First Week Review – Sem. 1


I did some travelling during the first week of Semester 1, which initially helped, but ultimately hurt the timelines for the first week.  I am not too disappointed, however, as I reached my goal for my first math course (18.02 – Multivariable Calculus).  My trip started on Wednesday the 16th, and included over 18 hours of flying, during which I was extremely productive (at times).  However, after I attended my destination event on the 17th, the self-study slowed a bit.  But it didn’t stop!  In fact, I visited two college campuses, GWU and Georgetown from the 19th and 20th, for a few reasons: (1) to check out their book stores and see what kind of physics books and courses they offered, (2) to bask in the college academic vibes, (3) to grab some coffee and study in the quad…no better place.

Weekly Review

I plan to write weekly reviews of the self-study experience.  I assume that these reviews will get better with time, and as I gain more and more insight on the process through experience, but for this first one I’ll just go over my basic scheme of operation for my math course, 18.02.


The course is broken up into 4 sections of about 7-8 lectures each followed by an section exam.  I allotted one week for each of these sections so that I can complete the course in one month, with the final exam on the fourth Saturday of the semester (10th of October 2015).  I’ve built in a buffer week at the end each semester in case I need to cram the last few lectures and assignments before taking the final exam, but I will try to make working during the buffer week be the exception.

Over this first week I was able to focus on 18.02 M-V Calculus course because I didn’t receive my books in time (before my trip started) for either of my other two courses: 8.02 Physics II (Electricity and Magnetism) and 22.02 (Introduction to Applied Nuclear Science).   This allowed/forced me to focus solely on 18.02, which may have been a really good thing for my overall motivation.  Although I only completed one course’s lectures this week, I do feel accomplished in that I able to complete 7 lectures and a section exam from an MIT Calculus course after being in an educational doldrums for about 3 years.  By successfully completing this first baby-step of my overall plan, I have gained the confidence that I will be able to push through and accomplish the whole of Step 1 (the self-study project).

To explain what exactly I accomplished for 18.02:

I went through the 18.02 “Calendar,” which gives the outline of topics and readings for each lecture for the regular MIT semester (about 12-14 weeks).  Each lecture has listed one to three topics (e.g. Vectors; Dot Product; Determinants) and a specific reading section for each topic (e.g. 12.3; 12.4; Notes Section M.1).  I went in order through each of the lectures and topics listed, and read and took notes.  I managed about 10 back and front pages of notes for lectures 1-7.  As I went through the book’s sections and took notes I made sure that I fully understood each sub-section and its corresponding concept, equation, and application before I moved on.


I noted all concepts with bold and underline and marked all equations with a box


to help standardize my note taking and make it easier to look up equations and concepts during exams.  I ensured that I could complete one or two problems from each section or page using the concepts and formulae provided.  I marked all of these with ex. and circled all of my


.  I hope to apply this or something very similar in my other classes because when it came time for the Practice Exam 1 – I  was able to quickly find the necessary equations I needed for each problem.

Practice Exam 1

I was able to work out about 4 of the 6 practice exam questions without reference to the solutions manual, and the last two I was able to work out after seeing the answer (but not the intermediate steps).  For all of the questions I used my notes.  I plan to take all of my exams as open notes tests because I consider to have succeeded in the learning process if the following are true:

  1. I know what the question is asking.
  2. I know the concept(s) that I will be applying to solve the problem.
  3. I am able to convert the problem’s variables into usable variables that I can plug into equations to arrive at the answer, even if I have to look up the equations.

Example was the first question:

“1a: A unit cube lies in the first octant, with a vertex at the origin.  Express the vector OQ, OR, and find the cosine of the angle between them. Q is at the furthest point from the origin, R is the center of the face parallel with the x=0 plane and furthest from the origin”

I left out the diagram and simplified the explanation, but basically I knew that the first two parts were really just about the written form of vectors OQ = <1,1,1> and OR = <1/2,1,1/2>, I answered those without notes.  Now if I came back to this, in say, two months I might have to look it up again, but in my notes there is a section that says Vector Notation and gives several examples.  Easy.  For the cosine between the angles I remembered that it’s a fairly simple trig identity function, that I could work out if I had time, but instead I went straight to it in my notes.  Under Application of Dot Product I found:

a dot b = |a||b|cos(@)

and I there I got my answer, replacing a and b with OQ and OR. And in case I forget how to do |a| in a few months, I just go up the page a bit to Vectors Magnitudes and remind myself.


At the beginning of this post I thought I’d be writing more about my disappointment with my inability to complete all of my courses, but as I think about what I’ve accomplished, I’m satisfied.  I know that the studies will only get more difficult and the concepts more complex, but by hitting that very first timeline I have proven to myself that I can do this!

Studying Calculus II on the Airplane

Studying Calculus II on the Airplane

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