By Eric Garneau
Well before the Internet became a household feature, CliffsNotes and similar tools existed for students who needed some help processing whatever classic work of literature they'd just read. Over the past decade, those tools have migrated to the Web with varying degrees of success. Below, we've profiled three of the best, including some old favorites and a new contender looking to change the way students study. Don't forget to come back here and vote once you've chosen your favorite!
What started as a basic note site offering summaries and commentary on literary classics has grown into a premiere destination site for teens and students of all kinds. Study guides for classic novels like The Scarlet Letter and To Kill a Mockingbird still exist and still no doubt help students fill gaps in their knowledge the night before a test, but the rest of the site is a wealth of clever, useful material as well. Consider SparkNotes' College Blog, which offers practical advice to students in a friendly, helpful voice, or their test prep section, which provides study tips for those scary, all-important standardized adversaries. They also host a wealth of materials beyond traditional notes to help readers understand popular literature, whether it's their series of video notes, their recasting of Victorian classics as teen romance novels or their brilliant 'No Fear Shakespeare', which puts the Bard's original text side-by-side with a more modern-sounding iteration.
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While CliffsNotes, too, has its fair share of commentary on classic works like Romeo and Juliet and Lord of the Flies - over 300 are available in total - they've expanded their notes into almost every academic subject you can think of. Having trouble writing? Check out their tips on grammar or English. Can't quite nail down differential equations? Fret not; there are notes for you too! Even topics like criminal justice and business management receive representation on the CliffNotes site. Much like SparkNotes, Cliff also helps when it comes to standardized test preparation and college living. For students who'd like traditional hard-copy study materials, the CliffNotes site also hosts a store where users can purchase bound editions of their texts for a small fee; however, the site certainly offers a lot of free material as well.
OpenStudy aims to combine homework help with the social networking era. It's building a community of online learners looking to both get and give assistance with questions. The site's divided into over 30 study groups in topics like biology, language and mathematics (seemingly the most popular). By entering a group, users are taken to a page where they can ask questions from their school assignments. This page live-updates like a Facebook stream, keeping users up-to-date on the latest discussions. While you ask your own questions, you can go offer assistance with any that have already been posed. The effect: a massive online community created to help solve problems students struggle with on their own. Best of all, signing up for OpenStudy is totally free.