Many students who have never had any struggle handling math concepts in their past math classes begin to feel like they have hit a metaphorical wall when they start Algebra II and there is no way around it. This can be hard for students to cope with because passing Algebra II is necessary in order to attend most colleges and it usually opens the gate to harder math classes that could be taken in the future, like calculus.
Some concepts from Algebra 2 will also be in the math sections on SAT exam, so understanding Algebra 2 concepts are important not only to do well in school but also when trying to do well on the SAT in order to get into good colleges. Algebra II is a central part of SAT Tutoring. This may sound daunting because there is a lot riding on being successful in this class but doing well is not as unobtainable as it may seem. There are several reasons why Algebra 2 is perceived to be a hard class so I will be running through how the course compares to Algebra 1, why it is deemed harder than Algebra 1, the pre-requisites for the class, my opinion on if Algebra 2 is truly that hard of a class, as well as what can be done to do well in this class.
Is Algebra 2 harder than Algebra 1?
Algebra 2 covers all the materials that could not be covered in the 1-year course of Algebra 1, making it an extension of the class. This does mean that Algebra 2 builds on some of the material taught not only in Algebra 1, but also in previous math classes, like geometry. Algebra 1 introduces students to the basic concepts of algebra like variables, linear functions, and solving equations. Algebra 2 uses these fundamentals and applies them in harder contexts, like in word problems or by using more variables, as well as introduces new material that students have not been exposed to like logarithms, complex numbers, polynomials, graphing polynomial functions, etc.
Because Algebra 2 builds on and combines material from past math classes as well as includes additional miscellaneous concepts, it is inherently a level above Algebra 1 in terms of difficulty; however, if the student did not struggle with Algebra 1, the addition of new material introduced in Algebra 2 should not be too much of a problem. If a student is struggling with Algebra 2, it does not necessarily mean that they are struggling with the concepts taught; it more than likely means that there is something from past math classes that the student does not quite understand or is weak in and needs to review before continuing.
Why do students find Algebra 2 so hard?
As previously discussed, Algebra 2 is perceived to be hard because it builds on and combines material from many previous math classes, including Algebra 1. This combination exposes weaknesses in students’ understanding of concepts from those past math classes that need to be practiced and strengthened before being able to understand concepts and do well in algebra 2. For example, a student will have a hard time grasping solving polynomial functions if they struggle with applying order of operations, using fractions or do not know how to solve linear equations, subjects taught early in math learning and in algebra 1. Math is one of the only subjects where learning is incremental, meaning that the concepts introduced in previous math classes are necessary for success in subsequent classes, which use these fundamentals through different applications, and this idea is truly exposed in Algebra 2.
In addition, Algebra 2 is the first math class in a student’s math career that introduces topics that are more complex and less concrete, like complex numbers or logarithms, which makes Algebra 2 harder to grasp than other math classes whose concepts are more straight forward and easier to visualize. While these more complex subjects require some understanding of fundamental math concepts, there is a steeper learning curve that is associated with Algebra 2 than other math classes because of this lack of concreteness, but this can be combatted through extra practice and ensuring a good understanding of algebra fundamentals.
Prerequisites for Algebra 2
Algebra 2 has two main prerequisite classes: Geometry and Algebra 1. Geometry should be taken before Algebra 1, but Algebra 1 must be taken before Algebra 2. I recommend trying to take Algebra 1 and Algebra 2 as closely together as possible because, as mentioned, remembering what was taught from Algebra 1 is important to be successful in Algebra 2. In addition to prerequisite classes, there are some skills from previous math classes that must be mastered in order to do well in algebra 2. Here are some of the prerequisite skills that are necessary for success in Algebra 2:
- Solving equations and inequalities with one variable: being able to solve for x given a y value and vice versa
- Solving systems of linear equations for both variables
- Simplifying radicals
- Understanding orders of operations with whole numbers and fractions
- Graphing linear and quadratic functions: being able to graph slope and y-intercepts, graphing zeros of functions
- Lines: writing equations for lines, finding the slope and y-intercept, identifying parallel or perpendicular lines
- Using basic geometry formulas: applying formulas to find area of rectangles, triangles, and circles, as well as understanding how to use formulas to find perimeter, circumference as well as some volumes like of a rectangular prism
- Applying functions: being able to identify the domain and range of a function
- Using calculator skills: setting window, finding min. and max. values, finding the x-intercepts of a function, and using the table feature.
Is Algebra 2 really that hard?
After going through this post, it may seem like it will be hard to do well in Algebra 2. However, just through the understanding that it is just an extension of concepts that have already been learned, the hardest part of the class is finding students’ weaknesses from past math classes and addressing those so that they do not have to struggle with these basics when answering harder questions in Algebra 2. Once these bases are covered, it will be much easier for a student to feel comfortable with the material that is additive from Algebra 1 as well as to be ready to understand the new concepts introduced.
Algebra 2 itself is not a very difficult class because its core is very similar to that of Algebra 1, but practice is very important to succeed in a class like Algebra 2. Keeping up on homework assigned and doing extra practice from textbooks as well as through online resources like Khan Academy can be very helpful in order to retain and practice the information taught in class. Asking the teacher of the course or students who have taken the course in the past for resources they recommend or have used to help in areas of weakness could also be helpful because they have insight about what kind of practice is necessary to be successful in the class. Any of these resources can also help students with the subjects from previous math classes they have identified they struggle with because the only way to cement this understanding is through practice.