For many high school (and college) students, Calculus I becomes the bane of their existence for the year -- and for those lucky high school juniors placed in it, Calc II is around the corner as seniors! Calculus becomes the one class over which students tear their hair out, potentially shed tears, and at the end of it (save the ones aspiring to be mathematicians or engineers) they wonder how all that suffering is applicable in their everyday lives.
The problem is that Calculus I is a very different kind of math than what students have seen in classes taken up until that point, and it tends to move fairly quickly through new material. Because the concepts are new and the class packs a lot into a year, it is easy to become confused and subsequently frustrated or overwhelmed by this course. Never fear though; the tips below will help set you up for success and aid in preserving your sanity in Calculus I -- and beyond.
Calculus is a new type of math, and a new way of thinking. Take your time with it! Learning the material the first time around, even if that means taking it slowly, will be extremely beneficial to you in the long run. Every other concept in Calculus builds off the first few chapters, so it will be crucial to establish a solid foundation from which to build. Don't allow yourself to become frustrated if you are not picking up the concepts as quickly as you would like. Calculus takes time, both to learn and to do once you do learn it. Even if it seems tedious or just flat out takes a long time to understand, work at it. Being patient and diligent will be essential in mastering Calculus. Many college courses, even my own Intro to Marketing course during undergrad, required a basic understanding of calculus. It's important even if it's boring and challenging.
Utilize Class Time Effectively
As much as you may want to let your mind wander in the last class of the day on Friday afternoon, you shouldn't. It is very easy to fall behind in a course like Calculus, and a lack of focus in class will set you back before anything else has a chance to do so. Class is where new concepts are introduced and (hopefully) "problem problems" are shown for everyone. This means you need to be concentrating in class and taking detailed notes which you can actually use to review later. When the teacher does example problems, this is your time to ask questions! If you are confused while he or she is explaining a problem's process, use this time to gain a better understanding! Class time is time for you to learn, and if you are lost, odds are other students are as well. Walking out of class with a solid understanding of the day's concept puts you on the path toward mastering it.
Do the Assignments
This may seem intuitively obvious, but many students assume they can slack off, do a few problems the night before the test and ace it. This may have worked for Algebra or Pre-calc, but in Calculus it is much easier to dig yourself a hole, and much more difficult to get out of it once you do. If problems are assigned, they are important. Do the homework the night the problem sets are assigned. Staying on point will give you time before problems are due in case you have questions. On top of the assigned problems, do your own practice. Seeing as many types of problems as you can will help ensure that there are no "tricks" or surprises on the test.
Ask for Help ASAP
Do not wait to get help if you are confused, whether it be on one problem, a whole section, or an entire chapter. The longer you wait to ask for help in understanding the material, the further behind you will fall and the more difficult it will be to stay on top of the new concepts coming at you every class. Find a buddy who is awesome at explaining problems and ask him or her to help you out, schedule an appointment with your teacher to reinforce the lesson from class, utilize online "how-to" videos or hire a tutor. It is important to know your limitations and take advantage of your resources by asking for help immediately.