Mathochism: Revolving, evolving

One woman’s attempt to revisit the math that plagued her in school. But can determination make up for 25 years of math neglect?

Under the compass of Damocles I took my last chapter test today. It was all about finding areas and volumes of stuff with integrals — pyramids, odd shapes, arcs, hollow spheres. Many of them involved revolving lines and curves around the x or y axis, forming lamp shade and vase-looking things.

And I admit it — I enjoy the revolving. It’s pretty cool. It makes me take a second look at my candlesticks, because now I can find their volume through the magic of calculus!

I studied a lot, as usual, and the test didn’t feel too hard.

But with my track record this semester, I’m pretty sure I messed up again. The brain slug, it is powerful!

Okay, enough of that.

The final is in five days. Now, the reviewing begins. I am hauling out all the tests, all the quizzes, and I am forcing myself to ignore the crap grades and focus on WHAT WENT WRONG. I can honestly say most of the errors were typos. Missing negative signs and arithmetic mistakes are all over my wall of shame.

I once again contend that, in my brain at least, the part that does calculus and the part that does other math are on different sides, and no amount of corpus callosum can unite them.

Besides that, there are only a few things this semester that I found genuinely befuddling. I list them, in no particular order:

1) Related rates problems.
2) Optimization problems.
3) Volume by cross-section problems.

Hmm. What do these have in common? Could it be that they most often manifest as word problems?

Ah, word problems. Frenemies to the end, you and I! Just as I think we’ve made up, you trip me up again. And you laugh. Are you sure you’re not Satan?

Well, wish me luck, kind readers who are still here. Will I finally be able to prove I learned something? Or do the brain slugs win?

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


  • Whether or not the brain slugs win, after following your journey on this blog, I am 100% convinced that you have learned quite a bit! Best of luck with the final!

  • I just found this blog, so apologies if you already do this stuff, but here are some suggestions for avoiding arithmetic errors on tests (I too am prone to these mistakes): write very very neatly, get enough sleep before the test, do all of the “easier” work on all the test problems first so you maximize your effort-to-point ratio (why spend lots of time simplifying a fraction if odds are good you’ll drop something and get it wrong anyway?), read each step out loud to yourself as you go, if you have time at the end redo the problem instead of just reading through your work.

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