The Smoke Signal, MSJ's Official Newspaper


Drive-Thru Literature

I admit it; I used to be someone who used Sparknotes indiscriminately. Temptation lured me to err at 2:30 AM, after hours of diligent work (and sneaky procrastination). Completed the history notes? Check. Reviewed for the biology lab? Check. Studied for the pre-calculus test? Triple check. Finished reading chapters one through eight of The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn? Che– oh, shoot. Guess I should read the abridged summary online then.

During the wee hours of the morning, the heart-stopping realization of overlooking the English reading assignment creates immense panic for any sleep-deprived MSJ student. Horrifying images of being clueless during in-depth class discussions or – even worse – failing pop quizzes come to mind. Frantic for a solution, chronic forgetters pursue their last resort for salvation: Sparknotes.

The widely-used literature help website Sparknotes and its lesser-known cousin Gradesaver have long been providing MSJ students assistance during times of need since their Hopkins days. Who could hate a complete and organized list of analysis, character descriptions, and plot summary when desperate for an easy method to soak up the text within minutes?

However, Sparknotes isn’t always used for its intended purpose as a “literature study guide.” Occasionally, Sparknotes becomes the main source of literature itself. Students blindly pray that 15 minutes reading the writing of sometimes-unqualified undergraduates will sustain them for the next discussion or assessment. Unfortunately, they often get away with it.

However, this last-minute behavior tends to perpetuate itself due to a self-created, prolonged bout of procrastination. Once the final exam rolls around, those unlucky few who haven’t attempted to read the actual novel will become disillusioned the hard way. Most teachers tend to ensure that their tests evaluate the student’s knowledge of underlying themes and concepts, as well as details that cannot be gleaned from reading abridged literature websites. As a result, poor test scores frequently reflect the student’s reliance upon shortcuts and their inability to even glance at page one of the book.

The idea of self-control goes hand in hand with how students should utilize Sparknotes and Gradesaver conscientiously. Although these resources to succeed in class are available, they shouldn’t be abused to the extent that one is completely dependent upon them. These websites are meant to supplement the reading done in class and at home, not replace it. So, should we read the actual book instead of relying upon every English teacher’s sources of exasperation? Definitely check.

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