Calculus Calculator Advice

So you have most likely just started taking calculus and the fist thing you math teacher told you was that you needed to purchase a TI-83 (or similar) calculator.  I know it stinks because they cost almost $90 online.  But seriously you should be excited because now you have a way to check your work and actually in some cases you can work backwards towards the answer.

Calculus TutorLet me explain.  In most math classes and calculus especially, teachers want you to show your work.  In most classes including college level math classes, points are often awarded for showing your work even if you didn’t get the final answer correct.  So here is what is great about having a TI-83, you can in most cases find the answer on your calculator and then either check your work, or work backwards from the answer to show your work as if you did the entire problem on paper.  I know this is hard to explain, but I can remember several calculus problems where I was able to get the final answer of the problem very quickly and then could work backwards to make it look as if I knew what I was doing.  That really is all it is, math teachers want you to show that you know what you are doing and will give all if not partial credit to those that show they know what they are doing.

So my advice to everyone in calculus is to get very good at using your calculator, read the manual that comes with the calculator and visit as many sites on the internet that you can that tell you how to properly use your graphing calculator.  There are many tricks out there that your teacher will not tell you (because it basically defeats the purpose of learning the material since the calculator does all the work).

TI-89My next tip is buy a better calculator than the one they recommend (if you can spend the extra cash).  I was taking a college level calculus class and my professor recommended that we get the TI-82.  I did my research and found out that the TI-92 when above and beyond, and actually solved the problems completely for you; such as integrals.

So I know what you are thinking, this is kind of like cheating.  Yes and no, my professor only gave credit if you could show your work.  So with my much more advanced calculator, I was able to solve the integrals and then either check my work or work backwards to show my work.  So I still had to know what I was doing and how to solve the problems, but having the calculator do the work for me just gave me a sense of confidence that I was solving the math problems correctly.

calculus tutorSo definitely get a TI graphing calculator ASAP and get very familiar with it.  If you can get a more advanced calculator than the one required, do it.  Just be sure to play by the rules and always show your work.  The calculator should never get you out of understanding the material in your calculus class.  You can always use it to check your work or determine if you are doing a math problem correctly.  A math tutor or other student that has taken the class before probably has some calculator tips that they can share with you.  Good luck with calculus.  Its not as bad as you might think it would be, especially with a good calculator.

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