If you can answer “yes” to all of these:

Are you comfortable with numbers and pre-algebra?

Do you want to learn Algebra by learning the concepts and not just looking for practice problems?

Are you familiar with integers and fractions and ready to move onto solving for unknowns?

this book is for you.

If you can answer “yes” to any of these:

Are you someone who is really uncomfortable with fractions and decimals?

Who is looking for Algebra 2 or Statistics information?

Are you someone who is obsessed with plugging things into a calculator?

this book is not for you.

“How can *this* be a serious Algebra
book?”

“What’s with all the graphics?”

“Can I actually *learn* it this way?”

Your brain craves novelty. It’s always searching, scanning,
*waiting* for something unusual. It was built that
way, and it helps you stay alive.

So what does your brain do with all the routine, ordinary, normal
things you encounter? Everything it *can* to stop
them from interfering with the brain’s *real*
job—recording things that *matter*. It doesn’t bother
saving the boring things; they never make it past the “this is obviously
not important” filter.

How does your brain *know* what’s important?
Suppose you’re out for a day hike and a tiger jumps in front of you,
what happens inside your head and body?

Neurons fire. Emotions crank up. *Chemicals
surge*.

And that’s how your brain knows...

**This must be important! Don’t forget
it!**

But imagine you’re at home, or in a library. It’s a safe, warm, tiger-free zone. You’re studying. Getting ready for an exam. Or trying to learn some tough technical topic your boss thinks will take a week, ten days at the most.

Just one problem. Your brain’s trying to do you a big favor. It’s
trying to make sure that this *obviously*
non-important content doesn’t clutter up scarce resources. Resources
that are better spent storing the really *big*
things. Like tigers. Like the danger of fire. Like remembering where all
of the warp zones are in Super Mario Brothers. And there’s no simple way
to tell your brain, “Hey brain, thank you very much, but no matter how
dull this book is, and how little I’m registering on the emotional
Richter scale right now, I really *do* want you to
keep this stuff around.”

If you really want to learn, and you want to learn more quickly and more deeply, pay attention to how you pay attention. Think about how you think. Learn how you learn.

Most of us did not take courses on metacognition or learning
theory when we were growing up. We were *expected* to
learn, but rarely *taught* to learn.

But we assume that if you’re holding this book, you really want to
master Algebra. And you probably don’t want to spend a lot of time. If
you want to use what you read in this book, you need to
*remember* what you read. And for that, you’ve got to
*understand* it. To get the most from this book, or
*any* book or learning experience, take
responsibility for your brain. Your brain on *this*
content.

The trick is to get your brain to see the new material you’re learning as Really Important. Crucial to your well-being. As important as a tiger. Otherwise, you’re in for a constant battle, with your brain doing its best to keep the new content from sticking.

**So just how DO you
get your brain to treat Algebra like it was a hungry
tiger?**

There’s the slow, tedious way, or the faster, more effective way.
The slow way is about sheer repetition. You obviously know that you
*are* able to learn and remember even the dullest of
topics if you keep pounding the same thing into your brain. With enough
repetition, your brain says, “This doesn’t *feel*
important to him, but he keeps looking at the same thing
*over* and *over* and
*over*, so I suppose it must be.”

The faster way is to do ** anything
that increases brain activity,** especially
different

A conversational style helps because people tend to pay more
attention when they perceive that they’re in a conversation, since
they’re expected to follow along and hold up their end. The amazing
thing is, your brain doesn’t necessarily *care* that
the “conversation” is between you and a book! On the other hand, if the
writing style is formal and dry, your brain perceives it the same way
you experience being lectured to while sitting in a roomful of passive
attendees. No need to stay awake.

But pictures and conversational style are just the beginning...

We used ** pictures**, because your
brain is tuned for visuals, not text. As far as your brain’s concerned,
a picture really

We used ** redundancy**, saying the
same thing in

We used concepts and pictures in ** unexpected** ways because
your brain is tuned for novelty, and we used pictures and ideas with at
least

We used a personalized, ** conversational style**,
because your brain is tuned to pay more attention when it believes
you’re in a conversation than if it thinks you’re passively listening to
a presentation. Your brain does this even when you’re

We included more than 80 ** activities**, because your
brain is tuned to learn and remember more when you

We used ** multiple learning
styles**, because

We include content for ** both
sides of your brain**, because the more of your
brain you engage, the more likely you are to learn and remember, and the
longer you can stay focused. Since working one side of the brain often
means giving the other side a chance to rest, you can be more productive
at learning for a longer period of time.

