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7 Tips for Finding the Best Math Textbooks

math textbooks

Math textbooks play a different game. If you’ve ever skipped a chapter or two ahead, only to be lost at sea in a whirlpool of confusing symbols and bizarre formulas, you’re not alone.

In fact, around 50% of college students drop out of college algebra. It’s one of the most failed college courses around. The key takeaway is that memorization won’t cut it.

Understanding algebra means understanding fundamental mathematical concepts. Understanding those concepts requires more than a can-do attitude. It needs the right textbook.

And that’s on you.

Finding the Right Math Textbooks

In math, it’s easy to get lost. And in the breakneck pace of the lecture room, it’s hard to catch up when you’re behind.

That’s where your math textbook comes in to pick up the slack. Learning isn’t easy, but the best math textbooks make it manageable.

So what makes a textbook the “right” book?

Don’t think that a fancy cover and complex language is a sign of quality. You’re not buying textbooks to sit on a shelf or check off a list. Above all, the books you need are the ones that will teach you the best.

With that in mind, ask yourself the following questions:

  • Does the textbook cover the topics I need to study?
  • Does the textbook break down difficult concepts?
  • Does the textbook come with exercises to put theory into practice?
  • Does the textbook come with an answer sheet?
  • Does the textbook refer to other resources or websites that may be helpful?
  • Is the textbook easy to digest?

That last point is one of conjecture. Some take to complex math, like a duck to water. Others just sink.

But here’s the thing.

Everybody can learn math. Even the hard stuff. There is no magic bullet – it’s all about time and dedication. With that in mind, ask yourself how easy it is to follow a textbook’s guidance.

And if it isn’t, it’s time to look for another book.

1. Go Back to the Basics

Your high school math textbook might seem like yesterday’s news. It’s full of math concepts and problems you’re used to solving. And you might feel like it’s not able to help you understand high-level concepts like calculus and algebra.

It’s not as simple as that, though. Learning math is like building a pyramid, brick by brick.

You can’t start at the top.

And if you find yourself struggling, going back to the basics is a great way to get started. Find a math textbook that’s below the level you’re currently at and work through it.

You’ll refresh your memory and boost your confidence in your ability to solve problems. After all, you wrestled with the old stuff once before – and you conquered it.

2. Review Your Course Syllabus

Your course syllabus should contain two important lists:

  • A mandatory reading list
  • recommended reading list

Now, textbooks are expensive. Notoriously so. And they’re not all created equally, either. Some are fluffy, others are only in your reading lists because your professor wrote them.

We all know that professor. The one who throws down an entire library of reading, expecting their students to do nothing but eat, sleep, attend lectures, and stick their nose in a book.

It’s easy to look at a recommended reading list and think, “eh, it’ll be covered in the lecture”. But the recommended reading offers different perspectives on the same problems.

Review it and take notes on which books seem the most promising.

3. Ask Your Professors

If you’re knee-deep in the miasma of integral equations and can’t make head or tail of anything, take it a step further and approach your professors directly.

Explain what areas you’re having difficulty with. Ask your professors which books they think would help you.

And here’s a pro tip: Ask them what books changed their perspective on math.

4. Talk to Your Peers

You and your peers are all in the same boat. And you’re all asking the same questions.

There are others. Others who attend the same courses you do, who’ve racked their brains at night figuring out what books to buy. It doesn’t matter whether it’s a business math textbook, trigonometry, or advanced calculus.

Some of them will have found an esoteric gold mine that has unlocked a key problem they’ve been facing. You won’t know unless you ask around.

5. Use Price Comparison Websites

If you’re savvy with your finances, you’ll already be using price comparison websites to get the best deals on textbooks.

But these sites can be a great way of finding alternatives. You can search by ISBN, author, title, and category – and find a wealth of options at your fingertips.

Better yet, you’ll know right away how much you’re going to be out of pocket. And remember: Used textbooks are an order of magnitude cheaper than ones in mint condition.

6. Check Out Math Reading Lists

Ask any mathematician, and they’ll tell you that everything in the universe is just math.

Math isn’t all about formulas and symbols. It’s about more – and there’s a whole lot more to understanding its core concepts than knowing how to balance an equation.

In fact, some of the best math textbooks barely even deal with numbers at all. Instead, they’ll break down and discuss the fundamentals of how math works at an abstract level.

And if you’re studying math, you need to look beyond the numbers. You need to know the minds behind the theory.

7. Look Up eBooks

The online math textbook has many advantages.

Don’t get us wrong: Print books are great. You can highlight and pencil in notes to your heart’s content. Print is great for “hands-on” studying.

But eBooks have their own appeal, too. You can use a search function in an eBook. What’s more, eBooks are cheaper, as there’s no printing and shipping involved.

And that’s not to mention the fact that eBooks are more popular than ever before. There are math eBooks available online that you simply can’t get in print.

Make the Most of Your Study Time

By now, you should have a good idea of where to get started when looking for math textbooks. And if you only take one thing away, remember this:

If you’re struggling, it’s not you. It’s your textbook. And it’s time to find a better one.

Want to shrink the cost of your textbooks down to a fraction of what your peers are paying? Compare textbook prices on our website for textbook purchases and rentals.

About the Author

Christopher Manns

I was born in the UK, grew up in Canada and have lived in the USA since the 90s. I love my family, water sports, ice hockey, skiing and soccer. When I'm not helping people save money on textbooks, I'm travelling with my wonderful family and playing sports.