Art of Problem Solving, Pre-Algebra and Algebra

February 7, 2011
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Art of Problem Solving

Content: Math
Grade(s): 7th – 8th
Perspective: Secular
Prep Time: Minimal
Solutions Manual: Yes
Teacher Involvement: Essential
Cost: $$$ || ?
Pages: 600+
Publication Date: 2011
Updated Review: May 26, 2015
Reviewer: Alessa Giampaolo Keener, M.Ed.

Looking for other Art of Problem Solving reviews? Find them here:

If your student has completed a 6th grade math program and you’re looking for something more rigorous, the Art of Problem Solving Pre-Algebra and Introduction to Algebra could be a good fit. Be warned, though. AoPS unapologetically states: The text is written to challenge students at a much deeper level than a traditional middle school prealgebra course.

Developed by the mathematicians who created the Mandlebrot competition, AoPS takes math beyond the “plug and chug” method of memorizing formulas and then just crunching numbers with a calculator. Instead, students are taught how to solve problems – lots and lots of problems.

AoPS is extremely text-heavy, which could be a problem for kids who need visual supports to help them stay focused. Pages are packed with information, kind of like reading a word-for-word lecture that a teacher may give in class. The good part is that, if you can make it through all the reading, you probably won’t have many questions. It’s that thorough and well-explained.

Parents don’t have to be strong in math to be able to use this text with their kids – as long as you do the lessons together. The handy icon system helps you identify tricky concepts you might want to spend extra time covering. The Solutions Manual gives answers to every problem. It also includes an explanation for how to get the answer for many of the Review and Challenge problems.

Check out the Free Alcumus site, hosted by AoPS. Try some of the thousands of problems that supplement the Pre-algebra and Intro to Algebra text and you’ll get a feel for whether this program will be a good fit for your math loving kid.

Not sure what level you should start with? Visit the AoPS website’s Recommendation page and look for the Are You Ready? and Do You Need This? links to find placement tests for each textbook. If you’re still stuck, you can contact AoPS staff and they’ll help you decide.

About the Authors:
Richard Rusczyk is the founder of the Art of Problem Solving website. He was a national MATHCOUNTS participant in 1985, a three-time participant in the Math Olympiad Summer Program, a perfect AIME scorer in 1989, and a USA Mathematical Olympiad winner. He is author or co-author of 6 Art of Problem Solving textbooks.

Because one opinion is never enough! Have you ever used Art of Problem Solving? How did it work for your family? Share your review below.


  • purple February 16, 2014 at 9:17 pm

    I love the AoPS books.

    Although I have a number of friends with gifted children who rave about the AoPs courses, my gifted daughter tried the Art of Problem Solving Algebra course, and found it a bit too fast paced.

    I think it was in part the interface used when she is not the fastest typist nor the fastest in processing. Part may also have been it was before they offered “homeschool friendly” times. I don’t think it was easy to be in a class that started after dinner and ended after her normal bedtime. It is not a class where one can get behind.

    Initially I learned LaTex so that her homework could be formatted properly to be submitted. She then took over that task – but it used a bit more time than expected to get all of her work into a document.

  • Catherine Alvarez April 8, 2013 at 9:34 pm

    Highly recommend the free Alcumus for problem solving skills and enrichment! I’m not sure it’s a standalone curriculum though. You need to use it with the textbook.

  • Lynelle Humphries September 2, 2012 at 9:21 pm

    My ds goes to public school and used Alcumus instead of the 6th grade math curriculum. We bought the Algebra 1 book and set the program to follow the book. The school went with it because it’s free and because you can generate teacher reports that tell you everything a kid has worked on and what topics were passed (or not). The videos help explain topics. We just bought a pair of headphones and ds used them in the classroom while he was on the computer. What worked really well for ds is that Alcumus generates problems and adapts to the child’s answers. If you get a bunch of answers correct in a row, you also get challenge problems which he thought was fun.

  • Grace Ayscue March 25, 2011 at 6:24 am

    The AoPS courses worked extremely well for my son in the middle school years, but I recommend them with caveats because I know a number of kids they didn’t work so well for. The ideal candidate for the courses is a kid who loves math, loves working on tough problems, who reads well, and who can work independently. Although they say it isn’t required, I think some exposure to algebra is good — even before the algebra I course.

    The kids AoPS hasn’t worked so well for are bright and perhaps good at textbook math and a year or two ahead of the standard curriculum for their age, but who are most comfortable working with material that is a little easy for them and that they can master. If you have a child who will easily get frustrated at not being easily able to figure out all the answers, AoPS is probably not the best curriculum. Children who are bright at math but don’t really love it may not do well (though keep in mind that it’s possible such a child has never been challenged and will love AoPS once exposed to it.) On the other hand if you have a child who likes a challenge and will feel driven to keep working on a tough problem until he or she has mastered it and then move on to another difficult problem, you may be in the right place.

    Many students in the online courses are doing them in addition to school, and they put a varying amount of work into them. When my son did AoPS as his main math curriculum (as opposed to a contest prep class) I did insist that he read the relevant book chapter, work the review problems, attempt the weekly problem sets for the online course and post at least a few of his solutions on the board, and of course do his best on the challenge sets. (I don’t think he ever completely finished a challenge set — but he was often told he answered more problems than most students; this is what I mean when I say that a kid who would feel like a failure for not getting 100 % on problem sets will not be comfortable with AoPS — the point is to challenge, not to make it easy.)

    I think AoPS could work fine for a kid who’s not interested in the competitive side of math and just likes challenging problems, but many AoPSers including my son also participate in math contests including the AMC-8 and MATHCOUNTS in middle school and AMC-10 and ACM-12 when they’ve reached at least Algebra 2 (really Intermediate Algebra for AoPS). If you have a kid who is (or might be) interested in these, definitely look into AoPS — the original AoPS books were specifically written to help kids doing math contests.

    Finally there’s a generous three week trial period during which you can drop online courses if your child finds the pace too fast. My son dropped one course when he realized he wasn’t going to have the time it required and it wasn’t a problem. (He took it again later.) You’d still have bought the book and could use it at a slower pace or take the course later.

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