Dear Lifehacker, I’m 32 and have just been accepted as a marine engineer trainee. Horribly, I have just realised I have forgotten how to do most of the basic maths I learned in school. Algebra is killing me right now and even fractions are a challenge. I rely on technology for all these calculations and can no longer remember how to do this on paper. Any good sites, apps or other ideas to help me out? Thanks, Pi Hard
Equation picture from Shutterstock
Dear Pi Hard,
We’re definitely open to reader recommendations in this area. Here are a few options to start with, some of which we’ve highlighted in the past.
The geek-friendly search engine Wolfram Alpha includes a step-by-step mathematics calculator. Simply enter in the equation you want solved, then click the ‘show steps’ link to see how you could solve the problem yourself next time without the help of technology.
If you’re looking for a gentle introduction, Greg Farquhar’s Secondary School Mathematics A is definitely worth a look. This is an interactive maths text book for Windows 8 devices that recently placed second in Round Three of our Lifehacker/Microsoft’s Developer Challenge. Based loosely on a general secondary school mathematics curriculum, it covers the topics of exponentiation and logarithms. In addition to in-depth tutorials and explanations, it provides dynamically generated exercises that change each time you fire up the app. You can get it for $2.49 from the Windows Store.
Steven Strogatz, a professor of applied mathematics at Cornell University, has published a multi-part blog on the New York Times website which attempts to explain mathematics to a wider audience. It’s a great starting point if you want to brush up on the mechanics of mathematics in an easy-to-read style.
If you’re an Apple user, Mac: Soulver is a calculator app that lets you write out your maths problem. It uses words and lists to give you a real, useful answer without confusing equations. It carries a bit of a steep price tag though, costing $20.99. You can also pick up an iPhone or iPad version for $2.99 and $5.49, respectively.
Similar to Soulver, OpalCalc for Windows turns calculators from cryptic number machines into actual, easy to use “logs” that automatically tally up any sums, products or other calculations you make as you go. You can assign variables for later use, calculate percentages and lots more. OpalCalc is free for limited use — five lines per calculation — or you can donate any amount of money for the full version. Click here to download the app.
For more general advice, also check out our Top 10 tips, tricks and tools to train, exercise and better your brain.
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