And we included ** stories** and exercises that
present

We included ** challenges**, with
exercises, and by asking

We used ** people**. In stories,
examples, pictures, etc., because, well, because

So, we did our part. The rest is up to you. These tips are a starting point; listen to your brain and figure out what works for you and what doesn’t. Try new things.

**Slow down. The more you understand, the less you have to memorize.**Don’t just

*read*. Stop and think. When the book asks you a question, don’t just skip to the answer. Imagine that someone really*is*asking the question. The more deeply you force your brain to think, the better chance you have of learning and remembering.**Do the exercises. Write your own notes.**We put them in, but if we did them for you, that would be like having someone else do your workouts for you. And don’t just

*look*at the exercises.**Use a pencil.**There’s plenty of evidence that physical activity*while*learning can increase the learning.**Read the “There are No Dumb Questions”**That means all of them. They’re not optional sidebars, they’re part of the core content! Don’t skip them.

**Make this the last thing you read before bed. Or at least the last challenging thing.**Part of the learning (especially the transfer to long-term memory) happens

*after*you put the book down. Your brain needs time on its own, to do more processing. If you put in something new during that processing time, some of what you just learned will be lost.**Talk about it. Out loud.**Speaking activates a different part of the brain. If you’re trying to understand something, or increase your chance of remembering it later, say it out loud. Better still, try to explain it out loud to someone else. You’ll learn more quickly, and you might uncover ideas you hadn’t known were there when you were reading about it.

**Drink water. Lots of it.**Your brain works best in a nice bath of fluid. Dehydration (which can happen before you ever feel thirsty) decreases cognitive function.

**Listen to your brain.**Pay attention to whether your brain is getting overloaded. If you find yourself starting to skim the surface or forget what you just read, it’s time for a break. Once you go past a certain point, you won’t learn faster by trying to shove more in, and you might even hurt the process.

**Feel something.**Your brain needs to know that this

*matters*. Get involved with the stories. Make up your own captions for the photos. Groaning over a bad joke is*still*better than feeling nothing at all.**Use Algebra in the Real World.**There’s only one way to get comfortable with Algebra:

**do it a lot**. Now, that doesn’t mean you need to lock yourself in a room with graph paper and pencils. But it does mean you should think about how Algebra fits in to the world around you. What problem are you trying to solve? What are the knowns and unknowns? How do they relate to each other? The point is that you won’t really get Algebra if you just read about it—you need to do it. We’re going to give you a lot of practice: every chapter is full of exercises and asks questions that you need to think about. Don’t just skip over them—most of the learning actually happens when you work on the exercises. Don’t be afraid to peek at the solutions if you get stuck, but at least give the problems a try first.

This is a learning experience, not a reference book. We deliberately stripped out everything that might get in the way of learning whatever it is we’re working on at that point in the book. And the first time through, you need to begin at the beginning because the book makes assumptions about what you’ve already seen and learned.

**We start off by teaching how to solve
algebraic equations.**

Believe it or not, even if you’ve never taken Algebra, you can jump right in and start solving for unknowns. You’ll also learn about the deeper motivations for the study of Algebra, and why you should learn it in the first place.

**Calculators are only for arithmetic you
can’t solve easily, NOT for solving equations.**

There are lots of calculators out there that can do lots of things, including solving equations and plotting graphs. Since the entire purpose of working through this book is to learn how to solve and graph equations yourself, using a calculator to do it would just cheat you out of your learning experience!

**If you’re rusty on some pre-Algebra
topics, we can help.**

You need to be able to work with fractions, decimals, integers, and exponents to get into Algebra and solve for unknowns. The good news is that if you have a decent understanding of these concepts, but you can’t quite remember how to get a common denominator, there is a big appendix at the back to help you. It’s quick and dirty, but it can bring you back up to speed on how to work with those tricky pre-Algebra topics.

**Algebra is not just about getting the
right “answer.”**

There’s a lot in this book about the process: writing out the steps, understanding what’s going on at each point, and really understanding what you’re doing. We have taken a lot of time to make sure that each exercise is well explained, and there’s a reason for it—you’re trying to learn here, right? So don’t just skip to the x = 5 and see if you’re right, because that’s only a piece of the answer.

**The activities are NOT
optional.**

The exercises and activities are not add-ons; they’re part of the core content of the book. Some of them are to help with memory, some are for understanding, and some will help you apply what you’ve learned. Don’t skip the exercises.

**The redundancy is intentional and
important.**

One distinct difference in a Head First book is that we want you to really get it. And once you finish the book, we want you to remember what you’ve learned. Most reference books don’t have retention and recall as a goal, but this book is about learning, so you’ll see some of the same concepts come up more than once.

