MATH 134

This is my course review for math 134 at the University of Washington. I took the course in autumn 2014 with Ebru Bekyel.

UW has several tiers of mathematics classes for first-year students, and math 134 is (I think) considered to be the most advanced1. However, the textbook that was used was Calculus by Salas, Etgen, Hille, which is markedly less rigorous than books like Calculus by Michael Spivak (used at for example University of Chicago) and Calculus by Tom Apostol2 (used at for example Caltech). One of my biggest complaints about the course is that it was too computational—even though we were proving things, the specificity of the propositions made them rather uninteresting.

The course is considered to be “for mathematics students”, i.e. those who want to major in mathematics. However, my impression was that the class was about half computer science (including myself), and half math/applied math.

Workload

I put far more effort into this course than for my other courses for the quarter (CSE 142, 190, 390, English 131, Honors 100). When the course website says “You have to work hard to keep up”, they do mean it.

Homework

The homework was split in two parts: the first consisted of more “computational” problems, which were partly in preparation for the quiz (on Thursdays), and partly just to make sure that one understood the basic ideas. The first part was not turned in. Part two consisted of more “theoretical” problems, where one was asked to prove some results. However, some of these problems were also just computations and word problems. These problems were due (usually on Monday) to be graded (the instructor chose a few of the problems to grade).

Quizzes

Quizzes happen weekly on Thursdays. They are mostly just a problem the instructor chose from the first part of the homework (i.e. the part that was not due), with possibly some numbers changed around. They weren’t hard to do well on, but the time limit is usually 10 minutes for quizzes, which puts a lot of pressure on one to think quickly. I ended up doing poorly on two quizzes throughout the quarter.

Midterms and the final

Collectively 80% of your final grade. The median is about 50% or 60% on these. Catalyst usually has the minimum and maximum, as well as the standard deviation…

Content

Camaraderie

The camaraderie within the course was much better than that in my other courses for the quarter3. In particular, by the end, only 23 were in the course, which is in contrast to classes like CSE 142 where one sits in a large lecture hall with hundreds of students. My class even had a Facebook group in which to discuss problems (collaboration was encouraged, unlike in CSE 142, where it is essentially prohibited4), and study sessions were semi-regularly planned.

However, my impression is that one probably becomes a lot closer to one’s peers in more elite institutions.

Getting into the course

I should also mention that I faced significant difficulty in enrolling in the course. UW allows students with a 5 on the AP Calculus exam (the highest score) to enter math 126, but students with a 7 on the IB higher level math exam (the highest score) to enter only math 125. Officially, the math department only says one needs an aptitude for mathematics to enter math 134, but I learned the hard way that they actually just want one to have the credentials to enter math 126. Since my high school was an IB school, and I didn’t take the AP Calculus exam, I only had the 7 from the IB math HL exam, which was insufficient to enter math 126. As a result (not knowing they just wanted me to have credentials to enter 126), I was initially told to bring in my IB test scores for inspection, which I did. At this point, I was told that this was not enough, so was told that I had to sit in on lectures for the first week; but I also had to attend lecture for math 125 (as a backup, in case the math department ultimately decided not to let me into 134). After the first week, I was told that even this was not enough, and that I had to turn in the first homework assignment and have it examined by the instructor. (This was particularly stressful since the deadline for enrolling in courses was imminent—i.e. I would have had to pay a fee if the process took too long.) After turning in the first problem set, I went to the instructor’s office hours and was placed in the course on the spot (two days before the deadline!).

I later learned that some others in the course also didn’t have the 5 on the AP Calculus exam either. One had done online courses, which the math department apparently thought was good enough; another had done a summer math program, which again the math department had thought was good enough. (I had said that I self-studied some set theory and real analysis, which, without external credentials, was evidently insufficient.)

I do understand that making sure each student is qualified is important—for the median scores on the exams are about 50%—but the process for enrollment seemed particularly bureaucratic.

My advice for future students is to take the AP Calculus exam, as it offers more freedom: one can just take math 126 and clear the mathematics requirements for some majors (like computer science), or one can take math 134 without having to fight one’s way in.

See also


  1. There is the regular calculus sequence: math 124, 125, and 126; depending on AP/IB credits, students can skip into any of the three. There also seems to be an honors version of the 12X sequence. Then there is the “honors advanced” sequence, which is 134, 135, and 136.

  2. Apostol apparently attended UW for undergrad!

  3. Though the honors CSE course, 390, as well as honors 100, offered small-group discussions where one was able to hear others’ thinking.

  4. The CSE 142 syllabus states “You may not work as a partner with another student on an assignment.”