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Seven essential mobile apps for students

Get the new school year off on the right foot with apps and services

The new school year is just around the corner. Sarah Tew/CNET

Time to crack open those books, sharpen some pencils, and buckle down for another academic year. We're feeling the school year begin in our house, where soon, long nights of football practice will give way to homework time, often with the aid of some useful apps.

I've cut through the clutter and put together a list of educational apps that have something to offer students in middle school, high school and college. You'll be able to use them with your Android or Apple device, and often your desktop browser. Some of them are so handy, it almost makes me want to go back to school again. I said "almost."


Blackboard Mobile Learn (free)

Designed as a collaborative tool, Blackboard Mobile Learn works in conjunction with schools and institutions. If your school licenses the service, $2 will buy you lifetime access to a host of features.

Blackboard works in tandem with many schools and institutions. Blackboard Inc.
Blackboard works in tandem with many schools and institutions. Blackboard Inc.

Students can log in to check grades, view content posted by an instructor, or get involved in various discussions. Additionally, it's possible to take mobile-friendly tests, create blogs and journals, and upload media. User-defined settings also allow for color coding, labeling and favoriting course items.

Do note that not all institutions are on board with Blackboard just yet. The number is certainly growing; it's easy to search to see if your school is among those supported and licensed. In addition to Blackboard Mobile Learn, Blackboard Inc. offers a host of apps built for specific schools, too.

Available for Android | iOS


Coursera (free)

Those of you looking for some higher or continuing education might be interested in checking out Coursera's free online classes. Packed with more than 1,000 free courses spanning 25 subject areas, the on-demand classes work with even the busiest schedule.

The classes come from more than 120 leading universities and institutions, including Yale, Stanford, Columbia and Princeton. Courses are available in a dozen languages, and non-English classes still often offer English subtitles.

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Coursera offers more than 1,000 free classes from highly-respected institutions. Coursera

Students can bone up before a test or learn from a different perspective on topics such as calculus, music and psychology. Entrepreneurial-minded folks may appreciate help in areas such as competitive strategy, public speaking or developing innovative ideas. Employees looking to bolster their portfolio can even print out recognized certificates upon completion.

Available for Android | iOS


Duolingo (free)

Learning a second (or third) language isn't exactly the easiest thing in the world. Fortunately, Duolingo makes it much simpler to speak in new tongues. And, the best part, it's completely free.

Using the concept of gamification, users will read, listen and speak each lesson. Duolingo tracks how many days in a row you stay in the grind, and provides instant "grades" and suggestions for improvement.

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Duolingo makes a game out of learning new languages. Duolingo

An independent study conducted by the City University of New York and the University of South Carolina concluded that roughly 34 hours of Duolingo is equivalent to a full university semester of language education. In other words, a few short weeks of commuting could really boost your language skills both in and outside of the classroom. Likewise, a couple of lessons here may be all that turns your "B" into an "A."

Available on Android | iOS | Windows Phone


Quizlet (free)

For last-minute cramming before a test, break out the flash cards. Quizlet lets users create their own custom cards based around any topic in the world. Additionally, the app lets you share your own cards and borrow flashcard sets from millions of other users.

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Quizlet lets users create and share flash cards. Quizlet LLC

Unlike the index flash cards of days gone by, the app works with images and audio right alongside the text. Moreover, it can liven up otherwise boring fact recollection by turning it into a game.

Thanks to seamless sync and online support, your card packs can be accessed and shared pretty much everywhere, even offline. Now you have no excuse for not knowing the state bird of Ohio. Go on, look it up.

Available on Android | iOS


myHomework Student Planner (free)

Being a student is no easy feat. With homework, tests, quizzes and reports to worry about, it can be quite daunting to keep up with multiple classes. That's where apps like myHomework Student Planner come in handy.

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The iPad version of myHomework Student Planner takes advantage of the larger display size. Instin, LLC

Available as a free app and service, this one keeps track of class schedules and homework calendars. Additionally, you'll find an organizer and student planner, reminders, priority settings and integration with Teachers.io, the online companion service for teachers to organize their homework assignments. Perhaps the best feature is the app's cross-platform sync and support that lets you access it from just about any device.

For $5 per year, the Premium experience will remove advertisements and toss in a number of extra features. Among the goods are dozens of custom themes, file attachment support and enhanced widgets (for Android only).

Available for Android | iOS


EasyBib (free)

Writing a school paper is one thing, but properly citing sources is a completely different animal altogether. For some of us, mastering the art of a good bibliography can take years. Easybib is a free platform that takes the hassle out of giving credit where it's due.

Users can create accurate citations as simply as scanning the barcode on a book. Don't have the book in front of you? Search for it by title or ISBN and the app will take care of the heavy lifting.

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EasyBib makes creating bibliographies a breeze. Imagine Easy Solutions

Once you create the bibliography, you can export it via email, so it goes neatly into your paper. Thanks to support for MLA, APA, Chicago and some 7,000 citation styles, you're sure to meet the class or teacher's requirements.

Available for Android | iOS


Evernote (free)

Perhaps the most familiar name on this list, Evernote is a wonderful tool for all sorts of productivity. Students can tap into its potential in a variety of ways, including jotting down notes, snapping photos of blackboards, and keeping checklists for big projects.

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Outside of education, Evernote can be used in many settings. Evernote

As a catch-all app and service, Evernote can be used to store and share documents, PDFs and other popular file types. The collaboration and sharing tools work well for those times when you're paired up or in groups and have fairly involved work to do. Using tags and notebooks make it easy to organize by subject, while agendas and action items keep the team focused.

While the free app might be enough for most users, the Plus ($25 per year) and Premium ($50 per year) subscriptions open the door to even more possibilities. Going the paid route adds additional storage space, offline access, PDF annotation and improved search.

Available for Android | iOS


Nearly every app listed here offer websites you can access from anywhere, and syncing makes sure that any changes you make on the app or desktop will appear everywhere else you open the app as well. Some also provide PC and Mac applications you can download, while others work out of your browser (some also have specific browser extensions, like for Chrome browser).

Suffice it to say, this collection of apps can definitely give students an advantage as they head into the new school year. With each software update and service iteration, the tools continue to improve.

There are, of course, plenty of other apps out there that students might find helpful. I would love to hear what you're using to stay on top of things. Share your favorite educational and organizational apps below, and study smart!