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Why do students prefer guides to textbooks?

Filed under: People and society by Hari
Posted on Thu, Oct 21, 2010 at 10:44 IST (last updated: Wed, Nov 10, 2010 @ 12:15 IST)

Text book or guide A lot of lecturers/teachers/educationists in higher education often lament that students look for quick fixes in the form of guides or short notes instead of using textbooks and in-depth reference materials for study. Guides or notes are often compressed (often simplified) study materials on a particular subject in easily digestible doses and often provide solutions or answers to frequently asked examination questions. The quality and depth is lost in the process of distillation, but most students do not seem to mind this, instead preferring the simplification offered by guides or notes.

Though I myself hesitate to use guides as replacements for textbooks, I believe that if a student wants to score higher in examinations with lesser effort, a guide seems the best method to achieve this in a shorter period of time.

Bear also in mind that guides are focussed and cover the entire syllabus of a particular subject (as prescribed by a university or institution) fully and are often a fraction of the price of textbooks. Some guides are even more attractive, providing solutions to previous question papers on the subject. This approach allows students to study entirely from an examination-oriented point of view and gives them the confidence to approach any examination on the topic if not with thorough knowledge, at least with enough to score marks. Textbooks are often not focussed and sometimes go in-depth into certain topics which are not on top of the student's priority in the limited time allotted for preparation. Many textbooks are also not syllabus-oriented, which forces students to buy or borrow multiple textbooks for the same subject. Textbooks do impart a lot more knowledge than guides or notes, but often such knowledge is often not absorbed easily in a short period of time. In-depth reference books are worse in this aspect, being tailored to qualified professionals rather than students.

The single biggest problem with the textbook approach is finding a textbook that reasonably covers the entire subject uniformly and without too much depth into specific topics. Unless a university publishes its own textbooks students will always be hard-pressed to find all the subject material quickly and easily. Yes, there is a market for smaller student-oriented textbooks too, but often they are but thinly veiled guides and lack the quality of a full-fledged text.

Unless the current system of examinations are changed and knowledge rather than memory is rewarded, there will always be a huge market for guides and notes. Forcing students to memorize a whole lot of information in a short semester rather than requiring them to understand and reproduce smaller but more manageable areas of knowledge within that subject is the single biggest reason why guides continue to remain popular. Hassled and overworked students welcome the brevity and simplicity of guides. The basic issue of course is that breadth of knowledge is given a higher priority over depth in undergraduate courses. Knowledge suffers as a result, but nobody seems to care much about it at all.

Of course, with the growing popularity of the internet as a reference tool, there is an even bigger reason why students don't want to spend a whole lot of money buying bulky textbooks or references. Notes are cheap, easily available, convenient and handy. What more do students want?

5 comment(s)

  1. actually if a student gets best teaching..
    there is no need of guides..
    not even textbooks..
    most of the indian teachers in schools(as far as i seen) are textbook readers than teaching..

    Comment by Logesh TamilSelvan (visitor) on Thu, Oct 21, 2010 @ 21:57 IST #
  2. Sadly you're right, Logesh. Teachers aren't motivated enough to give their best and they simply neglect the knowledge aspect of education.

    Comment by Hari (blog owner) on Thu, Oct 21, 2010 @ 22:16 IST #
  3. I think the problem lies in this statement: "Unless the current system of examinations are changed and knowledge rather than memory is rewarded, there will always be a huge market for guides and notes". The question is, how?

    Every education reformist wants to do this - but how and what do you do to test "knowledge"? More importantly, how do you know that a person whose knowledge of a topic you are testing is actually interested in it or has an aptitude for it?

    Bigger still is the problem of scale. You can train a hundred teachers to test the knowledge of a thousand students in one subject (using some form of pen and paper test in the end, I believe). How does that scale to a million students taking exams in two hundred major subjects at the end of the year at all education levels?

    The textbooks are there mainly to kindle interest in a subject I believe. The interesting footnotes at the end of a math textbook, the short story in a book that was out of your syllabus but you read it anyway - those are the real education since you read it out of your own interest. Guide books will exist for the foreseeable future with the sole purpose of getting students through exams. I think they are useful. ;-)

    Comment by Sudipta Chatterjee (visitor) on Wed, Nov 3, 2010 @ 01:13 IST #
  4. Good questions, Sudipta. I was just saying that the current system forces students to memorize a huge volume of information and vomit it out in examinations.

    In my view a better system would:

    1. Reduce the syllabus burden on students considerably and actually encourage investigation into particular topics. Syllabus should not contain a list of mandatory study topics but should be recommendatory in nature -- it should chalk out the boundaries only.

    2. More weight should be given to internal evaluation (in the presence of external observers to avoid bias) and marks should be awarded for submission of reports and mini-booklets by students on selected topics. Students should be given plenty of time to prepare such reports and be able to answer questions on that topic.

    3. Examination questions should not be purely fact-based but also force students to think deeper into the subject and come out with their own conclusions. Formulaic approach should be avoided.

    4. Finally grades should replace marks all over India at school level and undergraduate courses. For admission into colleges or higher education institutions, interview and aptitude test should suffice.

    Comment by Hari (blog owner) on Wed, Nov 3, 2010 @ 09:48 IST #
  5. Guides should only be a supplement to good books. And, there is no substitute for good teachers.

    Comment by Promotional Pens (visitor) on Tue, Dec 28, 2010 @ 14:17 IST #

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