If you’re a current or past student, you know that textbooks are very expensive. If you’re just starting out, you’ll soon find out. Do you really need a textbook?
Tertiary-level textbooks are excruciatingly expensive- I’m talking about thousands of rands for a year’s worth of books. And what makes it even worse is that new editions of each textbook are constantly being published, and syllabuses change year-on-year, making it difficult to purchase second hand books from students who have already done that course. Money aside, some textbooks prove totally useless or incompatible with your style of studying, so you might as well not have bought them to begin with!
The good news is that textbooks are a luxury, not a necessity. So for those of you worried about the money, fear not, and for those of you worried about the thickness of the books, don’t worry- you don’t have to read them. University courses comprise of many sources of material, ranging from Powerpoint slides and articles through to mp3 clips, educational videos and textbooks. Not to mention lectured material and the notes many students make during lectures.
Preparation for tests and exams is often centred on completing past papers and revision packs, and meeting with tutors for one-on-one help. The point I make here is that there is much material and help available at university to help you get through each course, so buying the textbook is often not a necessity. The content to be tested will almost always be fully covered in freely available lecture slides and notes, and there is seldom (read never) material in the prescribed textbook that is not covered in lectures.
Remember that almost every university has an academic library, where textbooks are available for you to borrow. Commonly, library textbooks are lent out as ‘short loans’- 2,3 or 4 hour borrowings. The idea behind this is that students can borrow a textbook for a few hours to study with it on campus or at a local café, and then return it when they finish their studying for that day. This is not always a feasible option, as many students catch on to this and you may have trouble getting a book that is too popular, but it is an option nonetheless.
This said, it is always beneficial to have the prescribed textbooks for a course. They help when you are completing assignments and weekly tutorial hand-ins, they help you prepare for tests and exams (if you actually open and read them), and they are often-times just interesting and educational reads. Many students like to have textbooks and use them religiously, and others have never bought a textbook in their lives and yet still make the Dean’s merit list each year. Whichever route suits you is your decision.
As you’ve just read, textbooks are expensive. There’s no way around that. Whether you need it or not, is another question. It’s best if you decide for yourself what works best for you. Subjects like maths and physics could require you to use them everyday, while other subjects might not need it. Test it out in first year and see what will work best for you for the rest of your university journey.