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Textbooks: to buy or not to buy

By Serena Sajan, August 26 2019—

As the new term begins and courses move from the “Shopping Cart” to the “Enrolled Courses” list in myUofC, it’s expected that you may be buying textbooks. But, students often wonder if those textbooks will actually be used throughout the term, or if it’s just another way for professors and publishers to make a few extra bucks. 

Well, we’ve got the inside scoop on textbooks. In most rigorous and upper-level courses, there will be textbooks required unless the professor explicitly states that they will not use them. Then, and only then, is there a sigh of relief, knowing your wallet won’t take a hit. Often, you’ll hear professors say that you can buy old versions of the textbook, but the page numbers might be off from the newer version. This might awaken the laziness in you and you may decide to just buy the new textbook version, or you might be a little more cost-conscious and end up buying the older version. Either way, your bank account balance decreases. 

There are ways you can get around not buying a textbook, such as borrowing from the library or praying that even though the professor said they’ll use the textbook, they actually won’t. There are also cheaper alternatives to buying a brand-new copy, such as getting textbooks from the U of C Textbook Exchange Facebook group or from Bound and Copied—the SU-run used bookstore—buying older versions or renting a textbook from the U of C Bookstore or online through third-party websites.

So, what’s the best way to know if a textbook will be worth it or not for the semester?

Here are a few instances when you should make the decision to buy that book. 

The professor explicitly states that the textbook has practice questions:

In most cases, this means that the practice questions will help for an exam or that the questions may be assigned to be submitted for grading. Sometimes, it’s a cheaper alternative to sign out a textbook from TFDL, but if there are questions assigned or used for an exam, then the library only has enough copies to go around and it will be more convenient to just buy it.

Readings are assigned from a textbook:

If the course outline indicates that there are chapters to be read from the textbook and there are no other course materials used, then it is safe to assume that the professor will take concepts from the textbook and may use it for exams. 

You need extra help:

If you think that a course might end up being too difficult and it will be hard to keep up with lectures, then it might be helpful to buy the textbook to study and have available at your convenience. 

When an access code is required in the course:

If you need an access code for a course, and it doesn’t come without the textbook, then you’re stuck buying. Access codes are mainly used for assignments and sometimes provide an eBook. The advantage of this is that sometimes, professors may end up using the textbook content for exams.

It is possible that you can wing it through the semester without opening one page of the textbook, but that’s either because you are unnaturally intelligent, or the professor is just using other materials to teach the course and chose not to follow the textbook. Personally, I buy a textbook if I need to complete practice questions or study for courses that just regurgitate the textbook because that means exams follow the textbook too. In order to save money, the best way is to rent textbooks online or just buy the access code if needed—no need to carry heavy textbooks and no stress of renewing books at the library. And, if you do decide to buy a hard copy of the textbook, you can always sell it again!



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