University: there’s an app for that

New year, new study tools

Image courtesy of Libreshot

By: Gabrielle McLaren, Features Editor

Despite debates in the world of education about whether electronics are actually detrimental to a student’s learning (a notion which my baby-boomer profs cannot get enough of), the technology we have today was created to act as a useful tool. Used badly or used well, the Internet and your electronic devices are there for you and will be with you throughout university. Here are some free apps that can help you start the spring semester off on the right foot.


I had a prof who swore by Zotero, saying that some of her doctoral candidates had used the tool to complete their dissertations. Zotero essentially builds you a bibliography as you scroll and browse.

Download the app to your Mac or PC and add the Zotero extension to your browser. Once you do, any time you have a web page, article, or essay on your screen that you need to cite, just click the Zotero icon to save the page to your Zotero library. You can even create different libraries to separate and organize your HIST101 TERM PAPER and PHIL105 KILL ME NOW sources.

Every now and then, you might have to correct or rename a source, but Zotero is a great way to generate a bibliography (it even lets you pick a citation style!) and track your sources in case you have to go back and review something in your research. It’s a lot easier and cleaner than copy-pasting a bunch of links to an empty word document and trying to make sense of them at 2 a.m. the next morning.  


With Forest, you pick a timeframe and during it an adorable digital tree grows to join your adorable digital forest. The trouble is that the tree dies if you leave the app. If Forest is open on your phone, simply leaving the app will kill your tree. Using Forest on your computer gives you more flexibility to flip between open PDFs or programs like Word, but the tree will die as soon as you start bumping around the Internet.  

As silly as it sounds now, when you’re torn between finishing a lab report or goofing off on Facebook, killing that adorable tree will feel like a big deal. Trying to avoid such a tragedy might actually increase your productivity, and there’s something perplexingly rewarding about seeing your digital forest grow. Plus, the app is easy to use and versatile given the flexibility you have in setting your timer. Forest is available for Apple, Android, and even as a Safari extension.


The premise is that you pick the type of project you’re working on, the amount of work that needs to get done, and your plan of attack. How long do you have to finish this project? Do you want to write equally every day, or start by big commitments and then finish off easy? Do you want to do more on weekends, less on Wednesdays..? With this information, Pacemaker will create a custom work schedule for you.

It’s fairly customizable, and if you make an account, you can also have multiple projects on the go at once. Pacemaker will help you plan and stay on top of essay writing, and make your progress feel more tangible by generating graphs. A word of warning on Pacemaker: you can buy advanced features and it will ask you to create an account — but you can go without and use the site regardless!

Daily Budget

As the name indicates, Daily Budget is a budgeting app, but it’s so user-friendly that my family put it on my 13-year-old brother’s phone. The first time you use the app, Daily Budget will ask you for your income, your recurring expenses (rent, hydro, phone, subscriptions to this and that…), and how much you would like to save per month. It then spits out your daily budget, showing you how much you can spend every day as well as how much you’ll be able to spend in the next two days once your daily budget accumulates.

If you come into any extra money, you get to add it in, and you also keep a log of what you’re spending on and how much. Every month, the app resets for you. It’s straightforward, and it doesn’t require you to plug in your name, email, or any other personal information — though to make it work accurately, you do need some self-discipline.


Buckle up, literature majors: this will save you money — especially if you’re studying older texts. You don’t need to physically own a Kindle to have a Kindle account; you can just download the Kindle app to your devices, which will make your bag a lot lighter.

Amazon will still sell you books through your regular Amazon account. A lot of books whose copyright have expired have been digitized and are available for free, including all the works of Shakespeare. As an extra plus, you can highlight passages within the Kindle app and even add notes as you read, which makes it that much easier to compile quotes and evidence for essays.

If you can get over the fact that there is no nice old Kindle smell, you should try ebooks.


WriteAway is managed by the British Columbia Electronic Learning Network and recommended by the folks at the Student Learning Commons, so you know it’s good. This totally-free site sets you up with a writing tutor somewhere in B.C, and you can send them your essays and get feedback.
You can submit your essay anytime, but the tutors will take up to 48 hours to get back to you, so you shouldn’t rely on using the service last-minute. A cool bonus, however, is that you can resubmit the same paper up to three times and work with the same tutor, so they can help you keep track of its progress and growth.