Amazon.com: Customer Reviews: Precalculus: Mathematics for Calculus, Fifth Edition
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on August 19, 2010
I'm in my 60's and have not studied math in school for over 40 years. This was my first math book for college since the 60's. I found it easy to read, clear, and too the point. I was able to understand it. That says a lot. Math has always been hard for me, so this book is well done if I can learn from it.
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on February 9, 2012
this is by FAR the worst math text i have ever had the misfortune of being forced to use (university of new mexico). there is absolutely no explanation of principals in terms that even come close to being understandable. the only examples available for review are the most basic explanations possible and shed no light AT ALL on how to solve more elaborate problems. of course the author would make the argument that the user of this text is supposed to know the basics of the principals in the book, to which I would say, the purpose of a book is to LEARN, whether i should or shouldnt already know something is not the point. get used to seeing "heres a problem" and "heres the answer" with no explanation on how to get there. useless.
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on March 12, 2008
I thought at first maybe I had the wrong edition or something, but no... fifth edition it is. Some chapters the answers don't match up with the questions in the book i.e. it will say #107 when it's really the answer to #95, #109 is #97 etc. Some of the chapter test answers are just the wrong problem (some have slight mistakes, like copied down wrong. Others are just a completely different problem). I really expect more than this. I'm going down to the bookstore tomorrow to see if it's just my copy (as none of the other reviewers here seemed to notice). Otherwise I'm contacting the publisher.

On the bright side, the problems which ARE correct have been tremendously helpful. Just as an answer guide should. The only reason it's earned two stars.

I should really give it one, because after all... this IS MATH and accuracy is of utmost importance!!!
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on January 28, 2012
While I am not an expert in mathematics, I usually do not have a difficult time figuring out problems based on the textbook alone. The explanations in this work read rather muddily; the structure of the content can be confusing; the examples seem insufficient towards applying the concepts learned. There were quite a few times where the problems given did not honestly reflect the explanatory material of the chapter. Some of the answers provided in the back seem to be incorrect given the explanations. Considering the cost of the text, the quality of presentation falls short of the money spent. I would strongly recommend against the use of this textbook as either a collection of exercises for classroom use or a method for self-study. Hopefully the publisher will work towards creating a stronger, friendlier text for the next edition.
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on July 10, 2012
This book is one of the worst math text that I have had the pleasure of using. The explanations are poor and I have to google the material for better examples and explanations. If it was the last available reference in a post apocalyptic earth it would work, but not effectively. With so many other quality texts on amazon choose another for one independent study. However, if you need it for class buy it, scan the HW problems, and send it back then promptly purchase another book.
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on May 5, 2014
I sometimes pictured a group of people sitting around a table writing this book and suddenly one of them says "OHH OHH, I got one! Let's stick THIS trick question in there!" You get the feeling a lot of passive aggressive thought went into the writing of this book. Here's a summary simple example of how this book is written.

How to solve square roots: √4 = 2 * 2 thus the √4 = 2

Now you try it! √-1

This approach makes it difficult to build any type of understanding for the basics when every question is at the extreme end of possibilities. I could understand if question 10 of 10 was extreme, but not the first questions in each sections. Additionally, this book uses completely non-standard labels for things which makes it even more confusing. Here's a made up example of how this can be confusing:

Pythagorean theorem: a^2 = c^2 + b^2

All in all, I found myself using this book only for the topics, then going elsewhere to actually learn about it and find examples. I found this is the only way to work with this book as the content and explanations are just garbage.
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on June 19, 2013
While cross-checking my work I noticed that a problem was incorrect. So I called Cengage to them about the problem. They made a note about it and told me "We'll let the editor know". 15 minutes later I call them again to tell them that they missed an entire problem! On page 205 of this book you'll find that answer 11 is incorrect, and that the answer to number 23 is actually the answer to number 25. To make matters worse number 25 is actually the answer to 27! And then we get to their solution to number 29, a solution to a problem that doesn't even exist in the textbook.

So if you do get this book, don't blindly believe everything it says. If you can't figure out how they got their answer it might be because they're wrong.

Needless to say, Cengage will be receiving an angry letter from me.
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on July 13, 2015
I used this book for my Precalculus class last semester, and I definitely worked out of the book a lot. Overall, it was very useful - my only qualm was that I wish they would sometimes use just some basic language to describe the more complex ideas they were covering. I know that in order to describe a complex idea they must be thorough and deliberate about describing it precisely, but still, it would be nice if they attempted to do sort of what the professor does, perhaps having a section where they're like, "Try to think of it like this..." Instead, the descriptions of the complex topics are very accurate, very math-booky, which is fine and all, but I think they could have went another extra mile.

