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When Bad Books Happen to Good People: How to find Alternate Sources

Remember we had that talk about crappy books? About how a bad textbook required for an already difficult class sets us up for failure?

Well, when we are dealt a hand like that, we have two options. We can either allow our butts to get kicked and suffer a GPA drop (assuming we get a C), or we can quit whining and find better sources.

So, how can we find better sources?

Assuming the book isn't so bad that its information could be better explained by the shouting of a drunk, crazy man living under a Central Park bridge, the text should provide three valuable things:

  1. A list of learning objectives at the beginning of each chapter,
  2. A set of vocabulary words and/or equations for that chapter, and
  3. A review at the end of each chapter.

These things are gold. Do you hear me? They are SOLID GOLD. And what you do with these solid gold nuggets of help is pretty simple. 

First, get all that info for the chapter in one place. Use a word document, take notes, make copies. Do whatever will help root the ideas into your brain. Once you’ve done that, take those learning objectives and read over them.

Next, compare that list of learning objectives to the vocabulary words and equations and whatever else is listed in the margins as small notes or ideas, because they will most likely match up relatively easily. If they don’t, don’t panic. You’ll find where they belong (or you’ll end up not using them, because, well … the book sucks and that’s why we’re in this mess to begin with).

Now that you have the key concepts for the chapter and the buzzwords from the margins, you can plug the area from each section of the chapter into the search engine of your choice.

My main teaching man is Sal Kahn, of, because he teaches things in a conversational manner and uses nifty graphs and colors and explains things in a way that doesn’t make me want to shut the computer off (as much). The videos tend to go in sequence, so the concepts from the chapter will likely line up with your chapter. Use the videos, take notes, and use whatever other results the Google machine has rendered if you need further explanation.

After all of that, take your notes from the series of Internet tubes and compare them to the learning objectives from the chapter and make sure that there aren’t any gaps in what you’ve learned and what is required to learn. If there are any missing concepts, plug what’s missing into the search engine and repeat the above step.  

If there aren’t any gaps, it’s time for the end-of-chapter review. Try and answer a few problems, and see how it works out. If your book doesn’t have an answer key (like my Microeconomics book, which is what prompted this two-part blog in the first place) then type the question into the search engine again. You’ll likely find a response that will tell you the answer of the question. If your book does have an answer key (which it should, because we’re all adults here) you can just check your work. If you got it wrong, either try it again or use the answer provided to work backward to see where you got off track.

Now, you know how to face the questions that should be explained by your horrible, evil good textbook!      

And knowing is half the battle.

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