The Saxon Math Review You Don’t Want To Read
Why wouldn’t you want to read this Saxon Math review?
Well, I’m going to be really upfront with you, Homeschool Mama.
This review might not help you make a decision to start using the curriculum or stop using it – depending on why you are here. And it may confuse you even more than you already are.
You see, normally I write reviews with pretty crisp opinions and I don’t shy away from sharing what I *really* think. I like to think that my readers save money by getting the inside details of a curriculum before actually hitting the buy button.
But Saxon has thrown me threw a loop.
This is our first year using it and we are about 6-7 months into it. I hate it. But I also love it.
My oldest daughter (6th grade) feels the same way.
So I’m going to write this review in a very detailed way that explains everything you need to know about Saxon, in the hopes that it resonates with you and helps you make the best decision for your home school.
If it doesn’t help, drop me a comment and share your Saxon pain. I’m here for it.
Here Is Your Guide For This Saxon Math Review:
- Overview of the Saxon Program
- What Homeschool Moms Say About Saxon Math
- Exactly What To Expect In A Saxon Math Lesson
- How I Adjusted Saxon For Our Homeschool
- What I Can’t Stand About Saxon Math
- Why I Still Love It
- A Quick Look At Saxon’s Program For Grades K-3
- Saxon Math FAQ
- Final Thoughts On Saxon Math
- Will We Use Saxon Next Year?
Overview of the Saxon Math Program
Saxon Math is one of the top homeschool math programs on the market today.
It was created by John Saxon and Stephen Hake in the 1980s. The program is widely sold to private schools and homeschool families.
Saxon is known for introducing new concepts on a daily basis, daily practice of math facts/drills, and a continual review of essential math skills.
The curriculum is also known for building a strong foundation of problem solving and critical thinking with real world math problems.
The curriculum is for grade level Kindergarten – 12th grade.
****If you have a young elementary school student in K-3, know that this version of Saxon is very different from the intermediate and high school levels. I used it with my own 3rd grade daughter and included details towards the bottom of this review.
What Homeschool Moms Say About Saxon Math
I have spent much time talking about Saxon with homeschool moms through the years.
It is always respected as being a thorough, solid, outstanding math curriculum. But it is also described as dry, boring, overwhelming, time intensive, and the key to making your kid hate math.
One of the first conversations I had about Saxon was with a gifted private school teacher turned homeschooler. Her daughter was gifted and used Saxon. They got tired of how dry and tedious it was, so they switched to Teaching Textbooks for a year.
The child’s standardized test scores plummeted that year and even the kid recognized they needed to go back to Saxon. It may be boring, but it “gets the job done” better than anything else out there.
Many moms say that Saxon is fully aware of the criticism, but they don’t care.
They know their product is solid and it works. So why change it?
The most recent conversation I had was with a homeschool mom who was homeschooled growing up. She said she lit her Saxon books on fire when her parents told her she could finally stop using the curriculum.
I could still see in her eyes how much she hated them.
I also talked to an adult woman who was homeschooled with the Saxon Math Homeschool program. She attended a prestigious college on a full scholarship for an engineering degree. She is a leader in her workplace today in a very math-heavy/coding field.
And she said Saxon was the springboard that started her on that path.
Exactly How Saxon Math Lessons Work
Saxon has multiple steps in their daily process. Here is everything they expect you to do.
1. Drills and Warm-Up
The day will often start out with a timed math facts drill and a warm-up with the parent.
During the warm-up, kids will do about 5 questions reviewing key information already learned.
2. Lesson and Lesson Practice
After that, the lesson of the day is taught.
The parent could teach the lesson, or the child could read the lesson in their book. It is written to them and is actually explained very well.
Several examples are given that walk the student through the concept being taught.
Then the child will complete Lesson Practice. This consists of a problem set of 5-10 questions for the child to practice the new skill.
3. Mixed Practice
Lastly, the child has 30 mixed practice problems to do. These questions review all different math concepts and they are a huge part of Saxon’s spiral review approach to math.
4. Investigations and Tests
Every couple of weeks there is an “investigation” which is a lesson that introduces a new skill in a real-world way. There is no lesson practice or mixed practice on these days.
The student just dives into the new skill.
As an example, Investigation #3 in Saxon 7/6 is all about the skill of drawing and measuring angles. There are a total of 18 questions throughout the lesson that focus only on that topic.
Tests are about 20 questions long and we consider those easy review days. No new material to learn and fewer problems to do than normal. My daughter also says the test questions are easier than the types of questions she tends to see in daily Mixed Practice.
