Ask LH: How Can I Improve My Maths?

Ask LH: How Can I Improve My Maths?

Hey Lifehacker, Since I was a child I have disliked maths. I devoured books like they were going out of fashion, but I always had trouble when it came to numbers. I had a tutor during high school, and it was their opinion that I had missed something critical in the early years of high school maths which had made the later years very difficult.

Now that I am an adult, I would like to bring my maths skills up to scratch. Are there any online courses or apps that could help me? Thanks, Avoiding Algebra

Confused by maths picture from Shutterstock

Dear AA,

A different reader sent Ask LH this exact same question last year. Rather than regurgitate myself, I’ve copied-and-pasted the full response below. Hope this helps!

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.

We’re also open to reader recommendations in this area. If you’ve come across any online maths courses or apps that are suitable for adult beginners, let AA know in the comments section below.


Got your own question you want to put to Lifehacker? Send it using our [contact text=”contact form”].


  • Khan Academy is one of the best resources when it comes to learning Math. My wife is using at the moment because she never really liked Math at school, but now needs it for work.

    • Absolutely checkout Khan, you can do an intitial test to find out what you already know and do not know, choose your path through areas of interest, it has explanations and videos and achievements to keep you coming back.

      If you have kids it is great as you get an email tracking their progress and their strengths and weaknesses.
      It actually makes learning math feel rewarding, and keeps you motivated to stick with it.

  • the Kahn Academy is also a good place: you can keep going over a session until you’ve got it down. I used it to refresh on matrices, but its good for all levels of maths, and even other subjects.
    Also, depends on what type of maths you are interested in. For instance, if % are your challenge, grab a calculator and work through examples from your work, or retailer ‘% off’ sales to get the feel of it.

  • It’s a very broad question since maths is such a wide and varied field. Do you have a particular area of mathematical interest? I, for one, love the pure maths e.g. I get excited when some one discovers a new huge prime number, and I recently read books on Fermat’s Last Theorem and another book on the Riemann Hypothesis. But I know that most people find these esoteric and prefer something more practical, something that can be used in real life.

    Are you interested in geometry? Shapes and the like?
    Are you interested in the stock market/finance? They deal with probabilities and statistics, as well as stochastic calculus.
    Are you interested in engineering? Statics (like bridges and buildings) or dynamics (things that move like gears, pulleys and chains)? Engineering is pretty much the practical applications of calculus.

    Once you narrow down the particular area of maths, you can start on the early steps towards that goal. Trying to study all of maths would be impractical.

  • Is it possible to regurgitate oneself? (Eeewww!) You might like to regurgitate your words rather than yourself 🙂

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