First Year Gear

Hey folks, I’ve noticed that textbooks and other gear (iClickers, calculators, etc.) are the subject of many questions. I’ve written a quick guide on how to make sure you’ve got everything you need without burning a McMaster sized hole in your wallet.


Textbooks are an important part of first year, and also a very expensive part. Since there are ~1000 first year engineering students, textbooks are necessary to ensure everyone has an understanding of (or at least the resources to understand) the curriculum. That being said, not all students need to purchase textbooks from the campus bookstore. In fact, I recommend that you do not. According to Titles, the McMaster on-campus bookstore, the publisher receives about 80% of the cost. The rest of the cost is quotes as operation costs, and student services. See the fancy pie graph for a less numerical explanation. Though I believe the dollar amount received by the publisher might be a little high, it doesn’t really matter. A lot of books are available directly from the publisher, so this should theoretically save you at least 20%. There are a lot of ways that you can save time and money getting your textbooks. It is also probably good to note that you do not need textbooks the first day of class. In fact, most students I talk to find they don’t need the textbooks until several classes (sometimes even two weeks) in. Don’t be in a hurry to buy the books, unless you’re planning on getting ahead!

Know Your Options

There are many different buying options than the on-campus bookstore. In fact, one of the reasons textbooks are so expensive is because students continue to purchase the books from the campus store at such a high price. The most common alternatives are buying online, buying used, and buying at the Book Swap. There are also legends of easy-to-find digital copies of every first year textbook, but I can’t be sure.

Buying On Campus

As I mentioned before, the McMaster bookstore known as Titles will have everything you need. However, in the first few weeks, the campus bookstore will have a line of over one hundred students trying to get their textbooks. This can result in hours of waiting to even get into the store. In the latter part of the rush, the store is often out of stock on common items like iClickers, forcing students to leave without having everything they need. In first year, when you’re busy with class and everything else, this can be a major inconvenience. If you plan on buying textbooks from the store, be aware of this and make the time.

Buying Online

Online textbooks will often be cheaper, and can be purchased new or used. One of the most common ways to buy textbooks is through Amazon. Amazon offers a huge selections of textbooks and gives a good description of the book’s edition and condition. Additionally, McMaster students are eligible to receive six months of Amazon Prime. Activate this before you buy your textbooks, and you won’t have to pay for shipping (on Prime eligible books). If you’re looking to activate Prime, you can help me out by using my affiliate link to sign up. Some books I’ve found on Amazon can be as low as 20% the price of buying from the bookstore. Even if you don’t buy online, I recommend at least checking it out so you can see how low textbooks can be priced.

Buying Used

Throughout the year, there are always offers and ways to find textbooks around campus. There are several Facebook groups dedicated to the sale of used textbooks, and there’s almost always someone looking to sell first year engineering textbooks, if you’re willing to go looking. If you’re buying used, I highly recommend the Book Swap.

The Book Swap!

The Book Swap is probably the best way for you to get your first year engineering textbooks. “Why is this at the bottom then, Jamie?” Because even though I think this is the best method, you should always know all your options first. The Book Swap is hosted every term, and encourages upper-year students to come sell their books to those who need it. A great place to get everything you need, but there will always be a limited quantity, and is subject to participation. More information about the Book Swap will be available by the time you need it!


There is some equipment you will need for first year. This includes (but is not limited to) an iClicker, calculator, lab coat, and goggles. All of this equipment is available new and used as well. It is important to note that you will need everything listed above. Do not enter a lab without the proper equipment, and do not bring an unauthorized calculator to a test or exam.

The iClicker Problem

Almost every year, Titles runs out of iClickers. When this happens, students are unable to participate in “mandatory” in-class quizzes and participatory elements of some classes. Don’t worry. Professors understand this situation are accommodate those who are unable to receive an iClicker. If you are one of the students who has an iClicker, do not share it with other students, as this is treated as academic dishonesty. In time, Titles will receive more units, and all students will be able to participate in these quizzes.


The official McMaster calculator is the Casio FX 991. There are several versions of these, but I recommend the MS, as it is technically the calculator quoted by McMaster (or at least, it was in my first year). Other versions of the FX 991 are allowed, and I’ve never seen a student have any problems with their calculator so long as it says FX 991 on it.