I'm an undergraduate student studying psychology using English language in a non-English speaking country. I'm graduating soon, and I'm applying for master programs. We mostly use McGraw Hill publications for our undergraduate curriculum.

My concern is this: Our instructors teach us through slides, and books are secondary learning sources—that is if they are used at all. These abbreviated slides use the same chapters of the book, yet not all chapters are covered, in fact some courses cover as little as half of the relevant book's chapters. Is this normal across the world?
A friend of mine told me that academic books are made to accompany both bachelor-level topics, and master-level topics, and this is why some parts were excluded for undergraduate programs. Is this correct?

I'm asking this because I don't want to get shocked when doing my masters and discover that I'm under-prepared or under-trained.

  • It depends on the course, the professor, and the culture. When I took numerical analysis (three times, don't ask) we didn't really follow the book explicitly. Commented May 26, 2018 at 18:43
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    While a little off topic, I think this answer of mine is related: academia.stackexchange.com/questions/28675/…
    – StrongBad
    Commented May 26, 2018 at 23:19
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    There are some open questions : 1. Are the McGraw Hill publications copyright protected material? 2. It is a distance-education course or at a real school? 3. Why do you study psychology? and 4. (the most important question): How much do you have paid for attending the course? Commented May 27, 2018 at 7:31
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    Is it normal that they only cover one textbook and not all the books? Commented May 27, 2018 at 8:34
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    @ManuelRodriguez: Why would questions 3 and 4 be important for this question?
    – Wrzlprmft
    Commented May 27, 2018 at 8:37

3 Answers 3


Not covering the entirety of a textbook is true in absolutely ever course I've ever taken, and is true of every institution I'm familiar with. However, I would not say that it is true that any given subset of sections of any given book are the ones that every professor covers; in fact, at least in the US, each professor has a wide latitude in choosing what parts of the book they want to cover, and to what extent their lectures and/or tests cover the same material as the book at all. Some professors, in some classes, prefer only to cover whats more-or-less written in the book, and some intentionally lecture on topics that are not in the book and rely on reading the book to cover other topics. Some professors even have a book only as optional reading and you don't need to read any of it.

All of the above is true at the undergraduate level, and even more true - in my experience - at the graduate level, as professors deviate even further from any available textbook.

As to some books being designed for both undergraduate and graduate levels, this varies by book. Some books are almost never used at the graduate level, and some are almost never used at the undergraduate level, and some are used in both but to different extents.

But to answer your core question: yes, it is very common not to cover the whole book, and no you shouldn't worry about it. Its always good to lightly skim through the material that isn't required, so you get an idea of what you are skipping, but generally most professors make it a point to select out the material they believe is most important and relevant and skip what they don't deem necessary. Few professors ever follow the order of the book, either, and prefer to select their own ordering - and rarely do two professors agree on what that order would best be.

And don't worry - if you end up doing anything challenging, you will always feel tremendously under-prepared and under-trained, no matter how many textbooks you've read. That just comes with the territory :)


Yes, it is common to teach a course using only parts of an associated textbook.

In particular, read the "Preface" (or "Foreword", or "To the Instructor") part of your textbook(s); it usually specifies one or more suggested course sequences, which sections are optional, which sections more strongly depend on other sections, etc.

If you're really concerned about being under-prepared, then there's nothing stopping you from just reading the other sections on your own. This itself will be a skill broadly expected in graduate school, so it's not bad to practice itself at this time.


Most textbooks simply have far too much content for a one-semester undergraduate course. So I would say, yes, this is the norm.

In some cases, instructors might cover only a rather small section of a textbook. Introduction to Algorithms (CLRS) and Compilers: Principles, Techniques, and Tools ("Dragon book") are two good examples: while they can and are often used as undergraduate texts, the books themselves are more like handbooks and can be a valuable reference even for senior researchers. It is certainly impossible to cover much of the book in an undergraduate course in this case.

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