Posted on

Algebra 2 with Trigonometry vs Precalculus

AskDrCallahan Calculus 1

What’s the difference between Algebra 2 with Trig and Precalculus?

Here is our view…
  • Algebra 2 with Trigonometry and Precalculus are usually the same thing with very little difference. If you put the Alg 2 with Trig book and the Precalc book by the same author/publisher side by side and compare their “Table of Contents,” you will find them almost identical.  Why do the publishers do this? Marketing. If a school requests precalc, they want to have something to offer. If they want Alg 2 with Trig, they’ve got that too. Do not miss a sale because of a cover.  While you might find some texts that differ, I would not get caught in the mud worrying about these minor differences. See below for ACT/SAT info. This marketing works fine for public/private/coop settings where the administration is setting your path. However, when homeschooling and making your own path, it can be confusing!


  • If a student takes Algebra 2 only, then they need some trig.  Students can easily do one semester in Trig using our book and videos, or even something like a Trig for Dummies book. As long as they get the basics of trig formulas, simplification of trig identities, the law of sines and cosines, and some practical uses, they are good. They can take a year to do each. Give a credit for Algebra 2 one year, and then do Trig for the next year for another credit.


  • ACT and SAT are key to college scholarship and admission. I am not saying teach to the test – but yes, teach to the test. These exams are written so the student MUST understand the material to do well – at least in the math part. This is all you need for college and for $$ for college. The big problem in college calculus is a lack of understanding of basic algebra. Students often can do the work if they see examples of like problems, but given something new, they do not know the concepts enough to make it work. So, they flunk out of college calculus.


  • Cookbook math – related to ACT/SAT we often tell people math is like cooking. I can cook a decent meal with a cookbook if I follow the instructions. However, this hardly makes me a chef since I do not understand how ingredients go together. A true cook can be let loose with ingredients and make up a delicious meal. They understand how things work. Math is like this. Too often we teach cookbook math, meaning the student can only solve a problem if formulated in the steps they have seen before. But, if thrown a real-world problem, they are lost. I realize this is not so much about Alg 2, etc – but this is a HUGE issue we see in science and engineering. We have a huge demand for people to do this kind of work, but most cannot hack it because they are cookbook math people. Good math programs teach students to think, not just calculate. Students aren’t calculators. They are created to think.

I hope all that helps you see that your student only needs one or the other – Algebra 2 with Trig or Precalculus. A rose by any other name…..

Here is a link to our recommended Scope and Sequence for high school. It will help you see a four or five-year approach to the high school level math subjects. If you have the extra year to spend, it’s okay to slow down Algebra 2 and Trig and use a year for each. If your student is late deciding to do four maths, you can do some of the math subjects in one semester. We have students that do Geometry or Trigonometry over one semester (or even summer) to get them ahead and be sure to fit in Calculus before graduation.

No need to put them through two almost identical courses. They will get frustrated and bored repeating instead of moving forward and that’s no fun for Mom either!

We hope this helps you with the Algebra 2 w/Trig vs PreCalculus confusion.
More details in The Math Problem.