Tips from an Irvine SAT Tutor: SparkNotes is Killing Your SAT Score!


Many students just love getting out of doing their homework.  In fact, I have found students who have arguably done more work trying to get out of an assignment than they would have if they had just done the original assignment, to begin with.  There is just something about being required to do work that can fire up all sorts of creativity to avoid it (book your private Irvine SAT tutor today.

Unfortunately, English classes tend to be the main victims of this trend.  Whether it’s American literature, language arts, and literacy, or reading and writing 101, your English class is guaranteed to include required readings.  The problem with the required readings is that they tend to fit the three main criteria that drive students to skip them: they’re long, they’re boring, and they’re easy to skip without getting in trouble.

Now, it is important to note that this isn’t true.  Reading assignments are rarely particularly long unless you procrastinate and have to do it all at once.  The readings usually aren’t uninteresting or academic – many teachers strive to assign exciting, interesting, and diverse novels and stories.  And, they aren’t free to skip if you care about your standardized test scores.

That’s right, skipping out on doing your required reading will cripple your preparation for tests like the SAT that may determine your ability to get into college.  This is because a key component to your SAT score comes from reading comprehension and critical thinking related to readings.  You are introduced to passages – many of which are chosen purposefully for being confusing, boring, or for covering atypical material – that you have to read and answer questions about.  The questions assess how well you understood the material, the author’s intentions or opinions, and your ability to draw inferences or interpret messages.  This is also done under a rather strict time limit.

As an experienced Irvine SAT tutor as well as a teacher, I can also say that the reading portion of the SAT is often the most difficult for students to improve upon in the short-term (short-term here meaning even as long as a year of studying and preparation).  Your critical reading skills come from years and years of repeated practice and exposure.  A long and thorough history of diverse reading is the best preparation for this kind of test.

Don’t Avoid Required Reading

The problem is, students now often try to avoid that reading.  There are many resources that students use now.  SparkNotes and CliffNotes are the classic examples, but other sites like Shmoop, GradeSaver and BookRags are used.  The main foc,us behind these sites is to give book/chapter summaries of commonly assigned school readings and/or to give quick guides and lists to help students answers common questions.  Students can even take advantage of resources like Quizlet and even Wikipedia and Youtube (check out the channel ThugNotes) for fast summaries to skirt their required readings.

These resources are not inherently bad.  In fact, many of them are useful tools to get quick refreshers, prime yourself for future readings, or to efficiently study and remember main points.  The problem is when they are used in lieu of the actual reading.  Without trying to read and interpret the material on your own, you aren’t getting the practice you need to have high quality comprehension skills.  If you are letting SparkNotes tell you what everything means, then you are missing out on the learning opportunity of figuring it out on your own.

Many students complain that they don’t understand some of the required readings that they are assigned.  That if they didn’t read summaries and shortcuts that they would fail their assignments because they can’t understand what’s happening in the book.  This is okay!  The act of struggling through a reading and not being comprehending everything is how you get exposed to new writing and get better at reading it.  This is where you can use these resources and it is how most of them are meant to be used.  Do your reading, then refer to a guide to help you piece together any parts that you struggled to grasp.

If your M.O. in English class has been to never open the book while you skate by with quick and easy summaries, then you are not alone among students everywhere.  But you should know that by doing so you are taking away your main source, of reading comprehension and critical verbal thinking practice.  Take the time and always try your readings – your SAT score will thank you.

Michael C. is currently a private math, science, and standardized test tutor with TutorNerds in Irvine and Anaheim.

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