Pre-Calculus, AKA Demon Triangles

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If I could only give you one piece of advice going into Freshman year of college it would be this: for the love of everything sacred, test out of Pre-Calculus. I didn’t do this. How much did I regret that decision? Every. Single. Day.

For those of you that’ve taken high school precal and calc and did well, you might think this is a walk in the park. I, too, thought that. It is not. Precal turned out to be the hardest, most infuriating class I’d ever taken. Here’s why:

  • TA’s and grad students teach instead of an actual professor
  • If you’re at a big university your class will be upwards of 50 people
  • You’re expected to know things like the volume of a cone, tetrahedron, and how to calculate circumference (but they probably won’t tell you you need to know this until you’re taking the first test)
  • Each teacher is different, but none of them make the exams
  • To follow that point, they’re not even allowed to see the exam
  • At most schools, if you fail this class while taking a co-requisite you won’t get the credits for the co-requisite after the class ends

I made it out of that death trap class, and here I am to help you (if you didn’t test out).

1. Color Coding

Get yourself some highlighters and sticky notes because we’re about to get serious! Designate one highlighter for any equations in the notes your teacher/textbook gives you. When doing practice problems, take home quizzes, or worksheets have one stick note (I prefer the smaller sized ones) you write questions on, such as “Why did I need to multiply instead of divide?” or “I don’t know how to get from point A to point B,” and another sticky note for problems you missed with any problems or questions that arose as you did your work. That way, when you go in for office hours, you know which problems you struggled with and which of those are top priority “I need to understand this now because my test is tomorrow” kind of questions.

2. Go to Class


3. Office Hours are Your BFF

Your teacher wants you to succeed. Go talk to them and figure out where the disconnect is. Sometimes, if they see you’re really trying, they’ll bump up your final grade a little bit.


Do them. ALL of them. It’s a lot of work but nine times out of ten your test will be reworded practice problems.

5. Assigned Homework Problems Before Take Home Quizzes

This is a little bit of a no-brainer. Finish all your assigned work before starting in on the quiz. Again, you’ll probably see a few reworded problems and this time you’ll be able to look back through your notes to double check your work.

6. Organize Your Notes


Use a new page for each class and title it with the date and lecture’s subject matter. Banners and tags help too, as well as marking where each new test section begins and ends. This way you can quickly go back through your notes to find whatever you need when studying for your final.

7. Table of Contents

I was super unmotivated at the beginning of this year so my math binder doesn’t have a table of contents. I wish I’d created one just so I could quickly pull up equations or step-by-step problems when studying for my final.

8. Flashcards

Flashcards are a godsend, let me tell ya. Making them long hIMG_0610.JPGand forces you to rewrite the most important parts of your notes and at the end of the semester you have a study guide, complete with which set of cards go to which test section and answers to every equation, formula, definition, and diagram.

xo Bailey


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