Overview: CTCMath is a solid online high school math curriculum, and its very reasonable price makes it a great fit for homeschool families. Note: I was compensated by CTCMath to write this review, but every word is my own honest opinion.
As a former math teacher, I’ve always been a huge fan of textbooks for learning math. That’s what I’m used to, after all. They present all the information you need, they provide practice problems and tests — in short, they get the job done with minimal hassle. Totally my kinda thing.
So that’s what I chose for my older kids in our homeschool, all the way through high school. I never even considered an online high school math course. If textbooks were good enough for me, they should be good enough for them, right?
Well… lately I’ve been reconsidering, lol. My youngest got bogged down in the same Algebra 1 textbook that all of her siblings had used.
She had been at that thing for 1-1/2 school years, and it still wasn’t getting done. Her motivation was at a low and her understanding was incomplete.
Each kid is different, after all, and I shouldn’t always assume that what worked for one (or a few) (or ME) will work for everyone. So I began looking for another way to spark interest that had flagged, as well as to shore up what obviously hadn’t been learned very well.
And I discovered that there’s a whole world out there of online high school math options!
Today I’d like to discuss CTCMath and Aleks, two similar-but-different programs.
My daughter has worked on Algebra 1 in both of them, so we have a side-by-side comparison. Her insight has fueled much of what I write below; since I wasn’t using the programs myself — she was — I definitely asked her about her experience with both of them.
Be aware this comparison is only about high school math; it’s possible that either or both of these programs treat elementary/middle school math much differently.
CTCMath vs. Aleks for Online High School Math
What is similar:
1) They both work from a monthly membership model. You pay every month and get access to ALL LEVELS of their online math curriculum. This is SO handy, because your kid can work on what they need to work on, going back to review at any time, and also proceeding to the next level when they’re ready, without having to purchase anything new.
Note: There IS a difference in cost. Currently, CTCMath is $14.97/month for one homeschooled student (that’s literally 50% off what they charge non-homeschooled students) and $19.97 for a homeschool family membership. Aleks is $19.95 per month for any individual (they do not discount for homeschoolers), and their family discount depends on the number in the family that will be using it.
****And while we’re discussing cost, let me tell you that when you sign up for 12 months, the CTC pricing is even better—currently $98.50! That’s like getting FIVE of those months for free! AND there is a money-back guarantee that lasts for the entire 12 months! That’s pretty amazing!****
Go here to see pricing or purchase: CTCMath for Homeschoolers
2) They both encompass a FULL curriculum, i.e., they provide lessons, practice, and evaluations.
3) They both use a MASTERY approach, rather than a spiral approach. This means that they have you work on a topic until it is mastered, rather than providing many opportunities to review multiple topics that are then gradually mastered over time. (Saxon is a commonly-known spiral program, for example.)
4) They both have a parent portal for parents to see their kid’s progress, assign what to do each day, etc. I will confess I don’t know a lot about these, because I tend to let my daughter mostly work on her own at this point. A more on-top-of-things homeschool mom would probably pay more attention. Um.
5) They both have a free trial. Definitely a helpful thing!
How are they different?
1) Aleks instructs mostly by showing how to solve specific types of problems. You move from one problem type to the next. They do not provide a video for every lesson — only selected ones — so sometimes it can be hard to understand how to apply what they have instructed you to do with one problem to another problem that is similar but not exactly the same.
CTCMath provides a video for every lesson. This means you are never left wondering what to do, and you can rewind as many times as you want to see it explained all over again.
2) Aleks proceeds from one type of problem to another completely different type of problem in what seems to be a fairly random order, even within the same topic. There is no sense of continuity. It is helpful in that it forces flexible thinking, and one could argue that it prepares you for college entrance exams where the same thing happens — but when you are in the act of learning new concepts (rather than being evaluated on what you already know, such as in those pesky standardized tests), it can be confusing to jump from one thing to the next, and never see the previous thing again to put it into context. It can foster a feeling of insecurity and lack of confidence because you’re always faced with something that seems brand new.
CTCMath is sequential, like a traditional textbook. Topics proceed naturally from the basic to the more complex, and they are grouped together so that similar topics occur one after the other. This makes it easy to follow and to feel confident in what you’re doing, because you remember what came so nearly before.
