There are some easy ways to get free textbooks, study more efficiently, and cut the time it takes to write a paper in half.
I’m entering my final year of university in a few weeks. For the past three years I’ve seen my peers use sloppy research methods, spend hours worrying over their unpreparedness for an exam, and shell out major cash for textbooks. College is supposed to be fun, not four years of stress.
Despite growing criticisms of the “value” of a degree, this generation has the best chance to make the most out of a course. Technology has enabled us to speed up just about every other industry and create the kind of efficiency man could only dream about two decades ago. So why not apply it to academic life?
There really is no need to spend hours holed up in the library to ace an exam. Check this out.
Find Cheap Textbooks Online
Each year, students are expected to buy expensive new edition textbooks which, in my experience, go largely unused by lecturers in class. I used to shell out $50-100 for these books only for them to go unused. I hear medical textbooks can cost up to $500. Ouch.
While not free, Book Renter allows students to rent college textbooks for around 20% of the cover-price. Once finished you simply mail the textbook back to them. You can even take notes and highlight in the books. They also cover the UPS postage costs of returning the books.
If you prefer ebooks then Ecampus.com is a great resource for you. The company, aside from offering the same physical book rental service as BookRenter, allow students to cheaply rent eBook versions of textbooks. The files have an expiry of 6 months, after which they will be unusable. As an example of savings, this textbook costs $200 to buy new. But it can be rented as an eBook for 6 months for $130, saving you $70. They recommend however, that you only rent the physical book for a semester (which is all most people will need a textbook for anyway) for $57, saving over $140 off the RRP.
If you’re still set on buying your textbook, check out this article about finding the cheapest deals on college textbooks.
Sprint Through Lectures
Audio lectures help greatly and a favourite study technique of mine is gaining credence around the web: listening to audio books while jogging. I find myself continuing to jog to listen to the rest of the lecture, where as I would normally have stopped far earlier. So, in the end I accomplish more by exercising both body and mind with the help of audiobooks.
Find Audio Lectures On OpenCourseware
OpenCourseware (OCW) has been around quite a few years at this point. Many either haven’t heard of it or never manage to fit it into their study schedule (you’ve got one of those, right?).
OCW offers a vast collection of course material, presentations, articles, videos and audio lectures from some of the world’s most highly regarded universities on virtually every degree subject out there. The biggest contributors are MIT, Stanford, and the Open University. Many of these universities will push their open course content under their own brands, but they all belong to the OpenCourseware Consortium
I’m a huge fan of their audio lectures. I’ll often listen to a lecture subject I missed in real life, or gain extra knowledge by listening to related topics. For example, I took an OCW module on Social Media to better equip myself for my marketing module.
Similar to OCW, although a little more closed off, is Khan Academy, a huge resource of free video lectures and beautifully presented tutorials. A lot of the material covers high school level subjects, but they have a growing bank of resources for college level subjects as well. This is particularly true of “broad” subject areas, such as business, history, and the arts.
I use Khan Academy to familiarise myself with a subject I have no prior experience with.
Forget Google Scholar — Use Journal Repositories
Google Scholar is the primary research tool for a lot of students. It seems like the perfect resource for finding insightful articles and reports. However, very few will browse beyond the first page of results, meaning many students end using the exact same sources or arguments, which will fail to impress a lecturer. Google Scholar also doesn’t index a lot of key articles and has fundamental flaws in how it displays results. Despite Google’s best efforts, there’s a more effective way.
I suggest going straight to journal repositories. Find the top five journals in your study area and use their online search facilities. Most university libraries also have access to hundreds of specialized databases of articles and papers, which far exceeds the quality of work you’ll find using Google. A personal favourite of mine is Emerald Insight.
Then, go to the website of the top 10 universities you can think of, such as Harvard, Brown or Oxford, and search through their online journals. Universities always publish their research to protect their rankings.
When sifting through thousands of articles and journals, don’t scroll. Save time by using Ctrl+F to find specific keywords and topics. I also do this when reading huge eBooks or reports. Going digital is so much better.
Primary Research Bumps Up Your Grade
Email people; lots of people. A little primary research for an assignment can take as little as five minutes. When citing a paper or article, I normally email any questions to the author. This is something very few students do outside of their final year thesis. Author contact details are typically found on the inside page of a report or on the university’s website. I’ve found university professors (even those in different countries with nothing to do with my college) very open to questions about their work and they have no problem being referenced in a student assignment. It’s easy bonus points to bump up a grade.
Learn How To Type
Seriously. Typing properly is the biggest time saver in college, where writing 10,000 words of notes and academic assignments per week is the norm. Very few people type well and most opt for the “index finger only” approach. No matter how quick you can type like this, you’ll be three times as fast doing it correctly. You’ll also avoid an RSI muscle or nerve injury.
Saikat did an awesome rundown of some great online typing tutorials, my favourite being Typing Web. It’s a well-designed typing tutor that tells you just what each finger should be doing and grades your performance.
So, do you have any tips or tricks to get ahead in class?