Help Me Learn Math!
June 14, 2014 7:31 PM   Subscribe

I will be returning to school in the fall to start prerequisite courses for a Physical Therapy program. I don't know math. The last time i took math was in high school, and it was basic geometry. I would like to teach myself primarily, so that i can test into higher classes. The goal is to be able to test into pre-calc, so that i can also qualify for the physics classes as well. Any suggestions? I don't really care about the method. I was thinking about buying a textbook, but i was unsure of which ones to get. Thanks.
posted by hiddenknives to Education (13 answers total) 17 users marked this as a favorite
I did Khan Academy and was able to test into a higher math class than the first time I took the placement exam. I found it was better than trying to go about it from a textbook.
posted by schnee at 7:43 PM on June 14, 2014 [10 favorites]

I am very math-challenged, and have had to get caught up for a nursing program. I really recommend Khan Academy -- his website has math from 3rd grade up to calculus, and watching someone do examples really helps me. Here's the link
posted by queens86 at 7:45 PM on June 14, 2014 [1 favorite]

Have you talked to an adviser or counselor at your new school about your plan? Because I'm sure they would have resources, as well as more specific info on what you would need to know.

Here is some info on the placement test used at my school: Compass Mathematics Placement
posted by SuperSquirrel at 7:46 PM on June 14, 2014

Hi, I'm a faculty member who sometimes administers my college's in-house math placement test. I frequently recommend the aforementioned Khan Academy to students who don't place in the math course they are aiming for. The ones who are serious and treat it like a self taught course definitely do better the second time around.
posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 8:56 PM on June 14, 2014

Khan academy, BUT it's really really important that you do the exercises and homework and not just watch the videos if you want to pass the test. Watching the videos are fine if you just want to understand the concepts, but you won't pass the tests without practice and memorization, etc.
posted by empath at 10:09 PM on June 14, 2014 [7 favorites]

I taught my wife enough out of algebra for dummies in two weeks that she tested out of basic math.
posted by jeffamaphone at 11:07 PM on June 14, 2014

Khan Academy. But - do the problem sets, and do them until you feel that you know them.

I was able to test into Pre Calculus due to that, and then I got a 3.5 in my Trigonometry class last Quarter. Next up - Calculus!
posted by spinifex23 at 12:33 AM on June 15, 2014

A few years ago, I also had to catch up on missing math skills, and also ended at Basic Geometry in high school. The advice above, about using Khan Academy with the problem sets, is right on. But I have another resource recommendation that helped me immensely.

Back when I did my mad math scramble, Khan Academy consisted mostly of videos, no problem sets. So for practice, I used a set of online drills called ALEKS.

It's used as a complement to brick-and-mortar math courses that instructors can use to give students more practice with specific problem types. It gets very detailed, and is very strict with answer input. It really forced me to become precise and find my mistakes (you can't go further in a certain problem type until you get 3-4 answers in a row correct).

It is not free, and occasionally glitchy, but well worth it. There is a free demo.
If you are willing to pay (I think $20/month, less for longer periods) they offer exactly the courses you might need - a selection from the website: Introduction to Geometry, Intermediate Algebra, Beginning and Intermediate Algebra Combined, College Algebra, Trigonometry, PreCalculus (and many, many more....)

Many courses also count as college credit (but I didn't need this so don't know much about how it works).

I used it in conjunction with Khan's videos and Purplemath. I'm now studying engineering, and feel like that was an excellent combo for me - over about 1.5 years, I did almost all the courses at home, through Intro to Calculus, plus some extras.

They also have a module on Physics, which you might find interesting.

Sorry, I know I sound like a salesperson but I definitely am not, just an enthusiastic former customer. Please feel free to Memail me if you have any questions. Have fun with math and good luck!
posted by Pieprz at 6:04 AM on June 15, 2014 [5 favorites]

Do you know what placement test your college uses? Some colleges use their own test, but a lot of them use a standard one like COMPASS or Accuplacer. If your college uses a standard one, there are a lot of test prep materials here.

Also, if you are looking to dedicate some time, I agree with Pieprz, ALEKS might be a good fit, especially since the diagnostic tests will be able to tell you where you need to build your skills.
posted by mjcon at 9:03 AM on June 15, 2014

I'd get a book like this and work through it cover to cover if I were in your position
posted by thelonius at 10:51 AM on June 15, 2014

Since you asked about books, I'll controbute that my kids used Calculus the Easy way and Algebra the Easy way for fun before they took those courses. They got the basic concepts. I doubt they got the full breath of the topics, though.
posted by SemiSalt at 11:44 AM on June 15, 2014

I am in the middle of what you are about to attempt. I am currently struggling along in Calc I (ugh). Khan Academy is, in my opinion, the best online source for math. I have also use ALEKS and I liked that one, too. ALEKS does a great job assessing where you are, where you want to be, and the skills you need to get from here to there. Khan Academy does a great job of talking you through the problems. I am currently doing my calc class online and the majority of the homework is in WebAssign. Not sure if you can just start a class with them. However, it doesn't do a great job of talking you through the problems. I think it shines in its ability to be assigned and assessed by an instructor. Meh.

The textbook that my university used to use for both their college algebra and trig class is Precalculus: Mathematics for Calculus by Stewart, Redlin, and Watson. I'm not sure why they stopped using it but the guy at the study center seemed rather bummed that they did because he really liked it.

The statewide library association in my state subscribes to a few services and databases that are available to anyone with an IP address within the state. The best of these is called LiveHomeworkHelp from You can subcribe to this service but check with your local library to see if they may offer this service. You can log into the site with your question and you are connected to an actual tutor at ANY TIME OF THE DAY. And I mean anytime. I have dialed in at, like, 2am Alaska time and got a great tutor. This service has saved me so much heartache. Self-learning, however, means that you are less likely to be forced to solve problems that you just don't get, so, this service will mean less to you than to me.

Good luck. It's awful but also totally do-able.
posted by Foam Pants at 8:38 PM on June 15, 2014 [2 favorites]

I was in a very similar situation as you a couple years ago, and I nth Khan Academy. Great resource, but like others have said, you have to do the problem sets or else you aren't going to benefit.

When I have been working through math courses the past couple years, I have also relied heavily on Desmos Graphing Calculator and Symbolab (especially if you're getting into pre-calc and calc) to help me visualize problems and check my work.
posted by Lutoslawski at 12:21 PM on June 16, 2014 [1 favorite]

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