. Now that’s mathochism! I get to register for this class in just a few weeks, and I’m a little worried. Not that I will fail to secure a spot, but that I will not get a teacher who can help me tame this bear.

For example, what if the only section available is taught by the Brofessor? Or the anonymous “staff” (curses to the math department for not providing that information in the catalog!) turns out to be him on the first day?

It looks like I’ll have to take the philosophical approach to this one. The oh well approach, the wait-and-see approach, the fates will decide approach. The maybe pre-calc should be taken in the fall after all approach.

But first, I need to get through geometry.

All text copyrighted by A.K. Whitney, and cannot be used without permission.



  • I wish you all the best with geometry and pre-calc! I’m not a mathematician by any means, but I absolutely *loved* calculus in school, and I hope you’ll get the kind of teaching you need to enjoy it as much as I did. It really is awesome stuff if you have a teacher who can explain it with verve, enthusiasm, and clarity.

  • Thanks so much!

  • Linked through Shakesville. As a person who struggled with math up until Calc, I can say that IME, PreCal was hard because it was a series of seemingly unrelated concepts – we’d go through lessons, but they didn’t really build on one another, at least not the way that Calc and Geometry and trig did.

  • But did they make sense once you were in Calc? Was there a payoff?

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