Ask LH: Where Can I Brush Up On My Maths Skills Online?

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.

Cheers Lifehacker

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    What about Khan Academy? The single best FREE online resource for math tutorial videos.

    Last edited 30/04/13 1:35 pm

      Came to say this. Khan Academy is amazing. It covers an incredible range of topics, from maths to science, geography, health, chemistry...the list goes on. And like boobies said, it's FREEEEE!

      That's right "5318008" i'm on to you.

    Geez, I recognise most of those formulas. Not sure what the molecular structure of Phenol has to do with maths though.

      The really impressive part is the dude is writing them backwards!

        Nah, he's writing them forwards and they flipped the picture. He's right-handed, and you can't see the reversed buttons on his shirt due to the tie [and the blur].

          I don't know..if they had simply reversed the picture, wouldn't we be looking at his back??

    The Skillswise site at the BBC might be just what you're looking for...

    If you need help grasping concepts, has basically helped me get through the worst parts of my university's maths subjects (for an engineer). He's really clear, breaks things down in multiple ways, and you can skip through the videos if he's going too slow. Perfect.

    Check out It's made by MIT and tailors the lessons to what you need to learn by assessing what you already know. They have a free trial but after that it's about $25 per month. It is totally worth it. I am using it currently and am extremely impressed with my progress.

    Wow, thanks for doing this article. When I sent the question I wasn't sure what kind of response I'd get. And thanks to all the helpful comments. I'll definitely look into all those sites. I am actually having a lot of fun relearning it all again. Also it is such a confidence booster when you get it. I have actually been using a good portion on the new mathematical prowess on more and more everyday decisions as well. I never thought how much we use it everyday and being able to break things down just a little more is so helpful.
    To add to this, I have used a couple iPad apps, but I found the library had some great teaching tools.

    Problem being solved..

    32 and just starting... WELL DONE! Stick with it and focus! And dont' look back and say "shit, all my mates are...." you're a STUDENT now. That was THE best piece of advice a tutor gave me when I started off retraining. So STUDY is your new JOB.

    Good luck!

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