Monday, December 13, 2010

ALEKS—A Math Solution


Isn’t it great how God sometimes provides exactly what you think you need exactly when you think you need it (and other times, He provides it when you actually need it, or something else altogether, or He knows you don’t really need it at all…). I just LOVE those times.

When we were contacted to review ALEKS, I was thrilled. We had been at loose ends with math since our last math review expired, using leftover workbooks and such, since we had not yet invested the funds for a seventh-grade math curriculum. I was just starting to worry over the idea of having to buy one right in the middle of the busiest and most costly season of the year (before Thanksgiving-Christmas), when I received notice of this review opportunity. Whew! We were all very grateful (especially Hubby, who handles the budgeting).

We have enjoyed every minute of this review. Let me tell you why by answering some of the questions I had when I was first introduced to ALEKS, and relating some of our personal experiences.

What is ALEKS? ALEKS is a revolutionary online learning program using artificial intelligence to asses students both “individually and continuously.” 

What does ALEKS stand for?

  • Assessment and
  • LEarning in
  • Knowledge
  • Spaces

What does that mean? My take on what that means is that ALEKS uses online assessment tools to tell you what gaps there are in your students learning, then drills and instructs them until those gaps are filled with new knowledge.

What ages is ALEKS for? ALEKS is labeled as being a K-12 program, but is targeted towards grades 3-12. A precocious first or second grader with above average keyboarding skills and a knowledge of basic addition and subtraction tables could use the program (especially the Quick Tables) successfully. Also, a post-high schooler could use the program as a review for testing or a prep for college courses, since ALEKS offers more than just traditional high school math courses.

What courses does ALEKS offer? ALEKS offers a variety of the usual math courses ranging from Levels 3-8 Math, to Pre-Algebra and Algebra I & 2, to Geometry, Trigonometry, and Calculus. They also offer other courses including Chemistry, Physics, Principles of Accounting and Financial Accounting, Business math, and Statistics. You can see the listing of all of their courses HERE.

How does ALEKS work? The best way to see how ALEKS works is to take one of the tours offered HERE. Or you can check out the well-presented pictoral and written outline of all ALEKS has to offer HERE.

From my experience:

  • Briefly, I will tell you that first I signed up with a parent/teacher account, then I signed up my students to be connected with that account at whatever level I thought was appropriate. Once that was done, Tex completed a tutorial on how to answer different types of questions correctly using the keyboard (graphs get more complex), which I thought was a great way to avoid frustration later. Once he passed that, he took an online assessment test (it took him about a half an hour, some may take forty five minutes) to determine which areas he was already proficient in and which ones he needed more work on.


  • The ALEKS system works by generating questions based upon what you know and what you don’t know, so each resulting program is individualized. My student’s program showed up in the form of a pie chart similar to the one here.


  • This chart shows both the areas a student has already mastered and the ones he needs to practice. By clicking on the green box, he can highlight a particular area of the pie (each represents a topic such as geometry, whole numbers, measurement, or algebra) and see which areas are available for him to work on. If a student has trouble with a particular topic, the program offers suggestions for why he missed the problems. If the student is still struggling, he may open a page with a thorough explanation of the topic. Both Tex and I thought the tutorials were excellent. In fact, he came to me multiple times (without prompting) and told me how clear and easy to understand they were. There is also access to a sixteen-problem review page on every topic that can be printed for offline use.



  • The ONE thing Tex did not like about the program is that it would not allow him to complete an entire piece of pie and then complete another and so on. The program allows for a certain amount of focusing on one topic, but once the limit is reached, the student must move on to another area and complete some in it, until a certain ratio is reached, then it unlocks the other section again. However, a student may ALWAYS go back and review an item they think they need more work on. Tex may not have liked the limits the program placed on him, but I thought it was a solid idea.
  • This philosophy ensures that the student will cover all areas, even those they find are more difficult for them, such as graphing, algebra, or word problems.


  • At intervals, the system will review student learning to assess progress and retain mastery of the skills. The student is informed of how their pie is progressing and encouraged to work more in certain areas.
  • There is also the option of Quick Tables (which you can view HERE), which is essentially a drill program, and would be very useful for younger grades who still need to master basic tables. I heard that by completing various areas of the Quick Tables, a student can unlock educational games to play, but I did not see that. We tried to create an account for Ladybug, who knows her basic tables, but because she cannot think of the answers AND find the correct keys fast enough, she always timed out and it was too frustrating for her (she is not in 3rd grade yet, either).


If you are interested in learning more about ALEKS, you can sign up for a free trial that allows you to explore ALEKS for three hours over the course of five days. You can find that option HERE. See ALEKS in action on a video HERE.

What is ALEKS good for?

