Sparknotes aids confused students who read confusing books

March 3, 2012 — by Karen Sung

Here’s a typical conversation between two students while at school: “So did you read the English book for homework?” “Nope, I just Sparknoted it.”

Sparknotes is famous in high schools for being the go-to resource for students when they are piled under a mountain of homework and want to save time by taking a shortcut in their English reading.

The truth of the matter is that high-school students often don’t have enough time or energy to endure 70 pages of “All Quiet on the Western Front” or to decipher the intricacies of “Hamlet.”

With Sparknotes, a website that offers thorough summaries per chapter for well-known novels, students are able to save themselves from sleepless nights (or falling asleep at their desk, using the school book as their pillow) and headaches from reading tiny printed text. No wonder Sparknotes is so popular; instead of reading pages of complicated literature, they can simply scroll through one page on the website and understand the gist in just a few minutes.

However, to the disappointment of some students, Sparknotes isn’t always an easy way out. Teachers have come to realize the aid it provides and have learned to design their assignments so that just reading Sparknotes will leave students no less confused and frustrated while taking tests and quizzes.

They have good reason to do so; Sparknotes’ original intention is to provide a study guide but by now, most students rely on it as a form of cheating, as they avoid reading the actual material itself and instead use Sparknotes as a way to escape homework.

Even so, Sparknotes is often a useful tool to help students connect the dots between the words they read and the actual meaning behind them. After the summary of each chapter, the site offers a detailed section analyzing the content. Or in the case of No Fear Shakespeare, an extension of Sparknotes, students can read transcriptions of Shakespeare’s plays into modern day English, which many students consider to be a life saver, or at least to their English grade.

The best method when finding the balance between Sparknotes and an intimidating English novel is to first scan the online summary for a general idea, read the novel itself and then refer to the analysis to fully understand each section. With the benefits of reading both the assigned chapter and the online analysis, students will also earn more participation points when they raise their hands and share their knowledge in class, thanks to Sparknotes.

Although teachers often dislike the fact that students may merely be sprouting off the words and ideas of Sparknotes, reading the website does lend to an enhanced understanding of the novel and leads to more productive class discussions.

After all, Sparknotes’s slogan is, “When your books and teachers don’t make sense, we do.”

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