### I Know This is True from Experience

#### February 26, 2009

Serge Lang, a math professor at Yale, used to give his Calculus students a fairly simple algebra problem on the first day of classes, one which almost everyone could solve, but some of them solved it *as quickly as they could write* while others took a while, and Professor Lang claimed that all of the students who solved the problem as quickly as they could write would get an A in the Calculus course, and all the others wouldn’t. The *speed* with which they solved a simple algebra problem was as good a predictor of the final grade in Calculus as a whole semester of homework, tests, midterms, and a final.

From this article from Joel on software.

I did not take a math class my senior year in high school. Then in 4 years for my undergraduate I only took one semester of college algebra. When I shift to computer science and take a Calculus course last semester, I have to solve solve two problems for every regular problem. First, the algebra behind the problem, and then the actual calculus problem. If the algebra was second nature, then I could focus my brain on the Calculus. But with rusty algebra skills, Calculus is just that much harder.