UPrep Pre-Calc Doesn’t Prep


Pre-Calc at UPrep left me completely unprepared for calculus. I took AP calculus during my semester away in the Netherlands, and I nearly failed my first quiz on limits with a 68%. Even students who take calculus at UPrep are challenged because the curriculum and teaching in UPrep’s Pre-Calc class doesn’t actually prepare them for Calculus. 

Khan Academy’s Pre-Calc class contains nine units: inverse functions, trigonometry, complex numbers, rational functions, conic sections, matrices, probability, series, and limits. UPrep only addresses two of those units: inverse functions and trigonometry. Looking at the Schoology page for my class, the first unit was on the unit circle and all four of the remaining units were on some facet of trigonometry. It’s not difficult to see why I struggled with Calculus since my Pre-Calculus education only consisted of trig.

Furthermore, the format of the Pre-Calc class doesn’t prepare students for Calculus. While we took daily quizzes to mimic the Calculus track, we completed less than five the entire semester. Some of our quizzes were group tests, which don’t happen in Calculus, or involved demonstrating and explaining a problem to the teacher, which also doesn’t happen in Calculus. Since Pre-Calc is a semester class and not a year long course, like at other schools, some topics have to be cut. According to Dr. Ragini Narasimhan, a Calculus teacher, a lack of algebra practice “has its repercussions.” She thinks that more practice with algebra is more important than touching on more units.

“If I have the choice of having another semester of anything, I would put in a semester full of algebra and algebraic manipulation,” Narasimhan said, “that’s what I think is the gap.”

The way we learned in Pre-Calc was through full note packets, which we would work through. In Calculus, all notes are taken by hand in notebooks, and all homeworks are separate packets. One of the most important and most practiced skills in Calculus is prioritizing notes and information on notecards, which we did the opposite of in Pre-Calc with packets full of information. Practicing with the note packets is important, but we didn’t get enough fundamental understanding in the class.

“To a degree you really need to know the foundational knowledge,” Narasimhan said. “It can’t be just memorized.”

I’m glad I have developed trigonometry skills in Pre-Calc, but I would prefer to have standard level skills and have an introduction to limits or a review on the other units we haven’t covered since middle school. I had a very frustrating experience in the Netherlands, knowing that I was struggling in Calculus not because of personal failure or lack of studying, but my lack of prior knowledge and practice due to UPrep’s limited Pre-Calc program. Moving into Calc II and college, I worry my lack of foundational understanding will limit my ability to excel in math.