How to Pass Trigonometry

Instructor: Jessica Keys
You're ready to advance to the next level in mathematics: Trigonometry! It's a fundamental component in higher level mathematics (and some scientific subjects, like physics), but it can seem a little daunting at first. This article provides tips that will help you do your best in trig without getting overwhelmed.

Review What You Have Learned in Previous Classes

Before beginning your trig class, make sure you start off on solid footing. Math courses tend to build upon each other, and trigonometry is no different; it will assume that you have a strong background in algebra and geometry. You have probably already touched upon trig briefly at the end of your algebra (or precalculus) courses, but before starting a trig course, it might be a good idea to make sure you at least understand:

  • The Pythagorean Theorem
  • How to calculate the slope and midpoint of a line segment, as well as the distance between its endpoints
  • The equations for parabolas, hyperbolas, circles and ellipses
  • How to calculate the circumference and area of a circle
  • How to calculate the area of a right triangle

If it has been some time since you have practiced math, it helps to review before class begins. That way, you won't waste valuable class time trying to remember the basics! Feeling a bit rusty? is here to help you review the essentials with these Geometry Flashcards. Print them out or use them in digital format.

Be a Star Student

Strive to attend every class. After all, your teacher can cover a lot of important material in just one class! While you're in class, listen to your instructor and take good notes. Listen for key terms and try your best to reproduce anything the instructor writes on the board (this can be difficult!).

Be an active participant in your trig class. If something in the lecture seems murky or if you think you missed something entirely, don't be afraid to ask for clarification. You may be helping out your classmates as well.

Trig Doesn't End at the Classroom Door

Doing your homework and studying outside of class regularly is vital for a subject like trigonometry, especially since so much of it relies on formula memorization and your ability to apply those formulas to specific problems. When you do your homework, don't immediately flip to the answer key so you can simply look up all the problems and get easy answers. Instead, try your best to solve them on your own first. If you are struggling a little bit, the answer key may help you figure out where you are going wrong, so you can complete the rest of your homework without needing the book. But if you are struggling a lot, simply cheating through the answers will not help you learn the material at all.

Ask for Help

Whenever you come across a homework problem that you can't seem to work out, make note of it and bring it up with your instructor or a friend. After all, homework is there to help you learn the material, so don't be embarrassed if you need additional assistance. The earlier you encounter these issues, the earlier you can work through them.

With a study group, you can meet with other students, share trigonometry strategies and compare notes; your friends may have different ways to study that could help you too, and vice versa.

Alternately, you may wish to schedule one-on-one time with a tutor. Many schools and universities offer a free tutoring program or lab for math students; check with your instructor or math department for details.

If you are looking for a convenient and accessible way to reinforce the basics on your own time,'s Fundamental Trigonometry course may be just what you need. The course covers the gamut of relevant topics, from linear equations to trigonometric functions, vectors and parametric equations, and you can also get help from subject-matter experts whenever you need it.

Making Time

Don't wait until the very last minute before doing your homework, studying or getting extra help if you need it. If you don't understand one concept, you may have difficulty understanding the concepts that follow as well.

Save yourself the stress of cramming two months' worth of material into an hour before an exam! Instead, study a little bit every day and complete your assignments well before they are due. Keep on top of your assignments and they won't topple you.

Keep Your Memory Sharp!

Unfortunately, trigonometry features a lot of formulas and identities that you simply have to remember. While there may be a few tricks to help you remember the formulas themselves, there is little else to it--it's just legwork. Practicing with these and doing your homework will help you remember them, and doing extra problems will be an even bigger boon.

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