The Telegraph
Thursday , August 25 , 2011
Since 1st March, 1999
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When you consult an online study guide for a literary review do you end up following it blindly or worse, substituting it with the actual reading of the textbook? If yes, then you are spoiling the case of online study guides. Ideally these guides should be consulted only as study aids and should not stop you from using your own intellect and creativity to come up with an analysis of your own.

The view of Cliff Hillegass — the founder of, our featured website this week, supports this notion about study guides. He says that opinions expressed in CliffsNotes aren’t rigid dogma meant to discourage your intellectual exploration. You should use them as a starting point to open yourself to new methods of encountering, understanding and appreciating literature.

If you use the website responsibly, then it can be an asset in not only understanding famous literary works but also learning science, maths, history, grammar, languages, accounting and economics.

CliffsNotes study guides were first published in 1958 in the US with 16 titles of Shakespeare. The online version today, boasts of 300 literature notes that can be accessed for free. Each literature note includes a book summary, analysis, critical essays on theme and plot, character analysis, quotes, quiz, practice projects and more. That means when you are reading a review of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, you not only get the summary of the play but also an act by act analysis, a synopsis about Romeo, Juliet, the nurse, Mercutio and Friar Laurence, a character map, a biography of Shakespeare, two critical essays, top seven quotes from the play, a quiz and several sample essay questions. Phew!

Besides Shakespeare you can find reviews of contemporary works as well, including Khaled Hosseini’s The Kite Runner, Paulo Coelho’s The Alchemist and Stieg Larsson’s The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.

CliffsNotes can come to your help when you want to polish your writing and grammar skills. The section titled writing has a chain of short articles exploring various aspects of writing as well as a segment explaining the basics of the structure of the English language and the intricacies of English grammar. The site offers help in learning the basics of biology, chemistry, physics, anatomy, geology and earth science. Each subject has a set of free practice questions. In the maths section, learn the concepts of calculus, geometry, algebra and differential equations. You will find similar notes on accounting, sociology, management, economics, French and Spanish. If you have any queries, click on the ask cliff icon.

Students preparing for qualifying exams such as SAT, GRE, GMAT can also find relevant study materials on the site. There is a weekly study plan, full-length practice tests and free articles to help you prepare for these exams. The site offers cheat-sheets and glossaries for fast paced learning.

On the design front, the site uses bold colours of blue and yellow. It is extremely easy to navigate with zero distractions in the form of ad pop-ups or unwanted links. The site has lots to offer on algebra, organic chemistry, Spanish or French. In that lies the advantage of studying with this site. With sections on movie stars, the digital world and college life, the site moves away from being just a study guide and becomes a youth-oriented portal. Smartphone and iPod users can download chapters and reviews to study anywhere, anytime.

However, for all the variety of content on the site don’t expect in-depth information about any topic. The content is also not streamlined to cater to school or college students.The grammar section could do with more examples. The literature segment is by far the best with its vast collection of reviews. For students of other subjects the site offers a basic understanding of concepts and practice questions. Eventually, the site is an online pocket guide that helps you anytime anywhere.

fast facts


A site that offers literary reviews and study guides on many subjects



Content is not streamlined to cater to students. Lack of in-depth information on various topics

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