3) Aleks gives you feedback every EVERY problem, so you know how you’re doing as you work. I often encouraged my kids using a textbook to check their work that frequently, so they didn’t waste time doing an entire lesson the wrong way. If you have a fundamental misunderstanding of how to do the problem, it’s good to know that right away, so you can fix it and get the rest correct.
One thing to realize about this approach is that it does mean your kid is tied to the computer (with a piece of paper on which to work the problems) for the entire time.
CTCMath’s practice is in the form of a worksheet of many problems that all must be fully completed before you get any feedback about whether you’ve done them correctly. This can be frustrating, if you find you’ve gotten several wrong.
But it does mean your kid can get away from the computer for a while as they work all the problems, because the worksheets are printable.
4) Aleks has you type in the exact answer to the problem. They provide a way for you to show it’s a fraction or an exponent or whatever — but sometimes they are kinda picky. For instance, they may be expecting the fractional answer when you put in the equivalent decimal — and so it gets marked wrong. Your answer IS correct; it’s just not in the form that their computer wants, and their grading system is incapable of realizing that either should be fine. This is frustrating, especially when you consider #5 below.
CTCMath uses multiple choice. They provide a bank of answers below the worksheet — which includes several non-answers, so you can’t use elimation to guess — and you pick the answer to each problem from there, filling in the correct box with the letter of the answer you chose. After you have filled in all the boxes, you submit the worksheet for grading.
5) Aleks requires you to get so many in a row correct before you can move on. This definitely is teaching to mastery, but it can be frustrating when you are stuck on one section that you understand but keep making small mistakes, or the computer doesn’t accept your correct answer because it’s not in the exact format required. Once you get that one wrong, you have to start all over again. My daughter got VERY frustrated with this.
CTCMath allows you to move on when you are satisfied. You can determine what a passing grade is for your student, and if they achieve that grade or better on a given topic, they can move on to the next one. CTC doesn’t require them to stay there until they get 100% or any particular grade other than the one you’ve set for them. They CAN repeat if they want, but they don’t HAVE to, like with Aleks. (More on this in #6.)
6) Aleks does not give the student a grade; they just show a percentage of topics that were mastered. If the student doesn’t get the topic correct on the evaluation, they are required to go back and re-do the topic. So it’s either 100% or “not mastered;” there is no in between.
CTCMath does grade the lessons and the evaluations. That means mom doesn’t have to try to come up with a grade out of her head. I’ve never been a fan of giving my kid all A’s; I think reality is that no one masters everything; and there are time limits to life, so we can’t keep reviewing forever until 100% is achieved. So I like that CTCMath does that bit of work for me.
7) Aleks incorporates state public school curriculum standards and common core standards within their online math curriculum.
CTCMath does not incorporate common core at all; they favor a more traditional approach to math. At the risk of criticism, I’ll say nothing about that except… BOO-YAH!! Lol. My own personal opinion is that math doesn’t change. It’s been the same since before humans even knew it was a thing. So traditional methods are TOTALLY FINE in my book. Just sayin’…
For online high school math, between CTCMath & Aleks, I recommend:
I think it’s probably obvious by now that I’m gonna say I prefer CTCMath to Aleks. As a self-paced subscription-based online math curriculum, I think it provides solid instruction in a way that is less frustrating for students. And it costs much less, especially for the entire family.
I had heard great reviews about Aleks, and I’m sure it’s a good fit for some people — but for us it was just another Algebra 1 curriculum that my daughter got bogged down with due to frustration and boredom — and being a teen (lol). That is what led to us trying CTCMath, which turned out to be better for her.
She does feel that the worksheet process is cumbersome — problems at the top, possible answers found after scrolling down a ways, then the place to input your answer found after scrolling down some more… then back to the top again to start the process over for the next problem — but I think that’s a small issue.
I personally would prefer more immediate feedback, but I think having a problem bank to choose from helps that a little bit, because you can sorta tell if you’re close, and then you keep working until you understand why your answer is not one of the choices given. So that can be adapted, too.
For more of the inside scoop about CTCMath, watch my video! In it I show you the nuts and bolts of this online math curriculum so you can make an educated choice about whether to purchase.