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Practical Tips for Your First Physics Class Part 2

Irvine Physics Tutoring: Practical Tips for Your First Physics Class Part 2

These final three tips now pertain to solving physics problems themselves. Every chapter in your physics class will include word problems. Sometimes the questions will be exclusively word problems. You need to know how to tackle the confusing ones if you’re going to succeed – book your private Irvine physics tutor today.

4. Draw pictures

Draw your vectors. Draw your free-body diagrams. Draw your circuits. When they tell you that a ball is thrown off a building at a 45-degree angle, draw the ball, draw the building, and draw the angle. Draw your triangles, label everything, and give yourself enough space to make it clear. This will help you avoid mistakes, understand what’s going on, and also help your teacher grade your work or help you.

Many students get lazy with their pictures or try to skip them as a short-cut. Don’t do this. Just draw your picture. Everyone makes mistakes — especially with physics word problems — but a carefully made picture can help you prevent them.

5. Write down your variables

An extremely common issue students have with solving physics problems is not knowing where to begin. Physics classes tend to include a very high number of word problems with multiple sentences, variables, and details. This can feel overwhelming, especially if the problem does not feel familiar, and can lead to giving up before you even get started.

To combat this, you want to pull the details and numbers from the problem and write them down in a list. If they tell you the mass of a ball is 10 kilograms, then write down mball = 10 kg. If they tell that ball is initially moving at 15 meters per second, then write down vball initial = 15 m/s. Listing your variables can help make complex problems generic.

6. When you’re stuck, just try your equations

Once you have all of your variables written down, then you write down any equations you know that might be relevant. Did they mention friction? Write down any equations you have with friction. Is something going in a circle? Write down your centripetal equations. You can also just look at what variables you have and check your equation sheet for equations that use those variables. If you’re confused don’t be afraid to just guess an equation that might be helpful. See where it takes you and if you can solve for anything important. Worst case scenario is you still get the question wrong. But at least you got some work on the page and opened yourself up to partial credit and a chance for success.
The biggest hurdle students have with physics problems is not knowing how to start and giving up. Your equations can help you. Get used to them, even if your class doesn’t make you memorize them. And if you are in an AP class you should get a copy of the AP equation sheet and start using it since it’s the one you’ll have for the test.

If you keep these tips in mind you will have a better chance of doing well in your first physics class. You already know that you should go to class, do your homework, take notes, and study. I don’t need to tell you that again. If you are still struggling with the class and your teacher can’t help you, consider hiring a private Irvine physics tutor to explain the material better and help you overcome your difficulties. Physics tutors are experienced in presenting the lessons in multiple ways to make sure their students understand. They are also familiar with physics and what you need to do to get a good grade.

Read part one here!

Michael C. is currently a private math, science, and standardized test tutor with TutorNerds in Irvine and Anaheim.

tutor logo Ask A Nerd! SAT Subject Tests All blog entries, with the exception of guest bloggers, are written by Tutor Nerds. Are you an education professional? If so, email us at for guest blogging and collaborations. We want to make this the best free education resource in SoCal, so feel free to suggest what you would like to see us write.

Practical Tips for Your First Physics Class – Part 1

Tips from a Private Irvine Physics Tutor: Practical Tips For Your First Physics Class


The internet is full of tips and tactics from bloggers, tutors, and teachers about how to excel in physics. Unfortunately, the predominant advice is the ever-prevalent generic comments that students have been hearing about every class in every subject for years: “go to class,” “do your homework,” “do extra practice problems,” “take good notes,” etc. If you’re lucky, your basic physics tips might also include some points about being good at math and trying to understand the concepts instead of just memorizing – book your private Irvine physics tutor.

You already know these things. These tips are continuously repeated and are not helping you better prepare for or succeed at physics. Here, we will cover six specific and practical tips that can help you get through your first physics class, whether it’s high school, AP, or college.

1. Be an expert at formula manipulation

Formula manipulation is typically an algebra 2 concept where you have an equation with multiple variables that you can alter to solve for specific variables or plug-in specific values. For example, the volume of a pyramid is V = 1/3 A H where A is the area of the base and H is the height of the pyramid. However, we can manipulate this equation to instead give us height instead of volume by dividing both sides by A and multiplying by 3: H = 3 V A

This skill is essential in physics where you constantly move variables from one side of an equation to another and substitute numbers and variable for other variables. In our pyramid example, we might have to substitute in an area equation to find the height: A = L W where L is length and W is width. This could give us the new height equation: H – 3 V L W

If this example did not seem very easy to you, you need to go back and practice a lot of these types of problems. Take equations with many variables and practice isolating each individual variable one at a time.

