If you are thinking of taking a class in probability next semester, you might be wondering if it will be a hard class. This post will show you how hard you can expect it to be and what you can do to make it easier.
Overall, probability tends to be a tricky class for most students when taking it for the first time. This is usually because it can be easy to think that you have calculated the probability of an event when it is not actually the true probability.
There are actually a number of factors that will determine how hard probability is for you and there are a number of things that you can do to make it easier.
Reasons why probability can be a hard class
In probability, you will be learning about things such as basic combinatorics which involve sets and counting problems, less complex probability problems, expect value problems and problems that use probability distributions. There are a lot of things to learn in probability and this can cause difficulty for some students.
In addition, the problems can also be confusing. Often it will seem like you have calculated the correct probability for a problem when, in fact, you have not. The best way to prevent this is to work through lots of problems until you are able to see the correct method of solving common problems.
Also, probability does involve a lot of math. Depending on the prerequisites for the class, it will also make use of a lot of calculus and multi-variate calculus. The calculus problems tend to be of a similar difficulty to what you would find in a typical calculus class. If your class does not involve calculus, it will still likely involve a fair amount of mathematics so you will still need to study more than most other classes.
Reasons why probability can be an easy class
Even though there are a number of reasons why probability can be a difficult class, there are a number of things that can make it a less difficult class.
First, probability is a class that has clear real-world use cases. Being able to see the usefulness of the class usually helps to motivate students to study for the class and to do well in it.
Also, unlike other math-based classes, introductory probability is not usually proof heavy. This is good for most undergraduate and high school students since proof heavy classes tend to be the harder classes.
It depends on the professor
How difficult probability and most other college classes will be for you will depend largely on the professor that you take the class with.
The professor will usually dictate the pace of the class, the scope of the exams, some will tell you to know everything from the text and others will give you a study guide.
Before selecting the class it would be worthwhile to look at what other students have said about the professor on ratemyprofessors.com. Make sure to schedule your classes as soon as scheduling opens since the highest-rated professors have their classes fill up quickly.
It depends on your own background
It will also depend a lot on your own background, if you have taken lots of math classes before and have done well in them, you will probably do well in probability as well.
How much you can expect to study
Regardless of whether or not you have a solid foundation in math, it will still be necessary for you to study for the class. The reason that many students struggle with probability is that many of them do not study outside of class time which is not enough to do well in the class.
However, if you do study throughout the semester you will be much more likely to do well in the class. By studying throughout the semester it will be easier for you to understand what the professor is teaching, you won’t have to cram the night before the exams and you will retain the information more effectively (source.)
Generally, you can expect to have to study between 10-15 hours per week for the class. However, this could be more or less for you depending on your background and how demanding your college or high school is.
Ways to make probability easier
Below are a number of 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.
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. I personally graduated with a 3.8 GPA in mathematics and I put most of it down to preparing for the classes before actually taking them.
It would also help to work through a probability textbook.
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.
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.