  • as math review prior to starting a new topic
  • as math reinforcement after learning a new topic
  • as assessment of knowledge at the beginning of the year (ALEKS tells you what areas need work)
  • as assessment of knowledge at the middle and/or end of the year (ALEKS tells you what areas have been mastered.
  • as a tutorial for your regular curriculum
  • as a drill (especially with Quick Tables)
  • as a stand alone curriculum, if mom and dad are willing to help when needed, and print up written exercises from the ALEKS site, from other sites, or from previously purchase workbooks when written review is called for
  • as a summer review program for interested families and students
  • as an extension of your regular curriculum, when your student finishes early in the year
  • as a review course for students who need to take the SATs or ACTs
  • as a prep course for students who need to take AP tests in areas such as calculus, chemistry, and physics
  • as a prep course for a student who wants to take the GED (there is a specific course for this option)
  • as a refresher course for a mom who wants to teach math using another curriculum, but needs a little practice with certain topics before teaching them!
  • as a challenge for the highly motivated, self-directed learner
  • as a help for an overloaded mom who can’t always be there to teach due to a new baby, illness, or job
  • as a help in a large household of students on varying levels
  • as a help with bi-lingual (Spanish speaking) students since ALEKS is bi-lingual

How do I know if my child is progressing? ALEKS generates a bi-weekly report and sends it straight to the mailbox of the teacher. Not only does that report show what areas the student has been working in, and how his “pie” has grown over the last two weeks, it shows how long my student spent online working on the material. I LIKED that. I only had to forward the email out to my student once with the comment, “Hmmm. So, is spending an hour and fifteen minutes a week on math adequate for our expectations? No. Please fix this. Thank you.” He fixed it, and found (much to no one’s surprise) that he progressed much more quickly…and (much to his surprise) he liked that. Parents can also generate quizzes and request further assessment from their results page.

How do I know that my child is understanding the material and not just making “lucky” guesses? The problems are diverse enough that a student can only get them consistently correct by mastering the core principle behind each topic. Also, the problems are not multiple choice or true and false questions. They require the actual input of numbers in the correct positions to be counted as correct. It’s completely correct, or not correct at all (this could frustrate some students, but it is reasonable, since that is how math generally works).

How do I know that my student is going to retain his knowledge of the topics he’s previously mastered?To ensure that topics learned are retained in long term memory, ALEKS periodically reassesses the student, using the results to adjust the student's knowledge of the course. Because students are forced to show mastery through mixed-question assessments that cannot be predicted, mastery of the ALEKS course means true mastery of the course.” (taken from the site)

Anything else I need to know? There is a lot more to ALEKS than I have stated here. I did not try to create my own quiz using ALEKS, check how my son’s learning met my state standards, or request an assessment be done any sooner than the program normally offered it, but all of these things and more are options if you subscribe. ALEKS is also bi-lingual (English and Spanish). You can see quite a bit about the available options HERE.

What does the ALEKS program cost? Click HERE to see it on the ALEKS site.

  • $19.95 per month
  • $99.95 for six months (a savings of one month)
  • $179.95 for a year (a savings of almost three months!)
  • Have a large family? There are substantial family discounts HERE.

What did we think of ALEKS?

  • Me: It was a relief. I am having trouble with my health, and teaching little children to read well is very labor intensive, so it was quite helpful to have a program that is bolstering my son’s math skills independently of my teaching. Especially one he is excited about and likes. I LOVE the reports that come to my mailbox, and I like the idea that while I am here to help if needed (he has asked me to further explain a few topics and to work with him through a tough problem a few times), I really appreciate not being the driving force behind math success right now.
  • Tex: He liked it a lot. He likes the pie chart and is highly motivated by the idea of completing it in an amazingly short time, then moving on to next year’s topics…not every kid will feel this way, but mine does.
  • Hubby: He liked the pie chart and thought the program was definitely worthwhile. He also liked the assessments that came directly to our in-box.

Overall, we both loved this program. Even the customer service people were helpful when I contacted them for help with setting up our accounts.

I have received several emails offering a free thirty day trial option in the past, but never took advantage of the offers. Now, I wish I had. Perhaps some of the struggles I had with my older (now graduated) homeschooler would not have been as bad had he been using this program at least as a supplement. I encourage you to try the program for free (when it is most convenient for you and you will really see what it has to offer) and consider if there is anywhere that it will fit in your curriculum.

If you would like to read what other Crew reviewers had to say about this product, click HERE.

Blessings to you and yours during this busy Christmas season,


As a member of the TOS Crew, I received a free subscription for my student to ALEKS for the purposes of offering my honest review here. I do not expect my experiences to be exactly the same as yours, but what you read here is an honest rendering of what happened to us.

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