Overall though, it had plenty of problems to work through, which was nice. More example problems, where they work through each step of the problem, would have been great too - but I was able to get by on the few in the book coupled with the examples my professor provided.
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on June 3, 2015
I thought this textbook was "okay." Not the best explanations, but certainly not the worst explanations, and the website that you can purchase and do additional exercises is awful. They need to seriously revamp their online tools. Another book I used for College Algebra was very good...it took you through the steps and provided specific page number from the textbook and also gave an example online. When you submit your answer, you know if it's right or wrong immediately. This one does not do any of that. You just solve the problem and don't know til you're done with all of them if you got something right or wrong. Basically, the online tools were useless and thankfully, my professor did not mandate us to purchase that part.
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on May 25, 2016
This is the worst textbook/online homework tool I have ever had the misfortune of using. I found using Webassign so frustrating that I sent them two long complaint emails which I almost never do. They responded and it turns out pretty much all my complaints are the fault of the textbook publisher and Cengage learning not Webassign.

Before I get into my complaints let me try to give some idea of where I am coming from. I love math and I have always been very good at it. When I was in high school I used to make my fellow students angry because I would usually get over 100% in the class and it would throw off the curve for everyone else. I have been doing just as well in college. My professor asked me to become a math tutor and I have never gotten below a 97% on any test. I say this merely to make it clear that my frustrations are not based on me being unable to understand the math and they are not based on a pre-existing hatred of math. I love math, and I am good at it, but this textbook and the online homework tool have made learning math miserable for me.

I will offer my complaints about the textbook first. My complaints have to do specifically with the design of the homework problems. I took math in college many years ago and I remember doing lots of repetition. Our homework assignments would often have 50+ problems on it. Most of the problems were easy. It was just repetition to get the methods engrained in our minds and then they would throw in some more challenging problems as you went along. The more challenging problems were generally pretty easy to do after all the repetition on the easy problems.

The publishers of this book have a different philosophy. They teach you a general method with a single example. Then they give you two problems that are quite challenging and often do not resemble the example problem all that much. There is very little repetition - each assignment has at most 20 problems and since you are learning various things in each section that translates into 2 or 3 similar problems per assignment.

This is a bad philosophy for two reasons. First, it is extremely discouraging to feel like you are understanding the material perfectly when you learn it only to find that you cannot do the homework problems. This is NOT a good way to build confidence but it is a good way to drive students to despair. Most students would be perfectly capable of doing the more difficult problems if you lead them there gradually but if you throw them right into the deep end they are likely to give up. Second, because there is very little repetition I found myself forgetting a lot. Doing two difficult problems is not enough if you want to engrain something in your mind. This flies in the face of everything we know about how people learn.

I can give two concrete examples of this. In the section on Polar Coordinates and Graphs the book provides a method for converting rectangular coordinates to polar coordinates. Here is what is in the book exactly:

To change from rectangular to polar coordinates, use the formulas:

r^2 = x^2 + y^2
tan(𝛉) = y/x
x ≠ 0

On the online homework there are exactly three problems that have you convert rectangular coordinates to polar coordinates (not very many, how many people will have this concept engrained after three problems?). The bigger issue though is: the third problem asks you to convert the following rectangular coordinates to polar coordinates (0, -√6). Well, the directions say specifically that x cannot equal zero and NONE of the examples in the book show you what to do if x does happen to equal zero. Now, I eventually figured this out but the point is: Why throw students into doing something they were never taught to do after only two practice problems? If you want to force students to figure this kind of thing out on their own (which might have some value) at least give them more practice first. If a student was unable to figure this problem out they would essentially be getting a 66% though they might understand the material they were actually taught perfectly. This is a very bad way to build confidence.

Another example: there was a problem asking you to convert the following polar EQUATION into rectangular COORDINATES: theta = 2(pi). Now, the book never mentions converting an equation into coordinates at all. It teaches how to convert coordinates into coordinates and equations into equations but not equations into coordinates. However, this part of the problem is not too difficult to figure out. The real problem is: the book does not have any examples of polar equations that resemble this problem at all. The only example problems are all of the form r = cos(theta) + 4. And finally, the even bigger problem is: this is the ONLY problem that has you convert a polar equation into rectangular coordinates (or equation).

In other words, the book has the student do ONE problem to practice converting from a polar equation to rectangular coordinates. This is something that the book does not even explain how to do and while the book does explain how to convert from a polar equation to a rectangular equation the homework problem does not resemble the examples given in the book at all. Why do this to students? It is hard enough just to get the basic concepts and get them engrained. Why not put five practice problems that actually resemble the problems in the book and let the students practice what they have actually learned? Why frustrate them immediately? It is like the book is trying to discourage students before giving them a chance.

