The best (and mostly free) apps to help you keep up in class

Work smarter, not harder. (No wait, please also work hard.)

By design, school is supposed to challenge you -- to push at the boundaries of your understanding of the world and make you a more well-rounded person. It's not supposed to be easy as much as it is fulfilling, but thankfully, there are ways to make your educational journey a little less difficult.

Luckily for you, a lot has changed since most of the Engadget team went to school. To help out, we've gathered a few apps here that should prove especially useful as you gear up for more long days of learning. (Trust us, you'll probably miss them someday.) Oh, and don't worry: Every one of these handy apps is available for iOS and Android, so everyone gets to benefit.



I'm a firm believer that working with flash cards is one of the best ways to commit things to memory, but hoarding stacks of them probably isn't great for the environment or your room's tidiness. That's where StudyBlue comes in: You can use it to create your own custom decks of flash cards for specific classes. More important, though, you'll be prompted to select a school and the courses you're enrolled in once you've installed the app -- that's all so you can access flash card decks created by fellow students who have already (or are currently) taking the same courses.

Now, people don't always share the same priorities when jotting down information to remember on flash cards, so you might not be able to study effectively with someone else's deck. Don't worry about that though. If nothing else, sifting through a fellow student's cards can be a great way to make sure you've accounted for all the subject matter you're responsible for -- even the stuff you might have forgotten about the first time around.

Subscribe to StudyBlue - $0+/month


Some people have keen, mathematical minds and can intuitively grasp complex relationships between numbers. Others, uh, aren't so great at it. If you fall into that latter camp, you're in good company, and Photomath might be able to help. Once you've installed it, all you have to do is snap a photo of the equation that's giving you trouble: It doesn't matter if it's printed or scrawled out by your own hand. Photomath then proceeds to solve the problem for you and provides a step-by-step guide for solving it yourself.


Obviously, that last bit is part of what makes Photomath so potent: It helps to dispel that feeling of looking at a math problem and simply not knowing where to start. (The less scrupulous among you might also notice it could be handy for cheating through your homework, not that we condone that.) You don't need to follow the process all the way through to the end either, in case all you're looking for are a few hints to get you going. You might come to a point in your academic career when you don't have to worry about math classes at all anymore, but until then, Photomath should make those courses a little less daunting.

Subscribe to Photomath - Free


Look, we've all been there: Important stuff is happening in this lecture, but it's taking so long to get through. While we wouldn't recommend you tune out entirely, the recording app Otter can come in remarkably handy in situations like these. Just hit the record button on your phone and let Otter use artificial intelligence to automatically transcribe everything your professor is droning on about. (Needless to say, you should sit close to the front if you plan to try this out.)

Otter's AI transcriptions aren't always perfect, but they're generally close to the mark and easy to edit after the fact. The end result: surprisingly well-formatted notes, ready to be skimmed at your leisure. It doesn't hurt that Otter is clever in other ways too. The app can tag specific recordings with keywords that popped up frequently, and it recognizes when someone else is talking (say, if someone across the way asked a question) to format the transcript appropriately. The best part: Otter's free plan gets you 10 hours of AI transcriptions per month. Use them judiciously and you might never have to worry about paying a monthly fee.

Subscribe to Otter - $0+/monthly

Office Lens

There's one particularly helpful trait for getting through classes that often goes overlooked: document management. A few weeks into school and you'll be drowning in who-knows-how-many syllabi, worksheets, study guides and handouts. You could invest in a filing cabinet, or you could start using Microsoft's Office Lens app.

There are plenty of file-scanning apps for smartphones out there, but Office Lens is particularly good at edge detection, so the documents you scan will actually look the way they're supposed to. And once you've snapped all those photos, the app can quickly turn them into PDFs, Word documents and even PowerPoint files you can refer back to when you really need them. Pro tip: It's easy enough to sift through those scans right on your phone, but to get full use out of Office Lens, you'll want a Microsoft OneDrive account so you can access them from any device.

Download for Android - Free

Download for iOS - Free

Subscribe to OneDrive - $0+/monthly

Khan Academy

I know, I know: Sometimes the last thing you want to do is put more work into a class than is absolutely necessary. When you really have to nail a subject, though, poking around on Khan Academy can be worth the effort. For the uninitiated, Khan Academy offers hundreds of completely free courses, ranging from world history to biology to statistics.


A solid chunk of the content the service offers is geared toward people in lower grades, but there are plenty of resources here available to folks gearing up to tackle more-advanced subject matter. (That is, assuming you have some extra time to devote to extracurricular study.) It's also worth noting that Khan Academy has a robust set of materials for people getting further along in their academic careers. Thinking about grad school? Or perhaps a future in law? No worries: The service also offers courses to help you bone up on the fundamentals before you take exams like the LSAT, GMAT, MCAT and more.

Subscribe to Khan Academy - Free


Trello isn't strictly a tool for students, but its dead-simple approach to task and project management can be a big help. (For what it's worth, Engadget uses it to help us bring you the news each day.) The service's biggest strength has to be its flexibility with different approaches to managing your work. Prefer to look at the big picture? You could easily chart out the courses you'll need to clear for your major or build weekly schedules.

If you're the type who likes to deal in the nitty-gritty, you can create boards for all of your classes and add cards for individual assignments. From there, you can attach documents, links and whatever other bits of context you might find helpful. It can take a little work to get everything laid out the way you want it, but after using it for a while, Trello might become an essential tool for keeping track of all the disparate bits that lead to academic success. Naturally, you can use it for other projects you'll need to tackle too: When it came time to start apartment hunting, Trello became an invaluable tool as I worked through a long list of places to visit.

Subscribe to Trello - $0+/monthly


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