capsule review

Excel@ Mathematics

Knowledge Adventure seems to have a simple philosophy when it comes to their Excel@ series: more is better. Each $20 package contains multiple CDs that offer a mix of learning material. Most middle- and high-school students, parents, and teachers will find value in Excel@ Mathematics, although, like the other packages, the content varies in quality and approach.

Linear Progression

Excel@ Mathematics covers six core subjects: Algebra 1, Algebra 2, Geometry, Trigonometry, Pre-Calculus, and Calculus. It also includes a bonus CD that tackles AP Statistics. When you begin studying a specific topic within any given subject, the program asks you if you want to take the diagnostic test, which consists of about 12 to 16 multiple-choice questions. Unfortunately, you don't get a true diagnosis when you're finished; you're only given the percentage that you got correct, so you're left wondering about the questions you answered incorrectly. However, the diagnostic test can still be helpful in tracking your progress. The test draws questions from a large pool, so each time you take it, you'll get a different combination of questions. That way, you can be sure that your score reflects your understanding of principles rather than individual questions.

Most of the material in the lessons is brief but clear. However, it feels as if the material has been culled from a variety of sources. The resulting variation in tone of voice and technique can be disconcerting. For example, Algebra lessons end with summaries, but unfortunately, Trigonometry lessons don't. The lessons also vary in their use of multimedia and visual aids; some include an illustration or an audio explanation while others consist of nothing but text. The practice quizzes also need editing; we found a few duplicate answers and even one incorrect answer. This lack of consistency isn't enough to spoil the program altogether, but we do look forward to a full edit in future versions.

The interface of Excel@ Mathematics is simple but imperfect. On the home page you click on a subject, which then takes to you a list of topics, where you choose a specific lesson. The navigation commands could be more intuitively named: for example, the only way to return to the list of topics from within lessons is to click on the Planner button. Moreover, the arrows that take you from one page to the next within lessons are small and difficult to find.

The set comes with extras such as an introductory statistics program from Cognito Learning Media aimed at AP students. The Electronic Companion to Statistics deftly makes use of QuickTime movies to demonstrate how statistical concepts are relevant in real life. However, the program isn't well-organized and contains too many links to terms and other sections. It's difficult to figure out what order the material should be in, or how to go back if you click on the wrong button.

Macworld's Buying Advice

Excel@ Mathematics lacks refinement but covers a tremendous amount of material. Although it's less than ideal for independent learners, the package is worth the modest investment for those who want extra practice on a particular topic.

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