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Top 4 Productivity Tools for Students

Updated on July 21, 2014

For the organizationally challenged...

If you're a student like me, you're often swimming upstream against deadlines and responsibilities, and you almost never feel like you're on top of things. These tools can help you organize your studying time, sync your notes across devices, and improve how efficiently and effectively you study.

Memrise turns your studying into a surprisingly addictive game, and you will surprise yourself with how much you can learn in a short time. Evernote, Google Drive, and Dropbox will all save you a lot of self-emails, with the added bonus that you never need to worry about losing a memory stick.

My reviews of these tools are purely from my own experience with them, and are definitely not going to cover everything that they're capable of. I'll just give you a quick overview of how I use them as a time-stressed student, some pros and cons, and how they've helped me get through my university education successfully.

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The quiz format is simple, clear, and very addictive! The key to using Memrise successfully is to make creative, entertaining "mems", which are mnemonic devices that can help you remember details you struggle with.
The quiz format is simple, clear, and very addictive!
The quiz format is simple, clear, and very addictive!
The key to using Memrise successfully is to make creative, entertaining "mems", which are mnemonic devices that can help you remember details you struggle with.
The key to using Memrise successfully is to make creative, entertaining "mems", which are mnemonic devices that can help you remember details you struggle with.

1. Memrise

I first heard about Memrise when I read this article about a man who learned a language in 22 hours of studying, and naturally I was intrigued. While still in bed I signed up for the site on my iPhone and started making myself a course that would help me memorize the scientific names of insects for my entomology class. With this app I memorized countless insect names, and have since used it for microbiology, forestry, ecology, astronomy, and many other courses.

It's best to get started with Memrise in a web browser where you can get a good look at the site and what it has to offer, and click through the different courses that are already available, just to get a feel for it. Once you've made an account you can start creating your own courses based on the material you need to study.

Browse through the FAQ's here or read about the science behind the game here.

2. Dropbox

Losing a memory stick might be one of the more panic-inducing of our generation's "first world problems". So much valuable time and effort condensed into this tiny piece of plastic that seems capable of wandering off all on its own.

Students are typically very mobile and often need to transfer files between different computers. For example, to upload a Power Point onto a classroom computer for presentation, many students will have the work saved on their own computer (and only there) and then save it on a memory stick or email it to themselves to open it on the classroom PC.

This is all fine, until the USB stick wanders off into oblivion, or you forget to send yourself the email after finishing the assignment.

Dropbox eliminates much of this stress by acting as a virtual, online memory stick. You install it directly to your computer and it gives you a special folder where you can save things, exactly as you would save things to a memory stick or a normal folder on your computer. The difference is that the Dropbox folder keeps itself synced to online storage, so every time you hit the save button it is saved both offline on your PC, and online in your account at This means you never have to remember to bring your assignments with you, they are always available to download from any computer as long as you have an internet connection.

If you're working on your assignment and the internet goes down, no worries! Just keep working and saving, and Dropbox will sync up again as soon as it gets the chance.

Dropbox also makes dreaded group projects easier to organize with shared files. If your fellow students also have Dropbox installed, they will always have up-to-date versions of the files stored in the shared folder. If not, they can just log into their accounts online and download them from there. This will save you a lot of those lengthy, convoluted email threads.

To start out, you get 2GB of free storage space. You can get more space if you refer friends and they install Dropbox on their computers (you don't get anything if they just create an account, they need to actually install it). Using a referral link will get both you and your friend an extra 500MB of free space. Click here to find out more about how referrals work.

One more nice thing about Dropbox is that you can install it on your smartphone, tablet, or as many computers as you like and link them all up to your account. Most people don't actually take the time to frequently save multiple versions of their documents, since this is time consuming and sort of just seems paranoid. However, if lightning happens to strike your house and fry your computer, and your internet goes down at the same time.. you can still access your files on your other devices, as long as they have recently synced and are up to date.

3. Evernote

If you take your lecture notes with a laptop, Evernote can do wonders with helping you organize yourself. You can either install it on your computer or use it right in the browser, and it lets you easily type out your notes and save them within different notebooks. It's a lot smoother than saving a mess of separate word documents into folders on your computer, plus you have the added benefit of being able to access them online and sync with all your different devices.

It's easy to flip back and forth between notes and notebooks, and if you're looking for something in particular but forgot which lecture it was from, you can easily search all the notes at once.

4. Gmail

If you're like many students, you might already use gmail as your primary email program (my university email was also through gmail), but you might not realize how much your gmail account can actually do for you.

Google Drive is a great example of that. Just like Dropbox, it can completely eliminate your need for a physical memory stick by making it easy to upload, download, and share your files.

Sharing files is somewhat less straightforward here than in Dropbox, but if your collaborators are also using gmail it can be very easy. Since my university email was via gmail, it was very simple for me to send files using the drive, since everyone already had a google drive whether they realized it or not (many did not).

Even better than the file saving and sharing capabilities, google drive lets you create and edit word documents, spreadsheets, presentations, and more right in your web browser. This means you never have to remember to press "save"! It saves automatically every few seconds, takes up no space on your computer, and anyone you have shared it with can see you writing in real time, so it makes collaboration incredibly easy and actually enjoyable.

Google Calendar is also a fantastic tool for students, since it is so convenient to access, can sync with your smartphone, and is very simple and quick to use. You just click and drag to create an event, with the option of either simply typing in the title of the event or clicking ahead to enter more details and add reminders. It is also very easy to colour code your events, and make repeated events as well. I am generally not the most organized person, and my time management skills can be downright pitiful. I worked two part time jobs on campus while in school full time, so for me Google Calendar was a lifeline when my schedule started to get out of control.

Here's how I used it:

I always had my class schedule set to repeat weekly for the duration of the semester, and used grey to differentiate those blocks from other events. Then I used red for deadlines and exams, purple for social or leisure plans, green for appointments, light blue for one job and dark blue for the other, and yellow for telling myself that I should use a block of time to work on a particular task.

Here's a great hub with some advice on organizing a study schedule.

How to access these tools from your Gmail inbox:

When looking at your emails in your gmail inbox, look in the top right corner of the window for your name with a + beside it, then to the right of that you should see a small icon composed of little squares, followed by a bell further to the right. If you click on the little squares, you will see a drop-down menu with icons showing different Google apps you can access through gmail. This is where you will find the icons pictured in this article, which will lead you to the Calendar and Drive apps. Neither of these tools require you to install or download anything. Both can be accessed easily from your web browser and all with your gmail account.

Challenge yourself to make things easier!

School can be difficult for everyone. It is full of stress, deadlines, and overflowing to do lists, but hopefully these tools can help you through it. If you're not normally an organized person, challenge yourself to try out some of these suggestions and see if they can make life as a student a little bit easier for you.

If you're just starting or thinking about university or college and are looking for some more advice, here is a link to another hub I wrote about my experience with post secondary education and how to get the most out of university: 10 Real Things I Learned in University

Best of luck with your studies!


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