2. Be an expert at basic trigonometry

Your physics class likely won’t require you to know all of the identities and properties of trig functions that you may have learned/are learning in your precalc or trigonometry class, but you do need to be very good at your simple sine, cosine, and tangent definitions with right triangles, as well as the Pythagorean theorem. Don’t forget your SOH-CAH-TOA, make sure you can do a2+b2=c2 in your sleep, and practice finding missing angles and sides of right triangles even when they’re upside down or inside out.
Basic trig is vital for early vector problems. It is also common to break diagonal lines into their x and y “components.” Don’t fall for it if someone tells you to “just use sine” “or just take the cosine” when you’re doing these problems. Draw the triangle and figure out why you’re using that trig function. It will save you when the problems get harder later.

3. Know your units

90% or more of your physics work will revolve around only three basic units: the kilogram (kg) for mass, the meter (m) for length/distance, and the second (s) for time. You can break up almost everything you do into just these three simple components. The unit for speed is m/s. Think miles per hour translated to meters per second instead. Being an expert with your units can help your understanding of the equations and help you check your answers.

For example, a basic physics equation is the definition of force: F = M A where M is the mass of an object and A is its acceleration. The unit for mass is the kilogram, and acceleration is meters per second squared. Multiplying these we get kg*m/s2. In class, they will call the unit of force a Newton, but we now know that a Newton is just a kg*m/s2. When you hear new units like the Hertz, the Joule, or the Pascal, remember that you can break them up into these basic parts. This can help a lot with topics like conservation of energy. (Note that the units for temperature, Kelvin (K); current, ampere (A); and amount, mole (mol) are also fundamental units that are used to a much smaller extent in physics 101).

The first three tips can help you prepare for physics and understand what’s going on. You will be very confused if you don’t know your triangles and basic trigonometry. You’ll also be very behind if you can’t quickly modify equations and substitute variables. Finally, understanding the units and their basic components can set you up to actually understand some of what you’re doing when you do examples.

Michael C. is currently a private math, science, and standardized test tutor with TutorNerds in Irvine and Anaheim.

tutor logo Ask A Nerd! SAT Subject Tests All blog entries, with the exception of guest bloggers, are written by Tutor Nerds. Are you an education professional? If so, email us at for guest blogging and collaborations. We want to make this the best free education resource in SoCal, so feel free to suggest what you would like to see us write.

Irvine Tutoring: Four Things Students Should do Post Winter Break

Four Things Students Should Do After Winter Break


The holidays are over, it’s a New Year, and students are ready to go back to school. Okay, maybe you’re not prepared to go back, but you have to regardless of how you feel. With a New Year comes new aspirations, goals, and resolutions. Whether you’re doing well and want to keep it up, or you think there’s room for improvement in the second half of the school year, these tips will help you get on track – book your private Orange County tutor today.

Just like the first half of the year, winter and spring will fly by, so get ahead by taking actions now that will benefit you when finals come around. Like a car driving in the snow, back to school in January can start slow then get out of control in an instance. Do yourself a favor and get ahead before homework and tests start picking up in pace. Below are four tips from our private Irvine tutors to help you make 2019 your most successful year yet.

1. Take Stock of Where You Are at

While most of us want to leave 2018 in the past, students will benefit from a review of the previous semester. Check your grades, test scores, homework, and written assignments from the Fall semester. Do you feel like you are behind, doing well, or somewhere in between? What did you struggle with the most and at what did you most excel? By answering these questions, you can look ahead to your 2019 schedule and help plan around your assessment. For example, if you struggled with writing essays, but breezed through your book assignments, plan your study/homework time accordingly. Start the assignments you struggle with the earliest. That way you have time to seek help if you need some, which brings us to our next suggestion.

2. Book a Private Orange County Tutor

Once you’ve reviewed the first half of the school year, it’s time to get help where you need it most. Whether you book a private Orange County in-person tutor from TutorNerds or an online tutor from TutorNerd, it’s always best to sign up early. The longer you wait to start tutoring, the farther behind you fall in your classes. Keep in mind that even if you are doing well in school, you can still benefit from the help of a private OC tutor.

3. Talk to Your Teachers

If you have the opportunity, book some time to talk to your teachers during office hours or before or after class. Ask them how they think you are performing and if they have any suggestions on how you can improve. Your teachers would much rather steer you in the right direction early on than have you begging for extra credit after you bomb your test (READ: Irvine Tutoring Tips: How to Overcome a Bad Teacher).

4. Set up a Schedule with a Study Buddy or Group

A new semester means a fresh start. Avoid falling behind with a designated study routine. While you’ll always have to do some studying on your own, keep it interesting with one-on-one sessions with a study buddy or a weekly group study session. By studying in a group, you’ll be able to get help in areas other students thrive in as well as help them out with their work. Having a designated study session will help with procrastination as well as remind you of important upcoming assignment dates.

