HomeCampusIs using SparkNotes cheating? Students and teachers weigh in

Is using SparkNotes cheating? Students and teachers weigh in


SparkNotes were initially created as a tool to help students understand literature, yet they have also become popular among students as an alternative to reading. While teachers believe SparkNotes are not only cheating, but prohibiting students from learning, students generally view SparkNotes as a time management device.

SparkNotes are a series of chapter-by-chapter online book summaries and analyses. When the Sandpiper polled a group of 100 CHS students in various English classes, 91 percent admitted to using SparkNotes. Of those 91 students, 54 percent use SparkNotes primarily as a supplementary tool to help them understand what they’ve read, while the remaining 46 percent report using SparkNotes instead of reading assigned material.

“I have no time to read,” one senior remarks. “Between sports and college applications, English reading isn’t a priority.”

Only 9 out of the 100 students polled did not report using SparkNotes. Of these nine, most said they had never heard of the site.

“I hadn’t heard about SparkNotes until the teacher specifically told the class not to use them,” a sophomore honors student recalls. “Rookie mistake. Now I use them all the time.”

Graphic by Logan Falkel

The general consensus among the students polled is that SparkNotes are a time management tool to lessen homework loads. But does the use of SparkNotes in the place of reading extend into the realm of cheating?

English teacher Dale DePalatis believes that SparkNotes should be considered cheating when students use them in lieu of reading. However, he makes it clear that he doesn’t take points off when he sees SparkNotes used, only discourages their use as it is ultimately the student’s choice to learn.

“The art of writing is lost when students only read summaries,” said Barbara McBride, another English teacher who believes reading the summary instead of the book is cheating.

Students have different perspectives.

“I still understand the literary work when I read the SparkNotes summary, just in a less time-consuming manner than reading the whole book,” one sophomore says.

Despite the massive number of students that use SparkNotes, most are never caught or face consequences. 

“I can tell when people are using SparkNotes and not reading the book because they never have anything original or interesting to say,” says DePalatis of students who think they might be able to evade detection when using SparkNotes.

English teachers Pat Robel and DePalatis add that unoriginality and not forming opinions on works of literature is a danger students face when using summative analysis like SparkNotes. A lack of ingenuity is not something that should be encouraged, they say.

“Literature matters because it gives us vicarious experiences of being a human,” Robel says. “Characters’ sorrow and joy applies to us all and our shared humanity. Nonetheless, going back before a test and using them as a review tool can be very valuable.”

SparkNotes is nothing new. High school students have always rebelled against literature, as reflected by the decades-old material comparable to SparkNotes.

“When I was in high school, it was Cliffs Notes,” Robel recalls. “I remember when you had to go to a book store and find them.”

Now all of these summative book digests are online and at students’ fingertips.

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