Resources for Self-Studying Outside of School

By Kathy Xing

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​Today, students are encouraged to go to college more than ever, with parents and teachers claiming that a post-secondary education is a necessary step towards a good job and success in the future. According to the Pew Research Center, the number of college applications increased by 21.4 percent between 2002 and 2017. Thus, as the applicant pools to competitive colleges increase, colleges become increasingly selective of students. This has prompted many students to find ways to become more competitive in the college selection process, oftentimes by self-studying certain subjects and taking courses online.

When it comes to self-studying, there are a variety of available resources. One of the most common resources for studying for tests are test guides or prep books such as Barron’s or the Princeton Review. However, these books can be very expensive, ranging from $20 to $40. To avoid the cost, books can be borrowed from libraries, bought second-hand or shared between peers taking the same tests. These prep books provide a variety of strategies to succeed in specific topics, ranging from test-taking strategies to condensed material that is easy-to-follow, often accompanied by charts and other graphic organizers. They also include practice tests which are similar to official standardized tests and are a good way to get used to the formats of different tests. Aside from tests, students also study various subjects on their own, out of interest or to get an edge in school. An effective way to study outside of school is through various tutors. Peers who have previously taken certain subjects can make good tutors; they can sometimes even have an edge on teachers, since they know the feeling of not understanding a topic and may be able to better communicate topics in an easy-to-understand manner. Tutoring services have also been on the rise, ranging in classes to supplement school curriculum to classes meant to teach the entirety of the material for a subject over the summer or on weekends.

The internet can also be a good place to find study materials. One popular online source to complement what is learned in school is Khan Academy, which offers free online courses and other tools for students. According to the New York Times, Khan Academy has over 10 million users worldwide with over 5,000 courses. The videos on the website are concise and easy-to-follow, making it a good resource for students who may be struggling with a subject or need to study before a test. There are other available resources online when it comes to learning general skills, including Udemy. Udemy is a platform where online instructors can construct courses in their topics of interest, uploading resources such as videos, Powerpoints and PDFs. While Udemy offers over 130,000 courses in a variety  of categories including design, management and digital marketing tactics, though some of the courses may not be free. 

Some online resources are geared towards specific subjects. Duolingo is a free language-learning platform and offers 90 courses in 22 languages. It even offers fictional languages High Valyrian from Game of Thrones and Klingon from Star Trek. Duolingo provides lessons on grammar and vocabulary then tests users on the material. It functions much like a video game, using a reward system for in-game currency that can be used for character customization. Another subject-specific learning platform is Codecademy for learning how to code. It offers free courses in programming and markup languages. It provides specific tracks for each language, starting with the ubiquitous “Hello World” lesson and moving on the more complex topics.

Students can also take full courses for credit online. Online classes provide students with opportunities to take classes that are not offered at school or can let students skip classes at school. A report from the Brookings Institute explains that online classes are beneficial in that it allows easy access to education for students. However, the report also finds that online courses have higher drop-out rates than traditional schools. While online courses currently face drawbacks, there is potential for improvements in online classes in the future. This includes the incorporation of artificial intelligence to personalize the teaching to the student; with developments in artificial intelligence, online classes can match the pace of each individual’s learning speed and account for prior knowledge in a subject.

As colleges become more competitive, there are increasing numbers of resources that are available to students to give them an edge when it comes to education, both online and in-person. Furthermore, resources like Udemy and Duolingo are good for students who just want to further develop an understanding of different subjects and skills outside of school. 

Pew Research Center

New York Times

Brookings Institute