How I Adjusted Saxon to Work For Our Homeschool
I talked to another mom who has used Saxon with all her kids for years and she gave me some pretty great advice.
She said that they ignored the warm-up/fact drills and only did half of the Mixed Practice. Her kids would only do the odds or even numbered problems.
I also decided to try Nicole the Math Lady to teach the lessons for me. My daughter really likes doing her school independently, so this would allow her to do her math whenever and not have to wait for me while I also teach her sisters.
She watches Nicole (who is brilliant and so fun!) teach the lessons, does Lesson Practice, and half of Mixed Practice.
Then I grade the work and we go over any problems she missed. Sometimes this takes a few minutes, and other times I have to reteach whole concepts.
She does all of the tests and I tell her that those are easy days. It’s just a review sheet – nothing new to learn!
I only use the tests as a litmus test to show me what she is retaining and what she is struggling with.
What I Don’t Like About Saxon
I normally save this part of the review for after I’ve said all the good things, but I sort of want to get all of this out of the way now.
1. Saxon Does Not Have A Main Website
Unbelievably, Saxon does not have a website where you can locate information about placement tests, ask questions, talk to customer service, or find out the order of the books (more about that later).
It’s like there is no one in charge and all you can find are third party sellers or blogs with answers to your questions. It is the only curriculum company where I have ever seen this and it is so frustrating.
It seems to create a lot of confusion for people new to Saxon. After doing some digging, I found out that John Saxon passed away and the curriculum was sold to Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.
Which made a lot of sense. The homeschool community still loves it, but it is no longer being sold by the person who originally wrote it. It is just being distributed by a large publishing company.
2. Could The Placement Test Be More Confusing?
I knew that Saxon was on the advanced side and that my kid needed to take a placement test.
I had to hunt all over the place to find a placement test to find out which level we needed to start with. Because there isn’t a main website, I had to look at third-party websites and hope they were accurate.
****If you need Saxon placement tests – use Nicole The Math Lady’s Page – you’re welcome.
3. The Order Of The Books Is Bizarre
As you will quickly see, the Saxon math books are numbered 5/4, 7/6, 8/7, and beyond.
What does that even mean? From all the third-party websites, I was able to put together that Math 7/6 is for an “advanced” 6th grader or a “slower” 7th grader.
But what if I just have a regular 6th grader?
And after my daughter is done with 8/7 what is she supposed to do next? Pre-algrebra? Is she ready for Saxon Algebra? Was 8/7 considered Pre-algebra?
You better get out a shovel and start digging through Google to find out what order the higher level books go. As I have done my own digging, I have discovered that there may or may not be a separate geometry book I need to buy and do on the side.
The lack of centralized information and organization is astounding to me.
4. The Amount Of Daily Time To Complete A Saxon Lesson Is Off The Charts
If we were to do everything that Saxon says we should do, we could easily be hitting the math books for 1.5 -2 hours per day. And it could be longer depending on how “mathy” your kid is.
That is an enormous chunk out of your homeschool day and it takes so much time and energy away from other subjects and projects. Even though we don’t do everything Saxon calls for, I still feel like it gets the largest chunk of my daughter’s time and energy most days.
I will admit that her speed has improved over the months, but it is still easily the biggest bag she has to “carry” every day.
5. You Can’t Write In Saxon Math Textbooks
The student workbooks have the lessons and all the problems, but there is nowhere to write out your work and solutions. You have to copy all of the problems onto a piece of notebook paper.
So when I am grading the work, I have to go back and forth between the notebook paper, the answer key book, and the textbook (to find out what the original problem even was).
It just seems like a lot compared to other programs.
6. It Is Exactly As Dry and Boring As Everyone Says
Nicole The Math Lady is a bright shining star of energy when she teaches, but the books themselves are black-and-white public school style books that do not put any effort into being interesting.
This is surprising to a lot of homeschool parents who have been exposed to bright, colorful math products that work to engage students and help them love math.
Saxon teaches solid math, but there are no frills. No fun. No pictures. No color.
The Things I Like About Saxon Math
After that searing list, you might be surprised to find that there are actually some things that I like about Saxon. Unbelievably, I am strongly considering doing Saxon next year for 7th grade.
I can’t believe it either.
1. Only 120 Lessons
Well, I’ve noticed that some of the books have 130 lessons, but that is still much less than the 180 that many other math curriculums have.
