How To Pass Calculus (In 5 Easy Steps)

If you’re majoring in anything related to science or finance, then you have to pass Calculus. I’ve seen people change their major because they fail Calculus 1 over and over again. Unfortunately, I know they could’ve passed if they put in the work and had a different approach.

At the end of this past semester in Calculus 1, I asked some friends from my class “What do you know now that would have made the class easier if you knew it from the start of the semester?” I took what they told me, added my own bits, and came up with 5 steps to pass Calculus and make it look easy. Here’s what we came up with:

How To Pass Calculus

  1. Fill gaps in your math knowledge
  2. DON’T get behind. Instead, get ahead
  3. Complete ALL assignments on time
  4. Use an Online Calculator
  5. Visit your University’s tutoring center

My hope is that these 5 steps contain enough helpful information for you to pass Calculus and make it look easy. In doing so, Calculus won’t steal all the precious attention away from your core classes. However, I’d love it if this helped you not only pass but to get an ‘A’.

Step 1. Fill gaps in Knowledge

This is the first and most important of the 5 steps in passing Calculus. The thing about math, in general, is that it’s sequential. This means what you learned last year was necessary to learn this year’s material and this year’s material is necessary for next year’s.

You must learn to count before you learn to add. You must learn to add before you learn to multiply. And you must learn Trigonometry before you learn Calculus. It’s fundamental.

Going into Calculus 1, I knew Algebra ‘pretty well’ and I was ‘alright’ with Trigonometry and that’s why I only managed to get a ‘C’ after a lot of hard work. In hindsight, I should have used my winter break to brush up on these skills, but I didn’t know what I didn’t know.

Using Udemy

My favorite place to learn supplementary knowledge is through online courses at Udemy. If you find a great teacher on Udemy, you can learn a topic in-depth very quickly. And when it comes to learning math including Calculus, my favorite teacher is Krista King.

Krista has courses at almost every math level and if you use them, you can get caught up and accel in Calculus. With that said, these are some of the courses that will help you get back on track.

Using Khan Academy

Roughly 50% of my class, including myself, clearly had gaps in two critical areas coming into Calculus. These two critical areas are 1. Precalculus (Specially Trigonometry), and 2. Algebra.

These two list items link to Khan Academy. Khan Academy is my #1 recommendation to help students pass Calculus (and Math of other levels and topics) for three reasons:

  1. It’s 100% free (But you can make donations)
  2. Sal Khan’s video explanations are really good
  3. Khan Academy has videos on most topics you need

You can watch all the Khan Academy videos on YouTube, but it’s a much better experience on their website: They have videos, quizzes, articles,  and a point system that brings you closer to mastery when you complete tasks.

Earning points on their site rewards and encourages you to continue. The whole site is extremely user-friendly. In my opinion, math is often presented in a dry manner such as in a textbook. That’s why it’s nice having a system like Khan Academy which presents the information in a fresh way.

Step 2. Don’t get behind, get ahead

This is what’s going to set you apart from the rest of the class. This is the “make it look EASY” part of the 5 steps. The last thing you want to do is get behind in Calculus so I won’t even talk about it. Instead, I suggest you study ahead of the syllabus.

Get Ahead On Your Studying

When you get ahead of the material, you can go into the lecture and see everyone scratching their heads while you smile, cunningly, because everything makes perfect sense to you.

On the other hand, when you’re unfamiliar with the material covered in the lecture, you won’t comprehend the lesson nearly as well.

If this week’s lecture covers “Chapter 2: Limits and Derivatives” and you read Chapter 2: Limits and Derivatives the previous weekend, then this week’s lesson is going to be a breeze.

You’ll barely have to take notes. The lecture won’t be teaching you something new, it will be solidifying and expanding on a familiar concept. You’ll also have a better opportunity to ask quality questions regarding anything you might have had trouble grasping on your own.

Get Ahead On Your Assignments

If you know your list of assignments in advance and want to take this to the next level, you could get one or two assignments ahead of the instructor.

This gives you a cushion that allows for a break if you need one. Maybe you need to spend more time on another class or maybe you want to take a vacation in the middle of the semester. Either way, you’ll have this option if you get ahead on your assignments.

If you’d like to know what to expect from Calculus 1, check out my article:

What to expect from Calculus 1 (Differential Calculus)

Step 3. Complete work on time, done correctly

The goal is to pass Calculus, right?

Well, the primary goal should be to learn Calculus. The secondary goal should be to earn an ‘A.’ Finally, the tertiary goal should be to pass Calculus. Of the most important tasks required to achieve all three of those goals, completing all of your assignments ranks in the top three.

If you’re ahead on your assignments, that’s fantastic! That way, you don’t have to worry about being late or missing homework. It’s truly a freeing feeling to be ahead.

But how do you know that they’re done correctly before you turn them in? This is where another one of my favorite online tools comes into play: Symbolab (the online calculator).

Step 4. Use an Online Calculator

This is another tool that ends up being essential once you know about it. Symbolab is an online calculator that can help you solve most if not all of the problems you’ll encounter in Calculus.

This includes:

– Derivatives
– Limits
– Integrals
– Series
– And more

When you input an equation, it gives you all sorts of relevant information in the solution, including the steps. It’s the best online calculator I’ve come across and like Khan Academy, it’s very user-friendly and best of all, free. There is a premium version that gives you more in-depth steps into the solutions, but I managed just fine without it.

There are basically two uses for this tool: 1. It can teach you the correct process of finding complex derivatives, limits, integrals, etc., and 2. It’s the best tool to check your homework before you turn it in.

Click here to check out Symbolab’s derivative calculator.

How To Pass Calculus With Symbolab

I strongly recommend using this as a learning tool and homework-checking tool, and NOT just a way for you to quickly do your homework without putting in the time to learn the material. If you do that, you’ll fall into the pits of having gaps in your knowledge which, as we discussed in step 1, will cause you a lot of trouble in the future.

Step 5. Visit your Universities tutoring center

If you’ve never been to your University’s tutoring center then you’re missing out on a valuable resource that you’re already paying for.

Whatever you are working on that you just can’t seem to grasp, take it to the tutoring center. Have someone explain it face-to-face and review several problems. Get real instant feedback from another human who has been in your shoes just recently.

Sometimes just 20-30 minutes 1-on-1 is all it takes to wrap your head around something you couldn’t quite get on your own. It’s also an excellent place to go to study for an upcoming exam.


In the end, the best way to learn Calculus is if you learn to love Calculus. PatrickJMT is going to be a great resource to help you in addition to the other resources you’ll use. He gives some practical advice for new college Calculus students and that will definitely help in addition to these 5 steps.

Calculus doesn’t have to be some big bad thing that’s going to hurt your GPA or keep you from moving forward with your degree IF you follow these steps. Whatever your major is that requires Calculus, I’m sure we need more of that in the world. So I wish you the best. You can do whatever it is you set out to do.

Tim Statler

Tim Statler is a Computer Science student at Governors State University and the creator of Comp Sci Central. He lives in Crete, IL with his wife, Stefanie, and their cats, Beyoncé and Monte. When he's not studying or writing for Comp Sci Central, he's probably just hanging out or making some delicious food.

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