Cheating with CliffsNotes?

You're in a time bind. You need a quick course in understanding Anna Karenina. You turn to CliffsNotes, because they're your only hope at this late date to get a clue before the big test tomorrow. If you manage to make it through all the chapter summaries, will you sleep tight . . . knowing that you skipped the step of actually reading the book? Wouldn't that be cheating?

Since their introduction in 1958, CliffsNotes have been synonymous with compact information, "the fastest way to learn." But when Cliff Hillegass founded the brand, he really didn't have in mind that students would choose to use only the CliffsNotes study guides for their reading assignments.

What Cliff did intend pretty much corresponds to the expectations of teachers: CliffsNotes is a reference companion to the original, not a replacement for the full book, play, or poem.

No doubt, literary classics can be tough to figure out, especially if the language is far removed from the way we talk today. Toss in genres, themes, plots, motifs, settings, author style, symbolism, rhetorical devices, and narrative techniques . . . oh, my! The oral report or paper you were hoping to prepare from your understanding of a particular work may seem an impossibility if you don't "get" much of what you've read.

That's where CliffsNotes come in. Written by people who have studied — and often, taught — works of literature, CliffsNotes study guides explore and interpret the classics from a well-versed viewpoint. Literature guides feature background on the author and his or her work; in-depth character analyses; summaries and commentaries for each chapter, act, scene, or poetic line; critical essays, glossaries; quizzes, and more to help make sense of even the most puzzling works.

Passing up the opportunity to read the book you've been assigned is a sure-fire way to fall short in class. Falling back on CliffsNotes as your only resource for test or paper preparation is an invitation for embarrassment (at the least) or serious repercussions (along with the embarrassment). Your best bet is to refer to the CliffsNotes version as you read through your book, play, or poem. You could read all of the original text before reviewing with your CliffsNotes guide. Or, you might want to check out a CliffsNotes synopsis of a work to get an idea of what's going on overall before you jump into the full read of the original.

CliffsNotes are tools to put together the often confusing parts of what you read. You can cite your use of CliffsNotes information and insight on any work by clicking the Cite This Literature Note associated with the free content on

As Cliff Hillegass himself always said, "A thorough appreciation of literature allows no shortcuts." The goal of CliffsNotes is to keep students from getting baffled and bogged down — and to make literature a lifelong learning adventure.