6 Great Tech Tips to Beat College on a Budget

Dean Sherwin 30-08-2013

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.

eBook Textbooks


While not free, Book Renter [Broken URL Removed] 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 [Broken URL Removed] 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 3 Websites To Purchase Electronic College Textbooks One of the biggest shocks for me when I first enrolled in college was the insane cost of textbooks. Unfortunately, there is really no way to cut out this problem, but if you don't want... Read More of textbooks. The files have an expiry of 6 months, after which they will be unusable. As an example of savings, this textbook [Broken URL Removed] 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 3 Tried-And-True Tips For Buying Cheap Textbooks The start of my fall semester classes is approaching faster than I want, marking the inevitable end of a spectacular summer for me. That doesn’t mean I don’t enjoy the process of getting ready for... Read More .



Sprint Through Lectures

Man Jogging

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 The 10 Best Websites for Free Audio Books Want to listen to audiobooks without paying a premium? Here are the first websites you should check out. Read More .

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?).

Open Courseware MIT


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 6 Really Good Sites with FREE Video Lectures from Top US Colleges Read More 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 8 MORE Knowledge Websites With Free Online Video Lectures The online video world is more than music videos and somebody’s cat chasing a laser pointer. It is also a treasure trove of knowledge nuggets and crowd wisdom. Our fixation on YouTube shouldn’t allow us... Read More 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.

Library College

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. 3 Tools to Remind Yourself to Take a Break & Relax While Working at the Computer Working on the computer may not be very physical, nevertheless it's tough on your body. If you are damned to spend your working hours behind a desk, you had better find ways to do something... Read More

Typing Web

Saikat did an awesome rundown of some great online typing tutorials Learn How to Touch-Type With These 8 Top Tools & Tutorials Learning how to touch type could mean the difference between 10 words a minute to more than 40. That could also mean the difference between adding half a day to your productivity. Or, more than... Read More , 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?

Image Credits: Jogging via Shuttershock, Ebook via Flickr, Law Reports via Flickr, University Library via Flickr

Related topics: Audiobooks, Ebooks, Education Technology, Save Money, Study Tips, Touch Typing.

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  1. Adam
    September 19, 2013 at 1:24 pm

    Dean, really love your last tip. As a fan of touch typing tutors. I would suggest to take a look at few more great souces. Hope, they will be useful for students.
    - (this service has easy-to-do exercises for beginners, free typing test with a free certification service. The best feature what I like - facebook competition with friends, you are motivated to type faster than any of friends)
    - (races with friends, what can be better)

  2. Lana
    September 3, 2013 at 10:16 pm

    It is crippling not to have learned typing. My typing teacher (also BCIS) was so impressed with my knowledge of computers he gave me an A for typing. I type nearly 60 words a minute with only two fingers. Sucks, as I know I could be even better.

  3. Charles R
    September 2, 2013 at 3:07 pm

    If you can't type properly by the time you get to college, there's something wrong. I learned properly through a homeschooling group, back in 3rd or 4th grade (good 'ol Mavis Beacon). My WPM was probably in the high 80's - low 90's.
    When I transferred to a small private school in 5th grade, they didn't learn to properly type until 6th grade computer class. My WPM speed had declined somewhat, but everyone was amazed at how fast I typed, rarely looking at the keyboard.

    My point is, until there is a paradigm shift to something else, we will be using the QWERTY keyboard setup for a long time to come, almost no matter what job you take. If people aren't learning by high school at minimum, that's crippling to them.

  4. Pooky J
    August 31, 2013 at 7:52 am

    QWERTY simply kills my fingers.

  5. dragonmouth
    August 31, 2013 at 12:08 am

    "College is supposed to be fun, not four years of stress."
    I don't pay for my kid to have fun, I pay for her to learn. She can party one her own time and dime.

    • Dean Sherwin
      August 31, 2013 at 7:33 am

      That's understandable. But college is as much about what you're taught in class as it is what you teach one another between classes.

      I'm leaving university an entirely different person. I don't think 9am lectures are responsible for that! :)

      • dragonmouth
        August 31, 2013 at 12:25 pm

        "I’m leaving university an entirely different person. I don’t think 9am lectures are responsible for that! :)"
        At your age, just being 4 years older makes you an entirely different person, whether you go to college or not. :-)

        • Dean Sherwin
          September 1, 2013 at 9:13 am

          Very true!