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Banning Cliffs Notes: An Extreme Measure

As I prepare to graduate from college, I have a confession to make - I have used Cliffs Notes and I am not embarrassed to admit it.

Cliffs Notes have helped me receive better grades on exams and papers about novels that I had a hard time understanding. I can safely say that on some of those exams, I would not have received an "A" without the guide of Cliffs Notes. I'm not dependent on them, but I do use them as an aid. And that's what Cliffs Notes should be - an aid to guide people through difficult readings.

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Cliffs Notes contain plot summaries, analysis, and even review questions for short stories, novels such as "Moby Dick," and plays. Everyone can benefit from them. Novels such as "The Scarlet Letter" by Nathaniel Hawthorne are not only read by students in literature classes, but often for enjoyment by people like my grandmother. People often turn to the notes after reading that book in search of clarity or consideration of a point of view they just might have not thought of before.

On April 7, my school, Boston University, decided to pull Cliffs Notes off our bookstore and convenience-store shelves. Some faculty members have complained that students are relying too much on the yellow-and-black striped booklets - using them for everything from not reading assigned material to plagiarizing.

"Some faculty members said BU can't be serious about the classroom if we allow for Cliff Notes," says Colin Riley, a BU spokesman.

Of course, some students have cheated by skipping the books and using just the Cliffs Notes. One student received an "F" in one of his classes for plagiarizing Cliffs Notes - which is all fair enough. Anyone who plagiarizes well deserves an "F" no matter what their source is. But isn't a ban a bit drastic?

If BU is going to ban Cliffs Notes, why not just ban the Internet? After all, students are buying their term papers from the World Wide Web, something that prompted a recent lawsuit by BU against such academic cheat sheets.

Certainly professors have to be vigilant about plagiarism and "short cuts." And it's true that policing such activities is getting increasingly difficult, courtesy of the World Wide Web. But singling out an often useful study tool - one that can help out if lectures are unclear or if professors are inaccessible - is misguided. Let the professors decide punishment for cheating on an individual basis instead of punishing everyone by banning Cliff Notes from our own bookstore.

I can clearly remember wanting to cry after reading Sophocles's "Antigone" for my Theater Appreciation class. Even after watching the play, I still wasn't understanding the themes and philosophy. So I bought the Cliffs Notes and studied them, but only after I had read and seen the play.

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The Cliffs Notes helped explain the themes I was having trouble understanding and even asked review questions which helped me prepare for the exam.

I got an "A" on that exam, and I believe the Cliffs Notes helped me study. The Cliffs Notes were by no means the reason I received a good grade, but they served as an aid for preparation. It was only by studying that I did well on the exam.

If Cliffs Notes are used in this way, then they will continue to be what they should be - a benefit.

* Karen Gates, a senior at Boston University, plans to be a political reporter.

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