Here are TutorNerds, we are happy to help you make 2019 the year of academic success. Call us today to book your private Orange County tutor.

tutor logo Ask A Nerd! SAT Subject Tests All blog entries, with the exception of guest bloggers, are written by Tutor Nerds. Are you an education professional? If so, email us at for guest blogging and collaborations. We want to make this the best free education resource in SoCal, so feel free to suggest what you would like to see us write.

Irvine Private Tutor Tips: Earn College Credits With CLEP

CLEP: College Credits for $85

College can be expensive. You don’t have to spend long looking at tuition costs or researching student loans to recognize that education after high school tends to be a costly experience. The average expected expenses at private universities are over $50,000 per year. State schools come in at over $25,000 per year and community colleges at over $17,000 per year (via College Board).

There are 44 million Americans with student loans, and the average monthly payment for these students after graduating is around $350 (via the Cleveland Fed). Taking on these costs is not something to be taken lightly.

Another factor that isn’t often considered by prospective students is the opportunity cost of education. If you are a full-time student, you likely are not also working at a full-time career. The years you spend studying in school are years that you aren’t working and making money – do well on the CLEP with the help of private Irvine tutoring.

With this in mind, it seems obvious that students looking at colleges and degrees should be strongly emphasizing completing their education CHEAPLY and QUICKLY. So, why have most college students never heard of the CLEP exams?

CLEP stands for College Level Examination Program

The CLEP exams are standardized tests administered by the College Board (the same organization that runs the SAT and AP exams). The purpose of the exams is to test your proficiency in specific college-level subjects. The idea is that if you already know the material of a college class, you can get credit for that class without having to actually take it. The caveat is that you do need to know the material well enough to pass the exam.

So what is the main benefit of CLEP exams? They are almost always cost-efficient. A college credit averages around $600 overall. Even just looking at community colleges, credits average $135 (via The CLEP exams usually cost $85 each. Most of the exams grant an equivalency to a 3-credit course. That’s 3 credits for only $85. And, most importantly, that’s one less class that you have to take on your way to your degree. Classes take time, and if you can earn credits with CLEP exams, you can potentially knock out prerequisite courses, meet graduation requirements, and free up time and schedule space to either finish your degree early or work at your job while taking your other classes.

Passing five CLEP exams is the credit equivalent to a full-time semester of college classes at a cost of $425. There are 36 different exams to choose from, from accounting to American literature to Spanish to algebra. And remember, you only need to pass the exam – not ace it. Since the tests are standardized, there are many cases of students getting the equivalent of a ‘D’ on the test but still receiving passing marks. Colleges don’t get to see your score on the exam, only that you successfully passed it.

CLEP Opportunities

Now, how can you best take advantage of CLEP opportunities? First, check with your school to make sure they will give you credit for the exams. Thousands of colleges in the U.S. accept CLEP exams, including most community colleges. If you are going straight to a private university, however, you are probably out of luck with CLEP unless you transfer from a community college first.

Once you have confirmed which tests your school will give you credit for, it’s now time to choose which tests to take and study. Ideally, there will be exams that you already know the subject for very well. In these cases, a quick review might be sufficient to score you a passing grade. However, if you want to take advantage of the exams, you can shoot for tests that you don’t know as well. In this case, consider looking for an experienced tutor who can help you choose which tests to take and help you prepare for them. Some tests are easier than you might think (remember, even a ‘D’ can earn a passing grade on some exams), and a few weeks of focused studying can be enough to earn you college credit and let you skip a semester’s worth of lectures, homework, and quizzes.

CLEP can save you time, money, and stress. One $85 test can help keep you out of the classroom while you continue your education effectively and efficiently.

Michael C. is currently a private math, science, and standardized test tutor with TutorNerds in Irvine and Anaheim.

tutor logo Ask A Nerd! SAT Subject Tests All blog entries, with the exception of guest bloggers, are written by Tutor Nerds. Are you an education professional? If so, email us at for guest blogging and collaborations. We want to make this the best free education resource in SoCal, so feel free to suggest what you would like to see us write.

Tips From an Interviewer: How to Ace Your College Interview

How to Ace Your College Interview (from a College Interviewer)


You submitted your college applications a few weeks ago and had just received some fantastic news: you have received an interview invitation! But that raises a few questions: how do you go about preparing for your interview? What are the most important topics to discuss? What should you wear? Here are a few tips to get you started – our private Irvine college admissions consultants are only a call away.

