Sparknotes is good, OK?

Téa Schmid, Reporter

If one thing has been consistent among my many years of English classes, it has been the phrase “and don’t use SparkNotes”. This simple phrase made me terrified to even look at the website in middle school, thinking if I did, my teachers would know immediately and give me an F. However, upon taking my first pre-AP class sophomore year, I realized how great of a tool SparkNotes really is. 

The first time I used the “infamous” website was when my class was studying the classic Charles Dickens novel A Tale of Two Cities. If you have read any book by Charles Dickens, you know they are very difficult to understand. As it turns out, SparkNotes was actually really helpful for my understanding of the book. Reading the summary before reading the chapter helped me keep track of where the story was going and I was able to answer every question assigned to that chapter easily. 

Now, from my understanding, the reason teachers have a dislike for SparkNotes is due to the students who read the summaries and analysis INSTEAD OF the book. Ms. Emily Birch, one of Bothell’s very own English teachers, says that her “greatest concern with SparkNotes is always that students will miss an opportunity for intellectual growth by relying on a web site to do their thinking for them. There is no substitute for close reading of a challenging text.” To those people I say, PLEASE STOP DOING THIS! You are giving the whole site and the people who use it correctly a bad reputation. Nothing about the site is meant for students to cheat. It’s a student AID. It is there to help further a student’s understanding not to give them the answer. Another BHS English teacher, Ms. Deirdre Duffy, says it best: “I do think there are exceptions where students can use [SparkNotes] as a reference for trying to understand something they can not process in the initial assigned reading.  For instance, Shakespeare is suitably difficult to read and understand on its own. So, if students are reading a Shakespearean text, then use SparkNotes as a reference to understand something, then go back to the original text, I see that as a student using resources to aid in their learning. But if they rely only on SparkNotes, not only are they missing out on the literary art form, they neglect the crucial depth and nuances within the text.”

Speaking of Shakespearean texts, another great aspect of the website are their translations of texts written in Old English. I, personally, find these translations really helpful because the modern English and Old English versions are side by side. I have a very hard time getting the important information out of the Old English, so being able to look at both at the same time has not only helped me understand that specific text but also further taught me how to read and comprehend Old English by itself. Seriously, the only reason I was able to add to my AP class’s discussion of Hamlet was because of the SparkNotes translation.

If I am being completely honest, I do not think I could have made it through high school without the use of SparkNotes. As I got older, the texts I was required to read got more and more difficult to understand and had I not had the website, I would have felt like a complete idiot when discussing the texts in class. This article is not meant to endorse cheating. If there is one thing I hope students take away from this article is that they should not be scared to use SparkNotes for help but SHOULD NOT REPLACE THE BOOK WITH IT! SparkNotes covers may cover the main points but they will miss so many good minor details that enrich the story as a whole.