**Everyone can learn Algebra, even if you
think you’re not a “math person.”**

You need to leave all of this “I’m not a math person” stuff behind. Everybody is a “math person,” you just might not know it yet. You actually do a lot of Algebra every day, it’s just not labelled that way. If you haven’t yet found your inner “math person,” or you’re rusty, you’ve come to the right place. You’re going to finish the book knowing how to handle Algebra. Now get going and solve some equations!

*Technical
Reviewers:*

**Ariana Anderson** is a PhD
Candidate in Statistics at UCLA and a member of the Collegium of
University Teaching Fellows. Her research involves the integration of
neuro-imaging and statistics to create “mind reading” machines.

**Amanda Borcky** is a student at
Virginia Tech in Blacksburg, VA. She is studying Dietetics and hopes to
practice Clinical Dieteics in the future. This is her first time
technically reviewing a book.

**Dawn Griffiths** is the author of
*Head First Statistics*. When Dawn’s not working on
Head First books, you’ll find her honing her Tai Chi skills, making
bobbin lace, or spending time with her lovely husband David.

**Karen Shaner** is a grad student
at Emerson College in Boston pursuing a MA in Publishing and Writing in
addition to working at O’Reilly. In the little free time she has, she
enjoys contra dancing, spending time with friends, singing with the
Praise Band, and enjoying all that Boston has to offer.

**Shannon Stewart** is a former
fifth grade math teacher. During her five years in Mesquite, she was
grade level chair as well as recognized in Who’s Who of American
Teachers. She graduated from Hardin Simmons with a BS in elementary
education and then went on to graduate cum laude from A&M Commerce
with a Masters in Education. She currently resides in Texas with her
husband Les and her son Nathan.

**Herbert Tracey** received his BS
from Towson University and a MS from The Johns Hopkins University.
Currently, he is an instructor of Mathematical Sciences at Loyola
University Maryland and served as Department Chair of Mathematics
(retired) at Hereford High School.

**Cary Collett** majored in physics
and astrophysics in college and grad school, respectively, so needless
to say, he learned a great deal of mathematics and will tell anyone that
algebra is the hardest subject in the field. He current works in IT and
lives in central Ohio.

*Our
editors:*

Thanks to Sanders Kleinfeld, who took this book from the first outline through the first draft. He also put up with endless questions (mostly from Tracey), and let us wax philosophical about the math books that 80’s TV stars write.

And to **Brett McLaughlin**, who in
addition to running the whole series, got us from the first draft across
the finish line. His feedback had a whole lot of “why didn’t we think of
that” in it, which was incredibly helpful. His understanding about the
kids and dog in the background on conference calls was also a
plus.

Thanks also to Lou Barr, who somehow managed to take notes that say things like “Lou, can you make this look cool?” and made things look cool. Since neither of us have any artistic talent at all, anything that looks fantastic is clearly her work.

*The O’Reilly
team:*

To **Caitrin McCullough**, for the
cool website and **Karen Shaner**, for
being both a tech reviewer and keeping the review process running
smoothly.

To **Brittany Smith**, the book’s
Production Editor, who always answered questions really fast, somehow
made sense of all of the computer files that went into this thing, and
always sent happy emails.

Last but not least, to **Laurie
Petrycki**, who gave us a chance to write a math book that
we’re very excited about!

*To the
reviewers:*

Thanks to all of you for reading the whole book with such
enthusiasm. To Amanda Borcky, for
being our sample audience and telling us when we were not being cool. To
Herbert Tracey, who, in addition
to teaching Tracey Trig and Calculus, also gave us extremely detailed
feedback that made this a much better **math** book. To Ariana Anderson and Shannon Stewart, who, as math teachers,
could point out gaps in our assumptions and good questions to ask.
Finally, to Cary Collett and
Dawn Griffiths, who helped with
the math and made sure that we were keeping true to the Head First
way.

To our friends and family:

To all of the Pilones and all of the Chadwicks, if it hadn’t been for your love and support, we wouldn’t have passed Algebra the first time! To Tracey’s math teachers—Mr. Tracey, Mrs. Vesley, and Mrs. Booth—who turned her from a being math hater into an engineer; and to Dan’s math teachers—Br. Leahy, Mr. Cleary, Fr. Shea, and Mrs. Newell—you saw past him getting his head stuck in the door and put the first draft of this book in motion so many years ago....

And last but not least, thanks to Vinny and Nick—the first two projects that Dan and Tracey worked on together—who put up with a lot of “Daddy and Mommy have a call” and learned more Algebra than any preschooler or kindergartner should know.

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