To read or not to read

Students supplement or skip out on assigned reading with Sparknotes

Students may take the fast-lane and choose to use the sparknotes for a book instead of reading it for English class.

Ian Raybon

Students may take the fast-lane and choose to use the sparknotes for a book instead of reading it for English class.

If there’s a shortcut for something, odds are most students are going to take the fastest route possible. When it comes to assigned readings, the shortcut usually takes the form of Sparknotes; abbreviated study guides available for most books.

“Sometimes I don’t even have time to read a book,” senior Madi Franquiz said. “So I go to Sparknotes, maybe flip through the book to get the general idea, then Sparknote it to get a deeper understanding, because the way my schedule is set up I just don’t have time.”

Most teachers are aware of this and will often create tests and quizzes to ensure that students who actually read the book have the advantage.

“Teachers are aware that Sparknotes exist,” English teacher Michele Riddle said. “When we make reviews or tests we take that into account. Personally, I always look at the Sparknotes before I write the quiz or the test so I can make sure that the students actually read the book and didn’t take the easy way out.”

English classes at the high school use the assigned literature readings to mainly focus on text analysis and skill development, so plot-based Sparknotes won’t help those who haven’t read the book at all.

“If your goal is to know the plot, then Sparknotes will help you,” AP Language teacher Jasen Eairheart said. “The way my class works, the language is what we are looking for, understanding more archaic language, like with what we’re currently reading, The Scarlet Letter. On the tests, the text is often right in front of you so Sparknotes isn’t going to help because you’ve had no practice with interpreting the text.”


However, Sparknotes can be useful for its intended purpose, as a study guide.

“I tell students, especially when, in my class, we read Shakespeare, to use it as a guide to understand the outdated language,” Riddle said. “I usually tell students to get a side-by-side comparison to understand what they’re reading, and Sparknotes has that for them.”

It’s also been helpful for successful students.

“If it’s a book that I think is really boring, that I zone out while reading, or if I haven’t read it in a while, I’ll use Sparknotes to brush up on it,” senior Olivia Fowler said.

Teachers don’t completely reject Sparknotes, even supporting it as a supplement to what’s being read, however, students often will not do well using it as an alternative to reading.

“It all depends on the purpose,” Eairheart said. “You can tell when students just use Sparknotes, because on plot questions they’ll do really well, but any analytical questions they’ll bomb.”