Sparknotes: Just a Shortcut?

By Owen Lynch

Sparknotes LogoIf you’re a high school student enrolled in an English course, you’ve likely heard of SparkNotes. If you haven’t, Sparknotes is a website that has extensive study guides for books frequently read by students in school. These study guides include plot summaries, character lists, and literary elements. Some high school students have become so dependent on SparkNotes

that they don’t even bother reading the assigned materials.

Students often reference SparkNotes under three circumstances: a) they had difficulty comprehending the assigned literature b) they did not have time to read story or were lazy or, as reference to study for exam. There are plenty of pros and cons to SparkNotes. Pros include saving time, highlighting details the reader may have missed, SparkNotes is a great resource.

In defense of teachers who do not support SparkNotes usage, there are also major, glaring cons. Given that SparkNotes summarizes what occurs in the literature, the student who just refers to SparkNotes and does not read misses out on the author’s diction and voice and relies on someone else’s interpretation to guide them through a unit. Another con to SparkNotes is that its writers might view parts of the story as more important than the student’s teacher, or visa versa.

Teachers have widely varying opinions on SparkNotes. Some see the website as despicable and under no circumstances encourage their students to use it. Others see it as a respectable secondary source to reading the book and a great method of studying before an exam.

Above all, teachers would prefer their students to read the book itself and gather information from class than have their students read a stranger’s interpretation of the story and construe that as fact. Most teachers do not have a problem with their students using SparkNotes as a study guide prior to an exam if they have been actively reading the book, but if they see a student sitting in the library with a blank homework assignment and SparkNotes pulled up on the computer, it might warrant a zero.

SparkNotes is an excellent study resource, but if you are relying on it to carry you through four years of English, it is not a formula for success. However, reviewing a work of literature on SparkNotes can provide the reader with a deeper understanding of the material. Looking over SparkNotes before one of your tests as one of several sources is recommended. All in all, in recent years SparkNotes has served as a friend to students and an enemy of teachers.


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