1. It’s Better to be Overdressed than Underdressed

Since I recently graduated from college, I tend to be a little more laid-back when I am interviewing a student to make them feel a bit more comfortable. But this does not mean I expect them to show up in jeans and a t-shirt. A good rule of thumb for all interviews is that it is always better to be overdressed than underdressed. When I was going through my own college interviews, I would usually wear a dress shirt and slacks and bring a blazer in case my interviewer seemed like she meant business. During my time as an interviewer, I have interviewed students in all types of outfits, from full-on suits to board shorts and sweatshirts. And even if the students who were more casually dressed had amazing things to say, my opinion of them was definitely affected by their outfit of choice. And vice versa, even when my conversations with the suited students were not the best, I appreciated the effort they put into their appearance, and that reflected in my report (READ: College Admissions Essay Crunch Time).

2. Be Conscious of your Interviewer’s Schedule

I am aware that many of the students that are applying to these top-tier schools have a million things on their plate so I try to be flexible with interview scheduling, but often students don’t return that flexibility. I’ve emailed students with a few possible interview dates and students only to have them respond “I can only do X time on X day.” Now, there is a better way to go about asking for a different time slot, and that is not it. Many of the people who conduct interviews are busy professionals who have been kind enough to volunteer their time to meet with you, so be conscious of that. Remember to be respectful of your interviewer’s time and if you cannot do the time/date they offer, apologize and offer other options always making sure that you are not inconveniencing your interviewer.

3. Bring Only a Copy of your Resume/CV

The only thing you need to bring to an interview is your CV/resume in a nice folder and yourself. As much as I appreciate you bringing the 20-page paper you published on why soda is bad for you, am I going to read it? No. Interview reports are usually written right after the interview so I do not have time to read any additional material. If you want me to know about that paper you published, bring it up during the interview!

4. Give Specific Reasons as to Why you want to attend that particular school

I cannot stress this specific point enough. I attended a college in a big city with many other colleges, but whenever I asked students “Why X school?” They only ever answered: “Because I want to live in X city.” Well… what about all of the other schools in that city? You could use that argument for any of the other schools in that city.

Give me a specific reason as to why you want to go to X school. Maybe you want to go into architecture and you know that X school, in particular, has an amazing architecture program. I am especially impressed when students cite a specific class or professor that they are interested in taking or working with. The more specific you can get, the better because that shows that not only do you know what field you’re interested in, but also that you’ve done your research.

5. Bring Specific Questions about the School

Again, relating back to doing your research about the school, bring school-specific questions. Don’t ask me generic questions that you could ask about any school. Or, if you do, pepper them in between specific questions. I volunteered to be an interviewer because, as a recent graduate, I can give students a very clear idea of what the school is like and answer questions about the curriculum, specific classes, the learning environment, etc. This is especially helpful to students who are unable to visit the campus, so try to take advantage of that! I know it’s harder to do this with older interviewers who graduated 20+ years ago, but some things do tend to stay the same so don’t be afraid to ask them specific questions about a class or professors! I remember during my interview I asked my interviewer who had graduated in the 90s about a specific professor and, lo and behold, I had that same professor in college!

I know the idea of an interview can seem scary and daunting, especially if it’s the first ever interview you’ve had, but don’t worry! Just remember to research the school, your interviewer, and common interview questions beforehand. And, most importantly, be yourself!

Book your private San Diego college admissions consultant today! Our admissions tutors are experienced and have a 97% success rate.

tutor logo Ask A Nerd! SAT Subject Tests All blog entries, with the exception of guest bloggers, are written by Tutor Nerds. Are you an education professional? If so, email us at for guest blogging and collaborations. We want to make this the best free education resource in SoCal, so feel free to suggest what you would like to see us write.

When to Hire a Tutor? A Few Common Misconceptions

When to Hire a Private San Diego Tutor? A Few Common Misconceptions


This article will explain some of the optimal times to look into private San Diego tutoring for yourself or your student.  There are many common and conflicting misconceptions about when during a class or school year a student who needs additional help should start tutoring.  Some parents subscribe to the method of hiring a tutor right before major tests to improve studying and improve their child’s grade.  Some believe that after a certain amount of time into a class or semester that it is too late and that a tutor would have little to no benefit.  Others believe nearly the opposite – that a tutor should only be used later in the class after the student has thoroughly proven that they cannot attain success in the class on their own.

These ideas stem from greater misunderstandings of how tutoring should work (and how it does work if hiring from an experienced and reputable source).

You can see a tutor more than just before a big test

First, tutoring is not exclusively a band-aid that can be slapped on right before a test to cram information and get an ‘A’.  A good tutor will be able to correct poor study habits, identify important information, and execute an effective study plan with a student.  However, this studying needs to be continued, and if there is a significant gap between what the student has learned and what the teacher expects the student to know, then that gap will only continue to widen without more intervention.  Students do usually find some success with this style of scheduling, but most would find much more with a more consistent tutoring pattern (READ: “Tips from a San Diego Tutor: Keeping in Touch After Graduation”).

