I’ve always maintained my position that good resources and, especially good textbooks, are a must for anyone learning maths at any level. I still stand by that but unfortunately, A Level Maths students find themselves in something of a difficult situation nowadays. Why? Well to put it bluntly – the textbooks are terrible!

This is a fairly recent development as in the past there have been some very good (and also some very bad) A Level Maths textbooks. But what makes the latest sets of A Level Maths textbooks, for the most part at least, so bad? After all, when you look at the textbooks they look great; lovely colourful pictures, bright, jazzy etc. Well the thing is, it’s all well and good having a lovely glossy, colourful textbook but if the actual content – the stuff that people are actually supposed to learn – is no good then a few pictures isn’t going to make any difference. It reminds me of the well-known saying that ‘you can’t polish a t…’; well, you get the idea.

The latest sets of A Level maths textbooks are, in my very honest opinion, some of the most uninspiring textbooks I have ever seen. I hate to have to be so negative here, as if there isn’t already enough negativity around, but, sadly, it’s true – they stink! They are awful!

A good textbook, which I loosely define to be a textbook with good, solid content, is interesting and can inspire without the need for any jazzy and colourful pictures. It seems that the more colourful the textbook is, the worse the content will be! I’ll use as an example the textbooks that I used for my A-Level maths (2003-2005); they didn’t contain ANY colour pictures and only a few basic graphs and diagrams. However, they were great! Why? Because they went into sufficient depth, the problems were challenging, and you actually learnt things. If, like me, you were interested in mathematics and WANTED to learn about it then the books were interesting by virtue of the fact that they contained great content on something that you were deeply interested in. If you’re interested enough in your subject then what you need to learn could be written on toilet-paper and it wouldn’t matter.

So, what if you’re not particularly interested in maths but you have to do A Level maths for whatever reason, what do you do to get interested? Well this is a different matter and the solution depends on each individual, but what I can say with 100% certainty is that trying to fob people off by putting fantastic looking pictures in a book with weak content won’t make someone interested in the content – it’s just insulting! Poor content is just an all round lose-lose situation and it’s that simple.

I don’t know who thought that the new A Level Maths textbooks were good enough to be published (oh, and a separate issue – they are very often riddled with errors!) but if you ask me, you would be much better off buying some of the older textbooks to work from. Don’t worry if you think that the old textbooks are out of date – what is inside the books is still very relevant and what’s more, you will probably learn a lot more from them. Some of the older style books that I recommend (off the top of my head) are

  • Heinemann A-Level maths books first published up to around 2004
  • OCR A-Level maths textbooks first published up to around 2004
  • MEI A-Level maths textbooks first published up to around 2005

You can go even further back than these and there are some really amazing A-Level textbooks – bright and jazzy? No! Challenging and interesting? 100% Yes. If you really want to learn mathematics and get a good foundation then these are the places to start and sadly, NOT in the latest sets of textbooks.

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