180 lessons leaves absolutely no room for co-op days, appointments that spring up, or spending longer on a subject. You always feel like you’re running to catch up.
When you have 120 lessons (plus investigations and tests) you have much more wiggle room in your schedule throughout the year. You can take a slower pace on more complex concepts, or you can run a 4-day/week schedule and still finish the school year on time.
2. Beginning Of The Year Review
The early chapters of Saxon 7/6 start the year off with a basic concept review: adding 3 digit numbers, multiplying whole numbers, perimeter, etc.
These things were super easy for my kid so it helped her to build confidence and get comfortable with the Saxon routine before the real work started.
3. Incremental Approach
Saxon Math very intentionally introduces concepts in small pieces every day.
My daughter will sometimes say, “Oh, wow this is so easy.” But she doesn’t see that each day builds on itself and suddenly she is doing something that is quite complicated. It still seems easy to her because it was all slowly introduced.
4. Spiral Method Review
I am a giant fan of spiral review over mastery when it comes to math. If you don’t know what those approaches are, check out this post: Spiral Approach vs. Mastery.
Saxon’s mixed review does an outstanding job of building solid math skills over time. If your child struggles with a concept – no problem! It will be reviewed again, again, and again.
The review also helps parents see what things the child is struggling with – as opposed to that memory loss falling through the cracks.
With my own daughter, I was able to notice consistent missed problrems with sales tax questions and probability. I did an extra lesson with her on those topics and it helped so much to nail down the concepts.
5. I Don’t Have To Teach It
The other day I found my daughter laying in bed watching her math lesson before her feet had even hit the floor for the day. She said she just really wanted to get a jump on the day.
I love that I can spend time with my other two girls while Nicole the Math Lady teaches the daily math lesson for my 6th grader. So, so important in a homeschool with multiple kids and multiple levels.
If my daughter does need extra help, I have found that the lessons are written in the student text in a very clear language. I have been able to quickly teach myself math concepts and easily teach them back to my daughter.
And, no, I’m not a math whiz by anyone’s measure.
6. Numbers Next To Problems Direct Kids To Lesson It Was First Taught
Admittedly, this took us a while to figure out.
Next to every mixed practice problem and every test problem, there is a small number in parentheses. This number refers to the lesson that it was first taught.
This means my daughter can quickly flip back in the book to read the lesson again, or she can rewatch that number lesson with Nicole the Math Lady.
A very nice feature that has saved us both so much frustration.
7. I’ve Seen Phenomenal Growth In My Daughter’s Math Skills
It took about 6-7 months, but I am seeing that my daughter is clearly excelling at math and showing dramatic improvement.
The continual practice and constant review are paying off.
She consistently gets test grades in the 90s and has progressed to missing only a few questions per day on her work. They are usually small errors, copying the problem wrong, etc. Her mental math and word problem skills are noticeably better.
My daughter has even said things like, “Well, I guess I’m good at math, even if I don’t like it.” I can’t tell you how amazing it is to hear her say that she is good at math.
I am so happy with her progress that I’m actually excited to standardize test her this year and see how far she has progressed.
I have a feeling that the test scores will strongly reflect the work she’s put in this year.
8. It Will Carry Through For High School Math
Many quality math programs stop at the end of middle school.
I have been looking for some time to get a program that offers continuity for the high school student.
This program does carry through 12th grade – even if the progression seems kind of wonky and confusing to me right now. I’m sure that with some more research and time with other homeschool moms, it will all come together.
9. It’s Reusable/Easy To Sell
Because students don’t write in the student book, you can easily pass it down to younger kids or you can sell it.
In the opposite way, you can also buy used Saxon Math curriculum at great prices.
****Need a hand finding used curriculum? Check out this surprising place for used curriculum deals!
A Look At The Saxon Program for Lower Grades (K-3rd)
This curriculum review has mostly focused on the middle grades, but it is important to point out that Saxon offers a wildly different program for the young student.
I started the year with the third grade level for my middle daughter and initially really liked it. I could see Saxon Math’s approach of a strong foundation of skills with frequent review of previous lessons – but there were lots of fun twists!
Here are the things I noticed:
- The student workbook opens vertically, as opposed to horizontally – that’s just fun for kids!
- There is a manipulative kit that makes the math more fun and hands-on.
- A meeting book is included in the homeschool kits for daily practice of calendar and number skills.
- The student only has one page (7-10 problems) to complete for the lesson. There is a backside of the workbook page with very similar questions that were perfect for extra practice. We only used this if my daughter missed a question on the first page.