A tutor can help even towards the end of your class

Second, a large part of a tutor’s job is in diagnosing problems and prescribing solutions.  A tutor needs to decipher why the student is not reaching his or her goals and use their experience to help remedy the issue.  In many cases, these problems can be alleviated or fixed entirely in days or weeks, rather than months.  Whether it’s helping you find which fundamentals to memorize for your final, having an experienced pair of eyes look over your last paper, or an effective teacher helping you understand those boring lectures for the first time all semester, a tutor may be the solution you need to find more success even at the end of a class.  Unless all of your assignments are turned in and your tests completed, it is never too late to consider outside help.

It is never too early to be proactive in your education

Third, students are experienced in the subjects, classes, and tests that they teach.  As such, they often know what skills and prerequisite knowledge are important beforehand.  They also know what will be emphasized, what the common problems are, and how the courses or tests are usually structured.  With this knowledge, a tutor can help teach and prepare a student even before they’ve had their first class.  You do not need to wait until you or your student is failing before you hire a tutor.  Students with experienced tutors who begin their tutoring early can expect to have a much better understanding of the material, a routine schedule for developing studying and work habits, and the tools necessary to be successful in the class and any progressive classes following it.

Do not believe these common misconceptions about tutoring.  A tutor’s job is to help students achieve the most success in their education goals.  They are experienced and know how to accomplish this task.  An experienced professional can help you – it isn’t too late, it isn’t too early, and there doesn’t have to be a test the next day. Book your experienced San Diego tutor today!

Michael C. is currently a private math, science, and standardized test tutor with TutorNerds in Irvine and Anaheim.

tutor logo Ask A Nerd! SAT Subject Tests All blog entries, with the exception of guest bloggers, are written by Tutor Nerds. Are you an education professional? If so, email us at for guest blogging and collaborations. We want to make this the best free education resource in SoCal, so feel free to suggest what you would like to see us write.

How to get into an Ivy League School

How to get into an Ivy League School from an Ivy League Grad


With the college application cycle in full swing, high school seniors are seriously researching and considering all types of schools – book your private Irvine college admissions consultant today. For those students who are aiming for Ivy League or similarly ranked schools, here are a few tips to consider when making your college application plans, writing college apps, or simply selecting which schools to apply to:

• Be consistent in your activities

Schools would much rather see you invested in a single activity for all of high school than bouncing from activity to activity throughout your four years. For example, starting on your high school’s fresh/soph soccer team freshman year and then working your way up to varsity captain by senior year makes a better impression than being on the softball team freshman year then jumping to the swim team sophomore year and ultimately landing on the tennis team senior year. Why is demonstrating commitment important? Because college is challenging long-term commitment that they want to make sure that you are prepared to take on, and the best way to show that you are ready is by being invested in an activity throughout all of high school.

• Don’t do things just for the sake of doing them/putting them on your resume

While the opportunity to be the lead volunteer at the soup kitchen probably seems like an enticing prospect (leadership AND volunteering, sign me up!), don’t participate in activities solely because they seem like a great addition to your resume. If you love working with underserved communities and getting to know the members of those communities then go ahead and take that leadership position. Many college applications ask questions specifically about your activities and, if you aren’t actually invested in that activity, it will show in how you write about it. If you love dogs and want to volunteer at the animal shelter but you think volunteering at the hospital will look better on your application, guess again! If you can demonstrate your passion for animals as well as any skills you developed while volunteering there – such as patience, communication, interpersonal skills, etc. – that will be a much more valuable experience than half-hearted hospital volunteering and ultimately a better activity to write about on your common app.

• Put serious time into studying for the SAT/ACT

This probably seems obvious enough but it is a practice that is important not only for the SAT/ACT but also for college and beyond. Prepare for the SAT/ACT as if it were a marathon, not a sprint. Instead of cramming for the test the night before, take a few hours every week to do a few practice questions or take a practice test. You probably won’t see any major changes in your performance immediately, but you will see a steady increase in your scores over time leading up to the test. Another important part of studying for the SAT is going over the questions you get wrong. Students tend to get back their wrong answers, toss them aside, and move on. Instead, take the time to see why you got that question wrong because, chances are, a similar question will come up on the actual test and you will be prepared to get that answer correct this time around!

• Do something that will stand out

Now, I don’t mean go out and try to cure cancer- but if you do accomplish that, that’s awesome keep up the good work! What I am referring to is that, all of my college classmates and their dogs played the violin in high school (including me). So, while playing the violin is a great activity to have, try to participate in an activity that is more “out there.” For example, one of my classmates started a small environmental science club at her high school and, through reaching out to companies big on sustainability, she was able to grow her club into a massive international organization. Not only was she clearly passionate about sustainability, but she was also able to demonstrate that in a unique way.

