10 best mobile apps for students

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The lazy days of summer are over and it's time to go back to school. That means it’s also time to top off your tablet or smartphone with the tools you need to succeed. We combed through the glut of educational apps in search of some that will help you manage your course load, prepare for exams, and even get you to class on time. These 10 made our Dean's List.


Ah, CliffsNotes. Teachers hate them, students love them. And now they’re available in an app. The CliffsNotes Study Guides app is free for iOS devices, but includes actual CliffsNotes only for “Frankenstein.” If your course load includes another classic novel, you’ll have to pony up $2 for each study guide you need. The available titles include a decent selection, ranging from “The Outsiders” to “Paradise Lost” and “Their Eyes Were Watching God,” but students in need of help with some lesser-known titles may be out of luck.

cliff notes

Cliffs Notes on your iPad look a lot like Cliffs Notes in paper form, but they're much easier to search and scan.

The digital layout of the actual Study Guides is well thought-out and easy to use—you can choose the “Cram Plan” if you’re short on time or the “Full Study Plan” if your work is on track. CliffsNotes are handy tools, even more so in their searchable digital form, but just remember: they’re not a substitute for reading the book. And I mean it!

EverNote Peek

EverNote Peek comes with a few pretty specific caveats. As soon as you launch this iPad-only app, it warns you that it's best experienced on an iPad 2 with an Apple Smart Cover (which folds in several columns.) I tested it on an iPad that met neither of those criteria and am pleased to report that it still worked very well.

evernote peek

Don't have your own Apple Smart Cover for your iPad? Evernote Peek provides you with a virtual one so you can take a quiz without seeing the answer.

EverNote Peek is a free app that lets you create quizzes for yourself based on the notes you’ve already entered in EverNote. The Note title becomes your clue, and the note body serves as the answer. EverNote Peek shows the clue across the bottom of the screen, and then you lift the cover to see the answer. Luckily, if you don’t have your own Smart Cover, EverNote Peek lets you use a virtual version.

Wolfram Alpha

wolfram alpha

Whether you're looking for information on unemployment rates or trying to solve a complex equation, Wolfram Alpha delivers the answer—and a whole lot more.

The computing power of Wolfram Alpha has gone mobile with the company’s various mobile apps. Available for Android, iOS, Kindle Fire, and Nook devices, this $3 app lets you access the Wolfram Alpha computational knowledge engine, which uses its store of “expert-level knowledge and algorithms to automatically answer questions, do analysis, and generate reports.” Say what?

If you’re looking for the value of your dollars in pounds, the caloric content of your breakfast, or the answer to a complex math equation, just enter your question into the app's query field, and let Wolfram Alpha compute an answer. The hardest part about using Wolfram Alpha might just be figuring out all it can do.



RefMe's mobile app creates reference entries automatically, by scanning the barcodes of your books.

It’s not often that I find a mobile app easier to use than the web-based version (I have an affinity for a big display and a full keyboard), but such is the case with RefMe, a free app for Android and iOS devices. RefMe is designed to help create a reference list for a paper or project—often a grueling task that simply feels like a lot of extra work once the actual paper itself is done.

Using the web-based version of RefMe, you create a project and then build a reference list by entering or searching for the title of a book, journal article, web page, or another source. If RefMe finds the source, it fills in the information for you and formats it properly according to the style you select. Style choices include all the big names you’d expect, including Oxford, Chicago, MLA, and more. It’s easy enough to use, but the mobile app makes it even easier on you, allowing you to enter a title automatically by scanning the barcode on the book. There’s less typing and your work’s done faster? Sounds like an A+ to me.


That paper planner you’re toting around? It’s so 1999. Move into the new millennium with myHomework, a digital version of your favorite day planner from last century. Available as an app for Android, Chrome, iOS, and Windows 8, myHomework lets you track assignments, projects, tests, class schedules, and more. Enter an assignment, and myHomework will know when it’s due based on your class schedule. If your teacher uses Teachers.io, the app also allows you to receive assignments and messages directly. myHomework is available in a free, albeit limited version; you can get more features by opting to receive ads and upgrading to the Premium version for $5 per year.


myHomework lets you cross out completed items, just like that old paper planner.


When it comes to taking notes, your iPad may not necessarily be the first device you think of. After all, it’s much easier to type quickly on a laptop or even to take notes by hand. But Notability, a $3 iOS app may change your thinking. It allows you take notes by hand on screen (a stylus will prove helpful if you’re interested in speed and legibility) or by typing. Notability also allows you to record audio and take and add photos to your notes—just try doing that with your old-fashioned notebook. 


Notability lets you import files—such as your teacher's slides—which you can then mark up with your own notes.


rescue time

RescueTime offers a detailed look at how you've spent your time—the good and the bad.

If you spend hours sitting at your computer trying to get your schoolwork done, but you never seem to get anything accomplished, RescueTime is what you need. This desktop application runs in the background, tracking everything you do on your computer, and delivers a report on how you’re spending your time. The free version tracks the time you spend on websites and applications, lets you set goals and sends weekly reports. At $9 per month, the Premium version is pricey, but it adds the ability to track time away from your computer and lets you block websites that may be hampering your productivity. RescueTime won’t write your next paper for you, but it can go a long way towards knowing what you need to get it done.


Studious, a free Android app, isn’t going to make you smarter. It can, however, help you to appear a little more studious, thanks in large part to its feature that silences your phone in class. After all, I’ve never met a teacher or professor who appreciated that sort of interruption. But that’s not the only way Studious can help you in school. This app also allows you to save your class schedule and class locations and track assignments and tests. Its interface isn’t the best I’ve seen, but it’s still easy to use—and sometimes that’s enough.


Studious doesn't feature the most elegant user interface, but it's very usable.

Khan Academy

Khan Academy aims to offer “a free, world-class education for anyone anywhere.” That may not appeal to you if you’re already paying tuition, but Khan Academy can help anyone, thanks to the amazing amount of content it offers, via more than 4,200 instructional videos, all available for free online, or via apps for iOS and Windows 8. Want to learn about the housing markets? Khan has it covered. Same with ancient art and civilization. Or Monarch and enlightenment. And math topics from kindergarten to high school and beyond. It also offers test prep for exams like the SAT and MCAT. You get the idea: Khan Academy is comprehensive. Before using it to brush up for class, you may want to touch base with your teacher, though, just to make sure its teachings are in line with what you’re expected to know.


Khan Academy's iPad app makes it easy to navigate through its impressive collection of instructional videos.

Math Alarm

math alarm

Math Alarm lets you turn off the alarm after you've solved an equation; luckily, it's problems are not very difficult.

Want to make sure you get to class on time and squeeze in a little extra math practice as well? That’s exactly what Math Alarm, a free iOS app, can help you do. Set the alarm for the time you need to rise, and you’ll have to answer a math problem in order to turn it off. The problems aren’t tricky—think basic addition—but they are enough to rouse your brain so that you’re more likely to wake up and not hit the snooze button. There is a snooze option, too, just in case you need it. I do wish Math Alarm made it slightly easier to set an alarm, as you can do so with fewer taps on the built-in iOS alarm clock. But that’s a minor complaint about an app that, overall, is just a fun diversion.

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