Using Apps to Support Study
There are a huge range of apps that purport to help you study, both as a regular part of your course, and with revision.
You could, in fact, spend a large chunk of your study time researching them and trying them out, instead of actually studying. It seems likely, however, that some types of app are significantly more useful than others.
This page does not consider individual apps since these change all the time as existing apps are developed and new ones launched.
Instead, it looks at broad areas where an app may be useful to support your study, and also suggests areas where you may be better off using traditional methods.
A quick note about definitions
Apps, for the purpose of this page, are restricted to those for mobile or tablet, rather than software programs for your laptop or PC.
Note-Taking in Lectures
If you like to write things down, there is no substitute for pen and paper.
Studies have shown that recall of classes is better among those who take handwritten notes, rather than type their lecture notes on a laptop or other device. There are also very few really good note-taking apps for mobile or tablet.
However, there are drawbacks to taking handwritten notes. It is always possible to miss something. You may get distracted and/or fall asleep! It is also hard to make comprehensive notes as well as listening to the lecturer although you may find our page Note-Taking for Verbal Exchanges useful for tips and advice.
It may, therefore, be helpful to supplement your handwritten notes with some kind of lecture capture app, which allows you to record the lecture, and play it back later. This could be used to check your handwritten notes, or review areas that you found harder.
Verdict: Apps may be a useful supplement to pen and paper to get comprehensive records of lectures.
Note-Taking from Reading
The old days of sitting in a library and reading hard copies of periodicals are long gone. Most students now use electronic copies of journal articles via a laptop or tablet. It therefore makes sense to make your notes electronically too.
Do you need an app? Not if you do most of your work on a laptop. If you want to work on a tablet, you may find it useful to have a handwriting-to-typeface app, or an app that is compatible with Word or Excel. Some apps also offer highlighting and clipping as well.
There are also a number of apps that allow you to create mindmaps and other types of notes. This may be useful for those who like to summarise their thinking in pictures and cannot face drawing their own by hand.
Whether you decide to use an app or not our page effective note-taking for reading provides more information about this vital skill.
Verdict: Apps are not essential, but some may find them useful
Organising Your Time and Your Work
From planning your timetable to sorting out your revision schedule, student life can take a lot of planning.
Fortunately there are plenty of apps to help you do that. Now that most people organise their diaries and calendars online, it seems helpful to organise study in that way too. It also makes it easier to manage seminars and work groups.
Sharing resources is significantly easier if you can do so electronically. Cloud-based storage and document-sharing apps are particularly useful for group assignments or sharing drafts of work with your supervisors or tutors.
Verdict: Get the same apps as your study group, and make your life significantly easier.
There are a huge number of revision apps available. They offer help with preparing study notes, flashcards, quizzes and similar, to help you revise. There are also apps that offer guidance and help with particular exams, such as GMAT.
Revising in different ways is always going to be useful. It keeps you interested, and that means you can work better for longer. Beware, though, that revision apps may turn out to be the equivalent of creating colour-coded revision charts: a way of procrastinating and not actually doing any work.
Verdict: In moderation, apps could help, but there is no easy way to revise, and no substitute for doing the work and reading around your subject.
Tools and References
One essential tool for many students is a dictionary.
An app can be a reliable reference source that is always in your pocket, and there are many low-cost or even free dictionary apps.
Choose a reliable dictionary, and preferably your institution’s chosen reference source. For example, many US universities use Merriam-Webster as a standard, and many UK universities the Oxford Dictionary. Both are available as apps.
Other potentially useful tools include calculators and translation apps.
Again, there are a number available, and it is worth trying a few out to see which you like.
There are also apps that can help with referencing and bibliographies. You can scan the bar code of books, and the app will turn that into a citation for you. This could save hours of referencing and formatting.
Verdict: There are some very useful apps available that will save on carrying physical resources around.
One of the hardest parts of studying is to manage yourself. If you are the type of person who struggles to get out of bed in the morning when you need to study, or can never quite bear to switch off Facebook, self-management apps may be the answer you have been looking for.
There are a number of apps that act as alarm clocks. Some will make you do something before they will switch off, making it harder to go back to sleep. Others manage your sleep cycle, and are designed to wake you at the best possible time.
Self-control apps allow you to turn off distractions for a set period. This means you can settle down and study without being able to check up on your social media or email, and can be very useful if you are struggling to concentrate.
Verdict: Could be very useful if you are struggling to minimise distractions and get down to studying.
Nobody really wants to think about what could go wrong.
There are, however, a number of apps designed to help you and your friends look after each other, and stay safe. Nobody wants to have to use them, but it is much better to know that they are available than not.
Verdict: It is always worth taking a bit of trouble to stay safe.