Shakespeare in the classroom sucks. Why? Because you are reading something that was meant to be performed and seen. This goes for most playwrights in general, whether it be Wilde, Beckett, or Hansberry. It is agonizing to have to sit in class and have read a play while you are seated at a desk. You lose track of the characters and the story by listening to a play being read in a monotone voice. A great way to get around this is to watch a performance of the play online. Watching a performance breathes life into the otherwise stale pages of a script. It easier to see and understand the emotions and objectives of the characters when they are acted out. I used this for almost all of the Shakespeare plays that I had to read in high school. There are numerous full-length play performances online that are free to watch and use full scripts (personal favorites linked below). So do yourself a favor and see the play, the way it was intended to be seen.
There have been numerous occasions where I simply do not feel like I have the time to read a book for a class. Or, the language used is dry and physically pains me to read (I am looking at you Nathaniel Hawthorne). I have found that one of the best ways to absorb the knowledge from a book in a relatively passive manner is to listen to the book on audiobook while doing something relatively mindless. One of my friend’s favorite methods was to listen to an audiobook and to play Minecraft. I have found that working out while listening to an audiobook works relatively well for me. Many of the books that are read in English classes are available in audiobook form online for free. Several websites specifically make audiobooks for books that are in the public domain. These are great resources if you do not want to read your book.
So you cannot or do not want to read the books that were assigned to you. Well that's a bummer, but if you really do not have the time to read the book you should know what online resources there are the best for you to glean some information about the book. Also even if you have read the book, using some of these websites to jog one's memory before a test can be a great use of studying time. First of all I cannot begin to extol the virtues of the review website Shmoop. Unlike other websites, Shmoop gives very full coverage beyond just a summary. It touches on a lot of the plot minutiae that could appear on a reading assessment. Furthermore it does a great job of explaining themes within the book and character relationships. I have found that Sparknotes gives a very basic plot summary and often includes slightly incorrect information about some literature. While I do not advise you to go into a test on The Sun Also Rises only armed with the knowledge that you read that morning on Shmoop, you will have a better chance at getting a decent grade than without.
The tricks that I have given to you are excellent for your English classes and can help you to achieve a better understanding of what you are reading and learning in class. If you are not a great reader to begin with, it is important that you at least make an effort to read the books. You can only get better at reading by reading. I wish all of you the best of luck with your finals!
-- Gabriel Moran