The Best Online Study Guides for Better Grades

Updated on November 28, 2018
Stacie L profile image

Stacie L has been an educator for many years and likes to share her experiences and advice.

Study guides have been around for years helping students from middle school to college with test preparation, study techniques, book reports, social media and much more. It is essential for young men and women to have access to this information to get ahead.

According to USA Today, students are using technology to study for tests. It seems books are passe', and they are now being uploaded to the all mighty internet, where kids live.

Everyone Benefits from Study Guides

School age and college students all share something in common; they all want to improve their grades. Students have a wealth of information on the internet today, so weeding through that is a chore in itself. Home-schooled students can also gain valuable insight and information from these online help sites.

The new guides are more than just reviews. Some are interactive and provide multiple tools for learning including question and answer sessions, practice in essay writing and grammar review. The online study websites can now act as the teacher and provide lessons to home-schooled students as well as students on-campus. The homework sessions will be less of a nightmare for frazzled parents, as well. Let's face it, if the student is frustrated and doesn't understand the material, then they may become turned off to learning and which can lead to more potential problems in the future.

Those who research and write online will also find some benefit to using these online study guides. Book reviewers will find a wealth of information that will make their job easier. Some may claim that using these sites are a form a cheating you, but must decide that for yourself.

4 Interactive Study Guides

Here is a brief review of some of the more well-known study guide websites.

1. Cliff's Notes

Cliff's Notes is the granddaddy of the modern study guides and spawned a huge industry for the education field. The company was started in 1958 by Clifton Keith Hillegass and originally began with 16 Shakespeare study guides. Now they have guides for almost every subject on their website. Learning aides such as Cliff's Notes has provided students with some insights into literary works that were a bit overwhelming for their understanding. The website carries over 300 titles of literature, writing help, foreign languages, math practice, science, test prep, college advice, and a study break.

The best part of the website is that all this help is free! Anyone can visit a subject area and practice lessons in writing, grammar, learn French or Spanish, practice calculus and take a study break with entertaining games. I wish this was around when I was a student!

2. Spark Notes

Spark Notes seems to be an edgier version of Cliff's Notes if their website motto is any indication: “when your books and teachers don't make sense, we do." They provide help in most of the same subjects as Cliff's Notes plus more.

There are two interesting headings on the site titled “No Fear Shakespeare” and “No Fear Literature.” The former lists Shakespeare classics side-by-side with modern language translations so students can easily understand and relate to what the famous poet was actually talking about. The “No Fear Literature” portion of the site has a similar approach to other literary works such as The Adventures Huckleberry Finn, The Scarlet Letter, and Beowulf. This could be very helpful for reluctant readers by making the work more relevant. Anything that will keep a student's interest is a tremendous aid.

There is also a social component to this website called Sparklife. Students can connect through music, movies, book reviews, take personality tests and ask for advice on the Auntie Sparks cartoon column.

An Introduction to Cliffs Notes

3. Monarch Notes

Monarch Notes has been around for many years. They review children's and young adults literary works. Some of the book titles include classics such as Tom Sawyer, The Grapes of Wrath, and Tolkien's and The Fellowship of the Ring.

Each guide contains the author's biography, their complete body of works, critical analysis and interpretation of the works. The notes also provide questions and answers, suggested readings and annotated biographies. This is a cut and dry material without the social aspects, so be prepared for serious reading.

They do not have their own website, but they're included in many sites as well as on Amazon where students can also obtain the notes on CD's. Many teachers use CD's to plan lessons. It would be a good choice for the tutors and home-schoolers too.

4. Book Notes

Book Notes claims to be both the original and the the largest literature guide of its kind on the internet. They track down literary notes, book summaries, study guides and notes from all the other guide sites and then some. The main sites they obtain information from is Cliff's Notes, Spark Notes, Wikisummaries, BookRags, Pink Monkey, Barrons, Novel Guide, Book Wolf, ClassicNotes and Schmoop.

With 25,000 total books and over 28,000 resources indexed, Book Notes is the most complete website guide I have seen. It is actually more impressive than many library collections.

This is strictly about literature reviews, so don't look for math help or grammar assistance here. There is a search box on the top of the website page that a visitor can find information by author or title.

Lost in the library. Are books obsolete?
Lost in the library. Are books obsolete?

Lesser-Known Interactive Study Guides

There are other lesser-known, but (just as good) study guides listed on websites such as:

I must admit that I used Schmoops with a homebound high school senior while reading Shakespeare's Hamlet. It was a great time-saver, and the material was presented in modern-day American English. I don't think we would have been able to finish the assignments and write a research paper without it.

I'm in favor of students and home-schoolers having sites to help them achieve their academic goals, I just don't want them to over-rely on these sites. There is a fine line between helping and harming. Parents still need to monitor what their children are doing and where they obtain information from. It's easy to copy information and write a report, but it's a different story to understand the information and interpret it. Students should be aware of is one fact: teachers have plagiarism websites to check their work!

Message to the Adult in the Young Person's Life

Adults must be vigilant and not let the internet fulfill their role in the educating process. Our goal should be to develop students' thinking skills, not to just fulfill an assignment.

Whether you are a middle schooler, high schooler, a college student or an online writer, these study guides will be a great benefit. Students can interact academically and socially on most of the sites mentioned.

I have listed both the main players and some of the lesser-known names in the educational study guide field today. I hope this article provides some benefit, and I hope your thirst for knowledge is never quenched!

Have You Ever Used a Study Guide to Study and Research?

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© 2017 Stacie L


Submit a Comment
  • Stacie L profile imageAUTHOR

    Stacie L 

    18 months ago

    Thank you for commenting on my article but I see my students at least, using their phones to research than library books.

    I guess it depends on the age of the student. ;).

  • John Welford profile image

    John Welford 

    18 months ago from Barlestone, Leicestershire

    Interesting! I have just retired from a 40+ year career as a professional librarian, the past 18 of those years working part-time in a university library. There are certainly changes taking place in the material formats on offer to students, but I do not see that print - in the shape of books and journals (etc) - will disappear any time soon. There are so many ways in which the print format is more convenient than screen-based ones, and today's students are fully aware of these.


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