Book study guides | Book report help
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When my son was reading “The Alchemist” last summer, it struck me how much of the book I’d forgotten despite its being one of my all-time favorites. I wanted to discuss important plot points with him, but for the life of me, I couldn’t recall some parts of the book. So, I picked it up again hoping to relive the magic of reading Paulo Coelho’s inspirational bestseller for the first time. But obligations kept getting in the way, until I caved and read the book’s study guide on Shmoop instead.
I was glad to have used Shmoop to re-acquaint myself with Coelho’s story about pursuing one’s personal legend amidst countless odds. The plot summary reminded me of why I loved the book and subsequently allowed me discuss its themes with my son.
Whether you’re a student who has to write a five-page book report for tomorrow or a reader who wants to explore alternative perspectives of old favorites, you’ll find plenty of help from book study guides and book summary websites. To be clear, these study guides are no substitute for reading the book cover to cover, but when used as a supplement, they do help to provoke thought and deepen insight.
Some of the uses of book study guides are:
- to improve your comprehension of the material
- to highlight the main themes of the book
- to aid in criticism and analysis of the text
- to understand symbols and motifs used in the book
- to satisfy your curiosity about books you haven’t read
- to aid your memory of books that you’ve forgotten
Many sites offer free study guides on thousands of literary works, but only a select few provide top-notch quality guides and analysis. Here are some that I recommend:
This cool study guide portal speaks the kids’ language, literally. Their free study guides are written in conversational, non-intimidating style, which makes Shmoop the top choice for young readers who may be daunted by the sophisticated language of books on their reading list. There are study guides not just for literature but also for math, science and history. A Shakespeare section includes courses, videos, and a fun Shakespeare “translator.”
Designed to help you “conquer the classics, one book at a time,” the literature study guides on Spark Notes provide summaries and critical analyses of classic and contemporary works. Its No Fear Literature section presents original text of classic works side-by-side with an easy-to-understand translation. The site also provides study guides for math, science, psychology, economics, film and drama.
Grade Saver boasts high quality study guides written and edited by Ivy League graduates. In addition to to free study guides, the site offers application and school paper editing services, literature essays, college application essays and writing help, for a fee.
The granddaddy of study guides, CliffsNotes has kept up with the times with an website that offers free study guides on a wide range of subjects ranging from Accounting to U.S. History. The site sells prep guides for standardized and professional exams like the SAT, ACT, Praxis, and GRE, as well provides free downloadable PDFs of “cheat sheets” and practice questions.
Bookrags claims to offer the largest collection of study guides, lesson plans, and critical essays online. The site also hosts a Homework Help forum, which readers can ask specific questions about any book and receive answers from other forum members. One professor has complained that the study guides tend to be simplistic, and the site tries too hard to get you to sign up for a paid service.