Reader Question: Calculus Without Trigonometry?

Woohoo I LOVE email! My love of email may go so far as to be distracting, but that is a completely different topic. Just make a note: If you ever have any questions about doing well in math, send ’em my way! You can get a hold of me through (and NO I won’t do your math homework for you)

Last week, a reader asked if it was possible for him to do well in his calculus course even though he had never studied any trigonometry. According to him, his algebra skills are solid and so far he has been able to manage the course work.

There is a reason why a lot of high schools and colleges combine trig with algebra in a course like precalculus. If you are willing to put in a little bit of outside effort, many topics in trig are easy to pick up and there are really only a few key skills/ideas. Don’t get me wrong, there is a whole lot of memorization and things like solving a trig equation WILL come up in a calculus course. But, for someone who is able to learn math on their own, picking it up along the way is possible.

Will it be easy? No way. I warned our friend that instead of being able to focus on the new calculus topics by themselves like everyone else, his studying time will also be filled with learning the trig. Calculus is already a challenging course by itself!

For anyone else considering this, I recommend against it unless you are the type who generally can learn math on their own, and is willing to work through a book like schaum’s outlines at the same time as working through your calculus problems. Even then, it will be a tough road and you might not get the grade you would have if you had been able to focus on the calculus alone. It is all about how much time you are willing to put in and how well you use all the resources available to you.