Anyone who has taken a standardized test like the SAT, GRE, or GMAT, or who soon must run one of these gauntlets, is familiar with the typical study options. Guidebooks, practice tests, classes, and even one-on-one tutors are the typical pillars of the daunting study process.
Meanwhile, the proliferation of smartphones and tablets has provided a platform for the exploding market for digital apps, and a bevy of new, innovative options are now available for those interested in studying outside the box.
[Learn more about college test prep.]
While there are roughly 16,000 education-centric apps to choose from, according to data from app marketplace Appitalism—some free, others costing $40 or more—it's best to use discretion when picking a study tool, says Simon Buckingham, Appitalism's CEO. "A lot of people think, 'Oh, there's 350,000 apps, what more could be done?' But when you have a look at them there does seem to be more of an emphasis on quantity than quality," he says. "[Many] aren't thinking through what a student would want."
Some apps, however, ranging from intricate to simple, can prove to be beneficial. Here are just a few of the innovative test prep apps on the market:
1. Watermelon Express: The app, created by University of Chicago Booth School of Business student Ashish Rangnekar, received funding from the same Web-savvy group that cofounded and provided financial backing to the popular discount site Groupon. Prospective test takers can purchase study kits for their computers, iPhones, or iPads for the LSAT, MCAT, GRE, GMAT, and SAT.
Live data lets users chart their progress in real time and compare their scores to those of their peers. Built-in study breaks cut to "edgy" and humorous YouTube videos that add a little levity to the otherwise arduous study process.
The content, provided by education publication giant McGraw-Hill is on par with any traditional study textbook, Rangnekar says, which is why the service is priced accordingly. GMAT test takers, for instance, must pay $9.99 and $14.99 for the iPhone and iPad versions, respectively. "We are not building apps that are just flashcards," he says. "This is a very comprehensive way to study."
2. Easel: This free SAT iPad app allows students to solve for "x" using only their finger and the touchscreen. Rather than reading problems on the screen and working them out with pencil and paper, students have a "digital whiteboard" that serves as their scratch paper.
If the student has trouble, they need only push a "Show Me" button, in which a digital tutor writes out step-by-step instructions that show the right path to the correct answer.
[Read about upcoming changes in the GRE and GMAT.]
3. Tutor.com To Go: This week, Tutor.com is rolling out an app that will allow tutors and students preparing for the SAT or ACT to interact in real time. Students can use the app to ask questions or send photos of questions that stump them, and a live tutor will respond and walk them through the answer.
The Tutor app will also have a whiteboard feature similar to the Easel product that allows the live tutor and students to work problems out together via a digital interface.
4. Traditional test prep companies: For GMAT test takers, Veritas Prep offers a free app for the iPhone and iPod touch. Features include timed practice tests and the ability to review answers, and drills on specific problem types that are the most challenging for the user.
Other test prep companies, like Kaplan, offer apps for the full array of standardized tests that can be used alone or in conjunction with a Kaplan course or other study materials.
5. eTextPrep: Though it's not an app designed for a smartphone or tablet, this new mobile service is simple and targets the activity woven into nearly every high school student's life—text messaging. Students receive three vocabulary words a day via text to help them prepare for the SAT, ACT, or an array of Advanced Placement tests.
Lynne Anderson, mother of four, launched the service in February after fighting a losing battle against her children's incessant text message use. The service, available on all major cellphone carriers, costs $7.99 a month on top of standard messaging rates. "We used to see text messaging as the bane of our existence," she says. "It became an, 'if you can't beat them join them' approach."