After looking at this curriculum and what my 6th grader was doing…I realized that a parent going from 3rd grade to 4th grade with Saxon would be in for quite a shock. They are insanely different styles of the curriculum.
We did not finish the year with Saxon for my middle daughter for a handful of reasons.
The biggest reason was that the curriculum was overwhelming for her. She started to believe she was bad at math as she struggled to do number patterns by 3, 4, and 7’s forwards and backward.
She became confused with mental addition and frustrated with critical thinking type questions that “weren’t taught in the lesson.”
Maybe we would have stuck with it, but I knew that her particular learning style would not jive with what was down the road with Saxon – so why not switch now?
We are doing Apologia Math now and doing much, much better. The lessons are short and her confidence has grown significantly. I have added in a second grade math workbook to serve as “math review.” This helps to provide a little more of the spiral approach that I think helps kids retain concepts.
FAQ Saxon Math
1. What do I have to buy to start with Saxon Math?
There is a school version of the curriculum and a homeschool version. The homeschool version kits are two-toned and have numbers like 5/4, 7/6, etc.
You can find them at Rainbow Resource, Amazon, and other retailers.
You should receive a Student Text, Solutions Manual, and a Tests and Worksheets Book. The Tests and Worksheets book has pull out pages where you can get tests, fact drills, graph paper, etc.
For the younger crowd (k-3), you will need Workbook 1 and 2, Teacher’s manual, the Meeting Book, and the manipulative kit.
The manipulative kit is pretty pricey, but is worth it if you start early and use it for the full 4 years of K-3.
****The meeting book seems to be highly optional among homeschool families. It can get redundant after a while, so it’s up to you and the needs of your kid.
2. Is Saxon Math Common Core?
Saxon was written in the 1980s, and new editions have not come out since 2005. If you have the homeschool version, it is not Common Core.
If you are using the newer versions that are sold to schools, then it is Common Core aligned.
3. Who is this “Nicole the Math Lady” person?
Nicole is a brilliant woman who has an online video for every single Saxon lesson.
She does a phenomenal job of making Saxon lessons bright, almost fun, and clear to kids. My kids especially love that after her video lesson, there is a “corny brain break.”
The break consists of a few minutes of silly jokes, math puns, memes, and other silliness. It’s a great way to unwind before starting the Lesson Practice for the day.
You can find more about Nicole and all she offers at her website.
Final Thoughts On Saxon Math
As I said at the beginning of this review, I hate this math curriculum and I love it.
Most homeschool moms that I know have very strong opinions about it. They respect it, but they also want to set it on fire.
I don’t like the dry, boring, too-long lessons. But then again, there aren’t too many ways to make dividing mixed fractions fun.
Also, my kid has shown significant improvement in her math skills and confidence. Because of that progress, she is actually on board for using Saxon 8/7 next year.
If you have a kid who loves math and needs a challenge, this could be an excellent choice.
If you have an average to slightly behind math student (like my daughter), this might be just the curriculum to bring them up to where they need to be.
It’s a really hard call that hugely depends on your homeschool style, learning style, budget, and your ability to remove things from a curriculum that are too much.
So Will We Continue With Saxon Math Next Year?
I have appreciated all the help that Saxon has given us, but we will be doing Pre-Algebra with Shormann Math next year.
Yep, I’m going to switch math curriculums again. My kids aren’t surprised at this point.
Shormann is a close cousin to Saxon, but it has a central website full of information and guidance. Here is a quick list of what I am loving about the curriculum:
- It’s cheaper than Saxon
- There are video lessons for every lesson included
- There are video explanations for every single homework problem. Mind blown.
- Shorman supports a timed method. They believe it isn’t effective to have students doing math beyond a certain amount of time for their age/grade level. So my daughter will only be working on math for 45 minutes – 1 hour per day. No matter what.
- Dr. Shormann, himself, says the students can email him personally if they are stuck on a particular problem.
- Strong guidance is given to students on how to take notes during the lesson and how to study for quizzes and tests
- The curriculum has been updated for reccent changes to the SAT/ACT…and Saxon has not
I am really happy with this approach and looking forward to seeing how it works for my middle school daughter.
Yes, reviews will be posted as soon as we have used it long enough.
If you want to check out what my 1st-grade student used this year – The Good And The Beautiful Math – check out that review below!
If you have your own thoughts and opinions on Saxon, I would love to hear them!
Please comment below and share your experience with other readers.