Now, these issues would be mitigated somewhat if the online learning tool was actually helpful but it is not. The best way to explain what is wrong with Webassign and NetTutor is to compare it to MyMathLab. I have been using Webassign with this textbook for two quarters but the quarter before that we used a book published by Pearson and the online tool we used was MyMathLab. MyMathLab had its own problems but it was a MILLION times better than Webassign. When you got stuck on a problem on MyMathLab there was a button you could hit that would walk you step by step through an example problem. It was a great way to figure out what you were doing wrong and it was fast! I would occassionally miss class for one reason or another but it was very easy to teach myself the material by simply going through the example problems online.

With Webassign, most problems do not have any walkthrough. Some problems have a “Watch It” video where you can watch someone do a similar problem. However, they often skip steps that they think are obvious so the videos can be quite frustrating as well (How did they get that?) and the bigger problem is there are usually only a few problems on each assignment that have a video. I thought this was a problem with Webassign but they informed me it is up to the publisher to decide what supplementary material to offer for each problem so this is really the fault of the publisher.

They also have a “Master It” button that they offer - again only on some problems - that is sort of like the MyMathLab walkthroughs but, again, the steps are often difficult to follow. Rather than walking you through the problem step by step they have you fill in blanks but it is often difficult to figure out what they want. Rather than working on the math concepts I often found myself just fighting with the program trying to figure out what it wanted because it was doing the problem in a slightly different way than I would have done it or it wanted the answer in a slightly different form than I was giving it.

Because the videos and master it buttons are only on some problems they have a NetTutor where you can speak to a live tutor. This is a good idea in theory but there are sooooooo many problems with it that it is really the worst part of the whole thing. Here are the problems:

You often have to wait a long time to speak to someone. I was using it today and the queue was actually relatively short. I was 4th in the queue I think. Even being 4th in the queue it still took over half an hour to connect. By the time I connected I had finished the rest of the homework and I now had questions on a number of problems. I spent 22 minutes going through a single problem with the tutor mainly because the whiteboard is so hard to use. You are very limited in terms of what mathematical notation you can enter so you either have to type it as text (sin^2(theta) = tan(theta), for example) which is hard to read or you can use a pencil to draw it. Using the pencil is very time consuming and messy. After going through the first problem the tutor informed me that they could only answer one question per person so I had to wait in line again to ask another question. This time I was 7th in the queue and I spent another hour waiting in line and going through another problem.

Let’s compare the time spent in MyMathLab versus the time spent on NetTutor. On MyMathLab if I got stuck on a problem I would click a walkthrough button. It would take about 5 minutes to walk through the problem and I was all set. On Webassign, if I get stuck on a problem I get to wait in line for 5 minutes to an hour (I have gotten on very quickly but I have also been 15th in the queue before), then I get to spend at least 20 minutes speaking to a tutor (I have spent over 45 minutes before). So, the score is:

MyMathLab = 5 minutes per problem
NetTutor = 25 minutes - 1 hour 45 minutes per problem (I have found the average to be close to an hour per problem).

Who has an hour to spend on a single problem? And I often do not come away feeling like I really understand the material that much better than when I started.

And to make things worse: I apparently used up all my “minutes” with NetTutor because today, after going through the second problem, I still had a third problem I wanted to ask about so I had to get back in the queue but it said I had no more minutes. It said I had to purchase more minutes or use a code. I did not have a code and purchasing 1 hour costs $32.99. I eventually just gave up in despair. That is not what you want your students to be doing if you are a textbook publisher.

And I want to make this absolutely clear: I have wasted hours and hours getting frustrated with Webassign and NetTutor and NONE of this has translated into understanding the math concepts better. If I were to ask my teacher to walk me through a problem it would take 5 minutes and I would understand it. This means that virtually all those hours and all that frustration was spent just fighting with the online tool as opposed to actually learning math.

To put this more simply: I was not spending an hour on a single problem because I could not understand the math concepts. I was spending an hour on a single problem because the online tool made it virtually impossible to figure out what I was doing wrong without spending an hour waiting in the queue and speaking to a live tutor. Since it would take me 5 minutes to understand the problem if my teacher walked me through it that means 55 of those minutes were just wasted. Even if I only got stuck on one or two problems per assignment that is an extra 55 - 115 minutes per assignment that is just wasted time. I work full time and I cannot afford to waste that much time per assignment so the ultimate result was I would often just give up and get the problem wrong rather than struggle with NetTutor.

Again: This is NOT what you want your students to be doing. You do not want your students giving up simply because it is so frustrating trying to use the online tool. If a student gives up because they genuinely cannot understand the math then maybe mathematics is not for them. However, if they give up on even TRYING to understand the math because you have designed an online tool that is so frustrating to use they would rather not bother than you have failed as a publisher. Unfotunately, I do not get to choose what textbooks we use in the classes I take but if I have any choice I will avoid any class that uses Webassign in the future.
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