Best 5 Precalculus Textbooks

The 5 Best Precalculus Textbooks

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Precalculus is a high-school-level mathematics course that combines elements of both algebra and trigonometry, and its main goal is to prepare students for more difficult coursework in calculus. Depending on their curriculum and plans past high school, not every student will encounter this course. However, many still must take precalculus as either a requirement for graduation or as a gateway into more advanced math courses. Additionally, taking this higher level of math can help solidify concepts that students may encounter on the SAT. This course is beneficial to students pursuing degrees in STEM—such as medicine, engineering, math, and science—meaning that many students will need to take it at some point in either high school or college.

In order to succeed in precalculus and truly be prepared to tackle more difficult levels of math, it is vital that students have the right textbook to help them along this path. Whether you want to know more about the textbook your teacher has required, or you want to select one after your own research, the list below will cover five of the strongest and most comprehensive precalculus textbooks currently on the market. Read through the reviews and pros/cons of each to get an idea of what textbook is best for you.

The 5 Best Precalculus Textbooks

1. Precalculus: Mathematics for Calculus, by James Stewart, et al

The newest edition of Precalculus: Mathematics for Calculus is a carefully constructed introduction to calculus that takes students through detailed lessons and practice sets, reinforcing concepts through examples and extensive drills with a focus on problem-solving. Both chapter and cumulative review tests are included to refresh previously covered content and prepare the student to move on to more difficult coursework. Along with the book itself, additional resources to advance a student’s learning can be found on the book companion website, including more tutorials and problem sets.

Pros

  • Almost 900 pages of lessons, examples, and practice content for the student to tackle
  • Specific sections focused on graphing, both with and without a calculator
  • Both physical and digital copies of the book are available based on the student’s preference
  • Begins with a large review section to help students transition between courses
  • Practice problems and exams are a large part of the textbook to help test the student’s knowledge

Cons

  • Feedback for the practice problems/exams is not too detailed
  • Digital version of the textbook has design flaws for problem sets
  • Examples could be more detailed to be welcoming to beginners to precalculus

2. Precalculus, 6th edition by Robert Blitzer

Precalculus by Robert Blitzer is a unique and fresh take on the concepts of precalculus that focuses on using practical and relatable examples that will stick with students as they go through the content and practice problems of the textbook. To take advantage of the digital age of learning, this textbook works hand-in-hand with MyLab Math (an online program) to provide students with example videos, online assignments, and tutorials on difficult concepts to solidify what was learned from reading.

Pros

  • Focuses on the real application of mathematical concepts through explanations and examples
  • Has a clear and organized presentation of material through logical section divisions and relevant illustrations
  • Emphasizes review and repetition to help students fully grasp concepts
  • Supports students with online resources through MyLab Math, including videos, tutorials, and assessments
  • Allows students to structure and personalize their study plans through online features

Cons

  • Issues with MyLab Math registration and the digital version of the textbook may arise
  • Glitches with online assessments and problem sets can occur
  • Examples are not relatable to everyone at times, making it difficult for some students to learn the material

3. Pre-Calculus for Dummies, 3rd Edition by Mary Jane Sterling

Pre-Calculus for Dummies is an approachable precalculus textbook, both for new students and those who need a thorough refresher on the basics. It is designed to be an alternative or supplement to more formal and lengthier textbooks, allowing it to appeal to a wider audience. This textbook is easy to navigate in both its digital and physical formats, with sections that are clearly divided by topic that each include detailed explanations and examples. The language used is straightforward and concise, setting this textbook apart from the denser options on the same subject.

Pros

  • Explanations of the material are very detailed, giving the reader a clear understanding of the concepts of precalculus
  • Division of the book is logical and makes specific topics easy to locate
  • Perfect for reviewing material that students are already somewhat familiar with due to the concise size of the book
  • Multiple formats of the book are available, varying from a physical copy to an E-textbook
  • Includes sections on graphing along with the traditional precalculus subject material

Cons

  • Lack of practice problems and assessments to help review material in the core textbook, although there is a workbook that can be purchased separately
  • Example solutions mainly say the correct answer without explaining why it is correct
  • Digital version of the book has minor errors in formulas and grammar

4. Precalculus, Student Edition (ADVANCED MATH CONCEPTS) by McGraw Hill

Precalculus by McGraw Hill is a modern textbook on the subject that was put together by dozens of experts in the field. The textbook begins with a comprehensive review of the concepts needed to tackle the textbook, and each chapter is dense with content, examples, and problem sets for the student to work on after finishing the material for the lesson. Throughout the book, connections are drawn between concepts from precalculus and more advanced material in calculus, further preparing students for future mathematics courses.

