From procrastination to productivity: 12 must-have apps for university students

Published: January 13, 2017
A student walks across the campus of Columbia University in New York, October 5, 2009. PHOTO: REUTERS

A student walks across the campus of Columbia University in New York, October 5, 2009. PHOTO: REUTERS

With the start of new semester comes the old challenge of walking the fine line between procrastination and productivity. As students resume studies after winter holidays, we present to them 12 tech tools which can help them stay ahead of the pack.

All these apps are free and available on Android and iOS platforms; Windows users may not have access to all of them but they can use the web versions.

So let’s make this semester fun and spread study inspiration.


Evernote is a digital binder where you can save your class notes and other academic material. There are a number of note-taking apps available, for instance, OneNote, SimpleNote, Google Keep, Hackpad etc. but Evernote has a unique function which allows saving information in a variety of ways such as camera photos, handwriting, text and attachments. Evernote Clipper, a Google Chrome extension, is an absolute essential for your laptops and desktops as it allows you to save and organise videos, documents and web links to view later. Other honourable mentions in this category are: Timetable and Exam Countdown.

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Ryver is a team collaboration app perfect for those working on long-duration projects. For students working on their Final Year Projects, Ryver can be life changing tool. Slack is a major competitor of Ryver and provides a better layout and platform. However, for a bigger team and multiple projects, Slack requires you to pay. Ryver, on the other hand, is free.


Referencing is an essential part of any student’s assignments, projects and papers. RefMEdefinitely makes the process of referencing much easier and efficient. You can scan the barcode of the book you are using for your research and it will create a bibliography. It offers students a variety of referencing formats and also saves your references which you can access later.

Pomodoro Timer

Pomodoro Timer is basically a timer app based on the famous Pomodoro technique. This technique suggests that you study or work for 25 minutes and then take a break for five minutes. Pomodoro Timer helps you organise your studying with breaks and reflection time in order for you to be more productive. So basically you study for as long as the timer is counting down and then take a short break before going back to study some more. It uses the method of counting down as it motivates students to keep studying and to try to make the most of short time left. Another notable mention in this category is Forest.

Course Hero

Course Hero is where you can find the best study resources. You can ask tutors for personalised homework help and you can share your own study resources to help others learn too. With Course Hero library of over 10 million documents, it is easy to find relevant study materials that will support what you are already learning in class. By uploading your existing documents to the Course Hero community, you can unlock more study material or you can download it with a monthly subscription. What is great about Course Hero is that you can turn any place and time into a productive study session. With Course Hero app, you can take pictures of your assignment of where you are stuck and seek quality help from expert tutors.


One problem that almost all students struggle with nowadays is the ability to remain focused. All students are hung up on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram and staying focused can become a big challenge. The SelfControl app tries to solve this problem by allowing you to block all apps on your smartphone except calling and texting applications. You can assign a certain period of time when this application blocks your other apps. Like the name suggests, it helps you control yourself during study time. Habitbull is another useful app in this category but works on a slightly different premise.


Spendee helps you manage your finances. Many students end up overspending their limited budget and this app helps you stay on track with your money and gives you alerts whenever you overspend. Mint might be another interesting option in this category. Windows users will have to use the web version before the app comes out on their platform.


Quizlet provides various tools for students to study. There are flashcards, study games, multiple choice questions etc. which allow you to test yourself. If you are a student who likes to cram things at the eleventh hour or if you want to dig deeper in a concept or subject, Quizlet can be your best companion.

Vocabulary Builder

If you are looking to improve your vocabulary and quiz yourself with new words and phrases thenVocabulary Builder is a fantastic app. Educational psychologists prefer the idea of quizzing oneself while learning new words in contrast to just using a vocabulary list which gives you a few words each day. Learning is not only more effective but also more fun through quizzes. Vocabulary Builder is a bit advanced for beginners but best suited for university students. If you prefer learning vocabulary in a conventional way, Magoosh Vocab Builder can be your choice. is another useful resource in this category.

Breathe & Relax

Resuming studies after a break can sometimes be a bit daunting and stressful so it might be helpful to consider downloading a few apps to help you remain calm. Breathe & Relax is great because it allows you to rate your level of stress at the beginning (which I hope is not too high!) and then there are short breathing exercises you can do. As you do these exercises, there is a small meter on the side that helps you slow down your breathing and helps you focus on other things rather than your feeling of stress. Other notable mention in this category is an app called Calm.

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Trello is a project management tool which allows you to make what they call “cards” to save information. You can comment on these cards or assign it to someone; you can reorganise them depending upon your priorities. There are a number of ‘to do’ apps available, such as, Wunderlist, Google Keep etc. but the simple layout of Trello and its ability to edit and share lists makes it the most efficient to-do app for university students.

Google apps

Google provides a range of apps for students and educators. Many of you will already be aware of Google Docs, Google Keep and Gmail. However, most of these apps have many hidden features and add-ons which are not so common.  Boomerang is a Google Chrome extension which will allow you to draft an email and send it at your desired time even if you are offline. Moreover, if you have an email which does not require your attention at the moment, Boomerang allows you to receive it at a time you think is pertinent. Other useful extensions for students include: Rapportive, Unshorten it, Password Alert, HTTPS Everywhere and Awesome Screenshot. A notable mention in the Google Apps category is Google Calendar. This self-learning calendar keeps a track of your daily activities and gives you reminders just when you need them.

Dr Cedric Aimal Edwin is an Assistant Professor and Head of Technology Incubation Centre at the Ghulam Ishaq Khan Institute of Engineering Sciences and Technology

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