If you are thinking of taking differential equations next semester, you might be wondering whether or not it will be a difficult class. This post will show you how hard it tends to be and what you can do to make it easier.
In general, differential equations is considered to be slightly more difficult than calculus 2 (integral calculus). If you did well in calculus 2, it is likely that you can do well in differential equations.
There are actually a number of factors that will impact the difficulty of the class for you. However, there are a number of things that you can do to make it much easier.
Reasons why differential equations can be a hard class
In differential equations, you will be using equations involving derivates and solving for functions. In calculus 1 you would take the derivative of a function and in calculus 2 you would just integrate the derivative to get the original function.
As a result, differential equations will involve a lot of integrating and algebra. If you found finding integrals to be difficult in calculus 2, it is more likely that you will have a hard time with differential equations.
However, there is a lot of material online, now, that you can use to improve your knowledge of integrals and how to do differential equations. So, even if you did have a hard time with calculus 2, it will still be possibly for you to do well with differential equations.
Also, the equations tend to involve more algebra than most calculus 2 questions. If you struggled with the algebra in calculus 2, I would recommend improving your algebra for differential equations, by just watching Youtube playlists teaching differential equations and making sure to understand how the algebra works as you go. If you can’t figure something out, then you could either go back to an algrebra book or just ask on a website like https://math.stackexchange.com/.
Another reason why differential equations can be difficult is that some professors like to ask questions involving proofs in exams. Compared to a class like real analysis, the proofs in differential equations are not as difficult but they can still be hard.
If you are taking differential equations in high school, it is unlikely that you will be asked for proofs, but it is possible in college and it depends largely on the professor.
Reasons why differential equations can be an easy class
Even though there are some aspects of differential equations that can be difficult, overall, I would say that differential equations are actually one of the easier higher level math classes.
Differential equations tend to be very algorithmic in that you will usually need to identify the type of equation then go through a series of steps for that type of equation to solve it. Once you have practiced on a variety of different types of differential equations, it should become easy for you to identify the type of equation and see the steps you need to take to solve it.
In addition, differential equations do not tend to be as proof heavy as other higher level math classes. Instead, differential equations are more computational in nature which most students tend to prefer.
Another reason why differential equations tend to not be so bad is that there is an abundance of material teaching differential equations online. If you find yourself struggling with a topic in differential equations, it is likely that you will be able to find a lot of resources online that you will be able to use.
How hard differential equations will be for you
It depends on the professor
If you are taking the class in college, the difficulty of the class will largely depend on the professor. As mentioned above, some professors like to ask proofs in the exams. Yet, other professors prefer to structure the course more for engineering students, resulting in the course being more computational.
Before choosing the class, it would be recommended to see how other students have rated the professor that will be teaching it.
It depends on your own background
The difficulty of the class will also depend largely on your own background in mathematics. If you have done well in calculus 1 and 2, you’ll likely do well in differential equations as well. It would also depend on how much experience you have in proofs if the professor is one that likes to ask proof questions.
How much you can expect to study
Generally, you should expect to spend around 15 hours per week on the class. You might need to spend more or less time on the class than that, depending on other factors influencing how difficult the class is for you such as the professor, how demanding your college or high school is and your own background.
The other classes you’ll be taking
If you expect to be taking other difficult classes, during the same semester, it will likely cause differential equations to be harder for you since your time will be much more limited. If possible, it would help to try to avoid taking too many difficult classes, during the same semester, if you can help it.
Ways to make differential equations easier
Below are some things you can do in order to make the class easier.
Plan the schedule for the semester early on
It is important to plan the entire semester out during the first week of classes. By doing so you will be able to spot potentially difficult weeks, before they come, avoid missing due dates and know when you need to start focusing on a certain class.
Make sure to do well on the homework
The weighting that gets given to the homework can often be high in differential equations. Many students don’t take the homework seriously.
However, this is a mistake since doing well on the homework will help boost your grade, make up for bad exam results and help you to do better on the exams.
You can ensure that you do well on the homework by reading the book before starting it, avoiding waiting until the day before it is due and using resources such as Google and Youtube to study parts that you get stuck on.
One other option would be to use the website chegg.com where they will give you solutions to the different textbooks. However, it is important to make sure that you actually learn the material and avoid simply copying the answers otherwise you will struggle on the exams.
Prepare for it ahead of time
Another thing you can do that will greatly improve your chances of success, in the class, would be to prepare for it ahead of time. My recommended way of doing so would be to watch a Youtube playlist teaching differential equations. Here is one playlist, here is another and here is another.
Pick a well-reviewed professor
As mentioned above, the professor will have a big impact on the difficulty of the class. It would help to try to choose your professor for the class as early as possible and to look at what other students have said about them.
Get help when you need it
It is important to get help when you really get stuck. By getting help you will be able to show the professor that you are putting an effort into the class, avoid having gaps in your knowledge on the exam and you will be able to have a higher homework grade.
However, while it is important to get help when you get stuck it is also important to try to figure out the solution yourself beforehand. This means that you should reread the relevant chapter, look at tutorials on Youtube and look at any lecture notes that you might have first.
Read the book before skipping to the problems
Many students will jump to the problems before reading the relevant chapter from the textbook because they want to save time. The problem with this is that the problems will be based on what is in the textbook and the professor will often skip over sections from it.
Instead of jumping straight to the problems, you will likely have a much easier time if you read the chapter before jumping to them.
Prioritize the material given to you by the professor
If the professor gives you any material then make sure to prioritize understanding it especially if it is a study guide. This material tends to be very likely to appear on the exam.