Even though all maths textbooks are supposed to follow the same syllabus (year 11 or HSC year 12), the content and style of questions can vary drastically between each one. There really isn't one textbook that suits all of us as we all of have varying abilities in maths and different preferences in how we like to learn. Thus, it is very important to find which textbook (or textbooks) suit you, rather than just which one is the most popular among others.
Judging a maths textbook is usually not easy, as there really isn't a defined criteria as to what makes an excellent book. Most of the information here is based on past student experiences as well as my own. While this means that everything is based on first-hand experience, most of the points here are just opinions and shouldn't be used as a definite guide. Remember, sometimes, you just have to try things yourself to truly know whether it is the best for you. So without further adieu, let's jump straight in! Below, I've included some of the more popular textbooks, ones which I have personally used and are widely used by schools in New South Wales for the HSC.
Which Textbook Should I Use For Maths Advanced & Maths Extension 1
Maths in Focus
By far one of the most popular textbooks used by schools (along with Cambridge), there are many things to rave about this book as well as things that aren't so great. Many students find Maths in Focus to be great for basic skills and to the learn the foundations of each topic. It explains things efficiently and effectively through clearly structured examples. There are also usually a large amount of questions for each topic. Additionally, for questions where you need to prove something, there were usually worked solutions which is not very common.
However, some Maths Extension 1 and 2 students find that the questions and examples are a little too simple; they feel that this book doesn't allow them to have enough practice with harder questions. However, this doesn't mean there are no challenging questions in Maths in Focus. This is because, according to some teachers, instead of making their questions difficult, this book tries to make them 'messy'. For instance, instead of having questions which actually require more problem solving, they may just make the numbers more confusing for you to understand (e.g. they may use 254.19 instead of just 7 in a question) in an attempt to make it more difficult.
Thus, it's probably a good 'basics' book to be used in combination with another more difficult textbook, allowing you to build your foundations and be fully ready for harder questions.
Just like Maths in Focus, there are pros and cons to this book. However, when you open the book, you can definitely feel a different vibe to Maths in Focus. Liked by many for its greater difficulty than Maths in Focus, there are many extension questions and you can certainly feel the questions are of another level. Thus, many students believe this book is great if you want to test yourself to reach another level.
However, many find that it is also important for you to pick a selection of questions to do when using this book rather than every single one as not all questions seem relevant and some are a little different to the questions you will find in your HSC high school exams. There aren't any worked solutions in this book either.
Overall, it's a great book for you if you want to improve your maths to a more advanced level.
Which Textbook Should I Use For Maths Extension 2
Some like it, some disregard it. Some find Cambridge to be excellent for Maths Extension 2, while others think they're questions are actually a little too easy. Personally, I found that although doing their questions can be useful, the wording was not always easy to understand and seemed different to how questions were worded in the HSC exams. Furthermore, their examples were sometimes hard to follow and its structure wasn't very appealing. It was however, the main book that many schools used, and thus, was somewhat popular. Additionally, the author of Cambridge also writes the Maths Extension 2 CSSA trial exams. Thus, it may be helpful to use this book if your school uses CSSA papers for their exams.
For me this was my absolute favourite for Maths Extension 2. I found it easy to understand, clear and their questions were worded very similarly to how they will be in your exams. However, some find that while their questions were well written, they weren't that challenging. Another downside was that occasionally the answers weren't correct or were missing, and there were no worked out solutions. Overall, it's a great all-around book.
Revered by many as the hardest book for 4 unit maths, this book will for sure fully test your abilities in maths. The set out is clear and the quality of the printing is very good. One of the best things about this book were the solutions provided at the back of each topic; all questions had worked out solutions that were very clearly written which is very rare to see in most books. However, some may find the questions too difficult for them and the explanations of the examples weren't always the clearest. Personally, I hardly ever used it. I found myself always reaching for my Fitzpatrick book.
Many feel this book is great if you want to really target the harder questions in Maths Extension 2, but it may not be as good for building the basic foundations in this subject. Thus, it may be a great supplementary book when used in combination with another more simpler book.
Other than the textbooks mentioned on this list, there are many more maths textbooks out there that could be amazing and while they may not seem as popular, they may still be worth a try.
Hopefully this post has made it easier for you to decide on which textbook you'd like to use. However, just remember, trial and error is probably the key to finding the best textbook for you; just because some others may love or hate a textbook, doesn't mean you will feel the same. Also, don't forget to do past papers! No matter how good your textbook is, past papers are definitely just as important if you would like to reach your potential in the HSC!
Jack Zheng | N° 32