All of that being said, even if you do not end up attending an Ivy, please remember that going to college is a huge accomplishment, and you should be very proud of yourself and how hard you worked to get there. Good luck on this next big step in your life!

Fernanda P. graduated from Columbia University and is attending medical school next year. She is a private tutor with Tutornerds in the south Orange County area.

Don’t wait to book your experienced Irvine college admissions consultant today.

tutor logo Ask A Nerd! SAT Subject Tests All blog entries, with the exception of guest bloggers, are written by Tutor Nerds. Are you an education professional? If so, email us at for guest blogging and collaborations. We want to make this the best free education resource in SoCal, so feel free to suggest what you would like to see us write.

The Calculus Conundrum: Tips for Success

The Calculus Conundrum: Tips for Success (Part 2)


While the lack of quality progression in calculus concepts is the driving force behind the class’ difficulty, there are other contributors. First, the subject’s reputation can lead to a lack of student confidence and motivation. Many students reach calculus, and, having heard the horror stories about the class, have already mentally checked-out and given up before the class begins. “I’m not smart enough for calculus,” and “I could never pass calc,” are common mentalities that lead students not to give their best effort or to skip the class entirely – book your private Costa Mesa calculus tutor today.

One last explanation is the prerequisites. Calculus doesn’t pick up where your trigonometry, algebra, or even precalculus class left off. Instead, it begins its own unique timeline while expecting you to remember topics from all of your previous math classes. If you didn’t do well in a previous math class, or if you crammed for your exams and didn’t retain much information, you might be in trouble. Many students describe being good at geometry but not algebra or vice versa. Or they struggled with trigonometry but are good with other operations. Unfortunately, your calculus class will likely incorporate it all.

Remember those special right triangles in geometry? What about transforming shapes, finding areas and volumes, and revolving polygons in three dimensions? They all make a comeback.

Are you glad that polynomials and all of their different graphs are finally done with? Sick of finding intercepts, asymptotes, and extrema? I have some bad news.

Did you forget all of those trig identities and unit circle angles after you had to know them for a test? Get ready for even more memorization.

Calculus tends to be a hard class for students. The ideas are new, the symbols unfamiliar, and the pacing is fast. Students come in expecting a hard class which can be a self-fulfilling prophecy. They also might not be prepared if they didn’t do well in previous classes or don’t remember the previous material. Now that we’ve covered the problems with the class and the potential difficulties, what are the solutions?

The Core Problems

The core problems with calculus classes are ones that can’t be solved by students and individual teachers. Calculus concepts need to be taught slowly and early. Rates of change, displacement, and nontrivial areas and volumes are constant sources of word problems throughout math classes. These ideas should progress into basic derivatives and integrals so that the ideas and symbols can at least be familiar. Limits and infinity concepts can be taught much sooner, likely in place of memorizing arbitrary methods to find asymptotes and end behavior in polynomials. Teachers make students memorize so many equations and problem-solving techniques just to avoid doing anything that is being saved for calculus class.

What can parents do to prepare their child for calculus? If you’ve planned ahead, you can start having your student prepare before the class begins. An experienced tutor can review what prerequisites they need to know and retain before beginning calculus. The tutor can also begin to explain the key ideas at a more gradual pace. That way, when they begin the class, they have a head start on understanding calculus and a good foundation to keep them from getting lost, falling behind, or losing motivation. If you know who your student’s calculus teacher will be, you can also get in touch with them to see what material they recommend reviewing beforehand.

Already Taking a Calculus Class?

If your student is already in calculus class and struggling, they will still benefit from a private tutor. The tutor can diagnose the problem and try to find the solution. They may need to review earlier material, they may need to be taught topics differently if the teacher isn’t getting the message across (READ: Tips From an Irvine Tutor: How to Overcome a Bad Teacher), or they may just need more practice and repetition to iron down some key fundamentals. This is especially important if the teacher isn’t responsive or helpful.

It is also important to know if your student plans to take an AP exam in calculus at the end of the year. It is important to start preparing for the AP exam immediately in order to get used to the wording and types of questions. If their teacher isn’t giving them practice AP questions every week or with every test, then they should be practicing for the test on their own or with a tutor.

Like it or not, calculus class is not going away, and it won’t be fundamentally changing overnight. If calculus class is coming in the future (or the present), it is important to know why it can be such a difficult class, and what to do to stay ahead and have success. The key is to stay proactive.

Read part one here.

