Multivariable Calculus, Fall 2014
Letters to students of Calculus

Dear Multivariable Calculus students,

The first thing I want to tell you is that this is one of the hardest courses I have taken to date. It has also been one of the most interesting and thought provoking.

I would like to tell you some of the things I wish I had known in the beginning of this class. The first thing I wish I had known is that this class requires a lot of time. In every math class I have taken, the professor said that you need a lot of time, but I managed to do well with minimum work. That is not the case in this class. When the professor tells you that you need 12-14 hours of study time outside the classroom a week, he is serious. Do not make the mistake of thinking that you will study for the exam for a couple of days before, because you will fall behind and be unable to finish all of the studying.

This class is not for people who wish to take a free ride. If you take this class, you will have to work. That is not to say it is impossible to do well, just that you really need to want it. If you do not think that you will be able to put the amount of time needed into this class, it may be better to drop it, and take it when you have more time.

One thing that I found very important in this class was the online homework. This homework counts as a small part of your grade, and is completely possible to finish. There were several people in my class who said that the WebWork did not matter, because it counted for so little, and thus put very little effort into completing it. This was, in my opinion, a foolish choice for two reasons. The Webwork is relatively easy points towards your final grade, and a shame to lose. It is also an excellent way to improve your understanding of the class. These were my main method of making sure I understood the material taught in class, and I repeated these for each of the exams.

One thing I regret not having done during this class was writing homework problems on the board. These are another way to earn some points, a chance to discuss your method of doing the problem, and to mention any difficulties encountered while doing the problem. I never took this opportunity, and I regret that now.

Please do not be discouraged by reading this letter. The class is truly wonderful, and this was the first time I saw concrete applications to real life. As I said, while difficult, it is possible to do well in this class.

I wish you the best of luck, and hope you enjoy this learning experience.

Dear Math 201 Student,

You are about to take on a challenging, but very rewarding, math course - prepare yourself! Of all the math classes I've taken, this course has definitely been the most challenging and requires the most amount of work. In the past, I was one of those students who only studied the night before the exam and expected to do well on my math exams. This is not one of those kind of classes. You will want to leave enough time throughout the week to study, practice, and constantly review the material so you don't fall behind. Because of the large number of topics covered over a relatively short period of time, it is important to keep up with the material. You really do not want to fall behind as many of the topics are cumulative and require previous knowledge from earlier chapters.

With that being said, it's hard to tackle this course on your own. Find a friend (or a few!) to study with and don't be afraid to ask questions in class (or during office hours/additional reviews!); encourage other friends to ask you questions and know how to teach the topic — he is always a good source for help, as well as the Math Lab — take advantage of that!

Lastly, do the Webwork assignments - they really reinforce your understanding of the concepts! I like to review them right before a test and do them cold, and going back to figure out the ones I couldn't get with previous notes.

Study hard and do your best — you'll go far in this course

All the best!

Hello Math 201 student,

The class you're about to start could turn out to be one of the most useful classes you ever took in college, specially if you are majoring in one of the physical sciences. The most important tool that this class can give you is thinking and visualizing things in 3D, which is very important for any kind of science and for many other fields of mathematics. Among the other things that you're going to learn is partial differentiation and multivariable integration, and these are two fundamental tools that are used all the time in all scientific disciplines. You are going to see a lot of partial derivatives in future classes, and this class can help you understand them. I personally think that studying all these topics in Math 201 will make a big difference in my future scientific career; already this semester I wouldn't have been able to understand so much of my chemistry classes if it wasn't for this class.

Now, some tips on how to study. I think the most important thing is consistency; meaning that the best way to learn these topics is to study everyday. Even if one day you don't have time, 5 or 10 minutes are enough to keep your brain trained. One problem sometimes is enough. It's definitely better to study a little every day, than many hours once or twice a week. As for the homework, if you don't have time to do them all, because they might be too much, don't give up and think "this is too much, I'll do something else that I can actually finish instead" (because that's what I thought sometimes); just choose a few of the problems that have higher priority and try to do them as well as you can. Sometimes that's enough to be able to follow in class. In general, though, put all the work and effort that you can, because it will really change the quality of your future understanding.

Have a good semester!

Dear students:

To be honest, it isn’t an easy course, but a very useful course and you’ll enjoy it sometimes, at least I did. I’d suggest you to allocate a good amount of time and effort for this course. Tests are straightforward and fair. The thing I like most about this course is understanding the concepts of these mathematical terms and formulas. Math is difficult because when I don’t understand why the formula works and only memorize the formula, I can not apply the same concept in different problems. Understanding is the key, try not to memorize the formula, but understand them and able to explain, that’s exactly what the professor cares. After understanding, we can manipulate with these formulas and concepts. At the beginning of the class, you may find very frustrating to explain the concepts, but believe me, before the midterm, you’ll feel more comfortable with these concepts.

You won’t feel bored in this class, he is very humorous. And he provides extra credit opportunities, so if you work hard, you’ll be fine. Q & A session at the beginning of every class which I found very helpful, so take advantage of that. The professor cares about the students and always checks if students follow the pace of the class, don’t hesitate to raise your hand anytime during the class. For me, multivariable calculus is crazy as it sounds like, very abstract in 3D. I would rather consider it as a method to expand our way of thinking. I like to plot the multivariable equations on the website to get the 3-D picture, and sometimes you’ll amazed by the graphs. Practice is crucial in Math, so do the homework and Webwork. Don’t accumulate HW, it can be really crazy. If you don’t have so much time, do the problems that you feel confused. Professor is very helpful and approachable, so talk to him whenever you have problems. Good luck!

A former student