Pros

  • Great resource for students completely new to the concepts of precalculus due to the thoroughly explained material
  • Each chapter contains study guides, practice tests, and segments explaining connections to areas of calculus
  • Graphing sections frequently appear in each chapter with examples and practice sets for students to attempt
  • Content is clearly divided between chapters, with each chapter having multiple related lessons
  • Includes a student handbook at the end of the textbook with additional resources, including concepts, formulas, and symbols

Cons

  • Only available format is a large hardcover book that is over 1,000 pages
  • Examples and practice problems are prioritized over explanations of the content
  • Can be visually overwhelming due to the sheer amount of content on each page

5. Precalculus, 1st edition by Julie Miller and Donna Gerken

Precalculus by Julie Miller and Donna Gerken attempts to smoothen the transition between levels of math by providing a textbook that both reviews concepts from algebra and statistics and introduces material from precalculus. The emphasis on review means that this textbook includes a variety of practice problems and tests to help students check their knowledge of both old and new material. Additionally, the textbook comes with a digital package that includes extra content for the student’s learning, including lecture notes, activities, and personal explanations from the author.

Pros

  • Includes examples throughout each chapter that illustrate the concepts and are easy for the student to follow
  • Practice problems are included at the end of each chapter with the solutions explained to the student
  • Available in both physical and digital formats with additional practice content online
  • Focuses on preparing students to make the transition from precalculus into calculus
  • Organized in a clear and logical manner that makes going between topics a quick and easy process

Cons

  • Formatting issues may arise with the digital version of the textbook
  • ALEKS code needed to access online content may not come with the textbook if bought from certain websites
  • Focuses more on discussing precalculus concepts without introducing content for calculus too thoroughly

FAQs on Precalculus Textbooks

How do I choose a precalculus textbook?

There are many factors that go into selecting a precalculus textbook, and these factors are different for every person. For example, if you need to buy a textbook for a precalculus course you are taking, you are going to want one that teaches the concepts in detail while also providing problem sets and practice exams. If you simply want to review some concepts in your spare time over the summer between precalculus and calculus, you are not going to need a dense introductory textbook. There are many reasons why someone may need a precalculus textbook, so what type of book you should get is not as straightforward as it may be for other types of math. However, the primary thing to keep in mind is either what textbook you will need as a beginner or what textbook you will need as someone who is familiar with precalculus.

Is there a benefit to buying a digital over a physical textbook and vice versa?

This can depend on personal preference, but there are pros and cons to each version. Physical textbooks will take up more space and will typically require you to do practice work on separate sheets of paper, but you also have the text right in front of you. Digital textbooks may come with supplementary content that physical books do not, such as videos or interactive problem sets and exams, but formatting issues and glitches may appear depending on the book. If you consider how you best read, this should help you choose a textbook. Do you prefer using a Kindle or a digital reading app, or do you enjoy having the book in front of you? Will reading digitally distract you, or does it keep you more engaged? If you think over your preferences, you should be able to make a choice between a digital or physical textbook (if the book you are looking at provides various options).

Should I buy a book that emphasizes practicing concepts or explaining concepts?

Just as there are different types of students, there are a variety of textbooks that all teach precalculus in a unique way. Similar to the first two FAQs, the type of textbook you pick out should be the one that suits you best as a student learning or reviewing the information within. Some textbooks emphasize having students look at examples and do practice problems, while others explain the concepts and formulas and expect students to memorize what is required to apply the material. It is good if a textbook has a balance of both, but not every book will do this, and not every student learns in the same way.

If you learn by doing, you may not need a book that thoroughly explains concepts and examples. Instead, a textbook with an abundance of problem sets and practice exams would be best. On the other hand, some students grasp concepts by extensively reading about them before applying them. In this case, you would not want to pick up a textbook that assumes students already know the concepts or replaces text with practice. There is no best textbook for everybody, but aligning your choice with your learning preferences will work best in almost every instance.

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