Michael C. is currently a private math, science, and standardized test tutor with TutorNerds in Irvine and Anaheim.

tutor logo Ask A Nerd! SAT Subject Tests All blog entries, with the exception of guest bloggers, are written by Tutor Nerds. Are you an education professional? If so, email us at for guest blogging and collaborations. We want to make this the best free education resource in SoCal, so feel free to suggest what you would like to see us write.

Irvine Calculus Tutor Tips: Why is Calculus Such a Stumbling Block?

Tips From an Irvine Calculus Tutor: The Calculus Conundrum: Why is Calculus Such a Stumbling Block?


Many students dread taking calculus. Whether it’s the final math class of high school or a required prerequisite for their college degree, calculus is often a necessary mathematical capstone in education. Calculus also tends to carry with it a reputation for being much more difficult than previous math – book your private Irvine calculus tutor today. This stereotype is supported by many students who struggle and even fail their first calculus class. Often times, these are students who completed – or even excelled in – their previous math classes. So why is calculus such a stumbling block? What makes it so different from our other math courses?

The first, likely the most significant, reason for calculus difficulties is the class’s deviation from the previous progression in math classes. Coming into calculus, students have been following progressions in their math knowledge for years. First, we learn addition, and that 2 + 3 is equal to 5. Then we learn how addition leads to multiplication, or that 2 x 3 = 2 + 2 + 2 = 6. Finally, we learn how multiplication leads to exponents, or that 23 = 2 x 2 x 2 = 8. This process took years of math classes to master and build up from addition. A similar process happens with subtraction to division to negative exponents; in algebra with one variable to single step equations to multi-step to multi-variable; and in functions from linear to quadratic, to polynomial and their graphs. These progressions build upon themselves and have students master the previous concepts before moving on to the next, usually over the course of years. You may have learned addition in the 1st grade but didn’t see an exponential until 7th. You probably did your first “find x” in middle school, but weren’t conquering complex polynomial factoring until 10th or 11th grade.

Calculus throws this timeline of progression out the window. Now you’re starting over with new concepts and new progressions, but it’s consolidated to just one class.

When you learned linear functions in middle school they teach you how to find the slope, but do they ever mention the word derivative? When you move on to quadratics, do you also learn the graph of the slope of your parabola? As your graphs approach asymptotes, was there ever a mention of limits? When you had to memorize dozens of transformations and identities in trigonometry, were any of them the derivatives or integrals of the functions?

You’ve been working with calculus concepts for years without knowing because the teachers are saving it all for calc class. And once you get to calculus, they spring it all on you and expect you to jump through all of the hurdles in a few weeks. Remember that nice progression from addition to exponents that gave your years to master the topics and become an expert? Now you have a month if you’re lucky to get from the derivative of y = 2x to deriving y = (sin(3×2 -4))3(ex+1)-5. If your teacher lost you somewhere along the way, you’re doomed for the rest of the year. Just like you would be doomed in middle school if you never mastered addition.

The same fast-track progressions happen with integrals, with limits, and with sequences and series. You’ll see symbols you’ve never seen before, doing operations that are entirely unfamiliar, and you’re expected to progress from beginner to expert in them all. And you better not try to simply memorize some equations and problem-solving steps, or the word problems will eat you alive (READ: 5 Signs You Need a Math Tutor in College).

This last idea is a common problem even for students who get an ‘A’ grade in their calculus class. Many students have the memorization capacity and studying habits to learn how to do calculus problems. They learn how to solve their integrals and manipulate their functions by sheer repetition without always understanding what’s going on. This leads to another quintessential calculus complaint: “When would I ever use this is real life?” Students have a hard time seeing any applications when all they have to rely on memorization and don’t understand what they’re doing.

Stay tuned for part two! In the meantime, book your private Irvine calculus tutor from TutorNerds. Call us for more information.

Michael C. is currently a private math, science, and standardized test tutor with TutorNerds in Irvine and Anaheim.

tutor logo Ask A Nerd! SAT Subject Tests All blog entries, with the exception of guest bloggers, are written by Tutor Nerds. Are you an education professional? If so, email us at for guest blogging and collaborations. We want to make this the best free education resource in SoCal, so feel free to suggest what you would like to see us write.

Tips from an Irvine Tutor: How to Overcome a Bad Teacher

How to Overcome a Bad Teacher


Your teacher is one of the most important factors in determining your success in a class. They give the lectures, assign the homework, make the exams, and give the grades. Like it or not, your teacher plays a large part in what you get out of your class. Here we’ll discuss a few loosely categorized types of “bad” teachers and what you can do to get around their imperfections.

Type number one: The Anti-Teacher

We’ve all had a teacher (or several) who simply cannot teach. Whether their lectures are too boring, their examples make no sense, or they just aren’t good at making lessons, a key component of teaching is to, well, teach. So, if you aren’t getting the information you need from the lessons, how else can you get it?

Self-study: This is the most common, but most difficult solution. If your class had a textbook, chances are that reading and understanding the text will give you the knowledge you need to succeed. But be warned: you’ll need to make time to sit down, read, take notes, and check for understanding. You should know right away if this method is possible for you. When you read your book, does it make sense? Can you follow along and summarize what you read in your own words? Just staring at pages and copying vocab words does not constitute understanding.

Video Lessons: If you are taking a common class, you will likely be able to find video lectures online for your subject. Many college professors have some class lectures uploaded, and other teachers make video lessons specifically for students to watch online. However, the tricky part might not be finding a teacher you like on YouTube. You’ll also have to match their lessons to the lessons you have in class and hope that the curriculums line up well enough for you to do well.

Private Tutoring: Likely the most effective method to combat the anti-teacher is to hire a private tutor to help you understand the lessons. A private tutor will be an expert in the subject you are trying to learn, and they will also be able to tailor their lessons to suit you and your class. Your tutor can look at what your teacher is trying to teach you, and present it in a better way. At the same time, you’ll also be learning the material for your class, not a random similar class on the internet.

Type number two: The Tough Tester

So, you’ve taken notes, studied the class slides, read your textbook, and reviewed your assignment. You feel nice and prepared for test day, only to find questions on material you’ve never seen in your life. The test doesn’t have any of the homework problems that you practiced, and most of the questions were never even talked about in class. You bomb the test, but how can you prepare for the next one?

Meet with the Teacher: The first form of defense against this type of teacher is to speak with them in private. Address your concerns, and ask them what they recommend for studying for the test. Maybe they recommend practicing the textbook problems, maybe they say to take notes on the lectures instead of studying the slides, or maybe you need to familiarize yourself with their style of questions. Hopefully, the teacher can help you. If not, you need to try another method (READ: .

Look for the Question: Often teachers don’t write their questions or make their own problems. Many teachers create their exams from the teachers’ edition of a textbook, from question banks online, or from other teachers’ tests. A common cause of the Tough Tester is that they are making their tests using outside material without making sure that they teach that material. If you can find where they might be copying their questions from, you can look ahead to study those types of questions for future tests.

Seek an Expert: If the previous methods are ineffective, you should consider going to expert advice. A private tutor in your subject can look at your class material and your test. They can analyze what you got wrong, why, and assist you in finding a solution. Maybe the teacher is using different words on the test than the notes, maybe the questions you missed were more hidden in your textbook, or maybe your teacher is looking for special insight or extra knowledge that they aren’t teaching you. A tutor can diagnose the problem, and help you find a solution.

Type number three: The Overworker

If you’ve had a class where you feel like you have more assignments due than some of your other classes combined, then you may have been an unfortunate student of an Overworker. How can you get a good grade in your class when there’s a mountain of work to be done every week?

Plan Ahead: Assignments begin to pile up when you don’t start early and plan ahead. If you notice that your class has a lot of work each week, then you need to have the foresight to schedule a time to do work and the fortitude to follow through and stick to your schedule. This can be difficult for students with a tendency to procrastinate (i.e. most students), but an effective schedule and routine should alleviate the strains of all of the work. Try setting aside time each day to work on the class, even if nothing is due the next day.

Learn to Prioritize: You should be completing every task that your teacher assigns you. This includes all of your homework, projects, and extra credit opportunities if you’re lucky. But it is also important to know what is worth your time and what isn’t. If you have a project to complete by the end of the week and a test on the same day, how should you spend your time? Well, if the project is worth 5% of your grade and the test is worth 20%, then maybe the ten hours you spent perfecting your calligraphy to write nicely on your poster could have been better spent studying for the test you got a C on. If you’re overwhelmed, try asking your teacher what’s most important.

Find Accountability: If you can’t make an effective schedule or successfully manage your time and work, it might be time for you to find a professional who can hold you accountable for following through. A private tutor can help you plan ahead, tell you what to do when to do it, and what’s most important. When you have someone with you to help and make sure you follow through, a mountain of work can quickly erode into a manageable hill. If you cannot succeed on your own, there is no shame in looking for help.

These are only three types of “bad” teachers. Most students have likely encountered at least one of these stereotypes throughout their school careers, and you may even have one of these teachers now. If you have a bad teacher, it doesn’t have to mean a bad grade if you can identify the problem, and find a solution that works for you.

Michael C. is currently a private math, science, and standardized test tutor with TutorNerds in Irvine and Anaheim.

tutor logo Ask A Nerd! SAT Subject Tests All blog entries, with the exception of guest bloggers, are written by Tutor Nerds. Are you an education professional? If so, email us at for guest blogging and collaborations. We want to make this the best free education resource in SoCal, so feel free to suggest what you would like to see us write.