I’m now in the habit of re-posting this every exam season. I’ve updated it to include some of my more recent finds - I hope these sites have been as useful to you as they have been to me.
There are eight wonderful (and free) online beauties I have discovered which have enabled me to avoid the temptation to mindlessly scroll through my Facebook news feed so that I can actually get on with some work (and I’ve thrown in some good study sites for good measure). Do you want to know what they are? Of course you do.
This is a programme which, once downloaded on to your computer, will track your activity (everything from Microsoft Word to Memebase) and keep a record of it all online. At the end of each week, it spits out a time summary which clocks up your hours on different websites and programmes, crunches up the numbers and evaluates how productive you’ve been. Seeing that you’ve spent fourteen hours on Facebook in one week will really open your eyes to how much time you must dedicate to uphold your hobby of Facebook-stalking. Hopefully, seeing these figures will serve as a foot up the arse and encourage you to get your head down.
2. Cold Turkey
If RescueTime isn’t enough to turn the thumbscrews on your work ethic, I find that Cold Turkey does the trick. This application allows you to block chosen websites for a certain amount of time – and, believe me, there is no way to get on to those websites until the time is up. It’s bloody difficult to continue a nuclear-scale poke war when you’ve chosen to block the page for 4 hours.
Before a lecture, it’s always best to read around the topic beforehand – but when you’re reading about a subject as skull-crushingly painful as the Thirty Years War, it can be a tad difficult to get your head around it (probably because your skull has been crushed). My tutors would murder me for saying this, but it’s at times like this that Wikipedia can waltz into the room in a blonde wig and ballet outfit and serve as your fairy godmother. I’ve recently discovered a little WikiTreat known as ‘Simple Wiki’, which simplifies a Wiki article down to the fundamental material. Just type www.simple.wikipedia.org and search your topic. Whilst (as with Wikipedia) not all of the information on there is accurate, it’s a great way to ground yourself in the topic and break it down into digestible chunks.
Another great website for getting a general grasp of the subject is For Dummies. With articles on everything from Islam to international finance, this site has reliable, bite-sized chunks of information to cater to your studying needs. If that isn’t awesome enough, it also contains a technical dictionary embedded into the article - it highlights most of the specialist words and, if you hover over it, presents a concise definition. Groovy, eh?
Just a side note for history students: an alternative to Simple Wiki and For Dummies is the BBC History website. It boasts a comprehensive record of a wealth of materials: profiles of historical figures; brief summaries of events; and in-depth accounts of accounts, complete with contextualisation. BBC History is always my starting point for my history reading.
I don’t know why the ‘e’ is missing in Bubbl, and nor do I care – this website is the bread and butter of my lecture notes and essay plans. I find spider diagrams to be the best way to plan an essay or compile revision notes, and this website allows you to do this for free without the scribbles, space dilemmas and general panic over how untidy your work looks. Bubbl enables you to create spider diagrams which, can not only be amended or printed at any time, look so pretty!
Another one for all you History students out there (but equally useful to Politics, Law, and Art students), Preceden is a timeline creator. It’s simple, it’s easy, and, boy, is it pretty. Not only have I used this to create event timelines and (back in the day of biology exams) pregnancy development, it’s really come in handy for drafting storyboards and plots whenever I’m doing a cheeky bit of creative writing.
6. Write or Die
This handy little application really comes into its own whenever you’re writing essays, reports or any long-winded prose. It can either be downloaded on to your desktop (which costs little more than a tuppence) or is available for free as an online app. The basic principle is that it keeps you writing by punishing you if you stop tapping away at the keyboard. You can choose the punishment – from the computer playing an irritable noise to the application actually deleting your words – and the grace period can also be adjusted. All you need to do is enter a word goal or a time goal, and you’re good to go.
I’ve actually found this app so effective that I also often use it to write articles, notes from textbooks and short stories – so if there’s anything non-academic you need to work on, perhaps give Write or Die a whirl.
7. Edit Minion
Edit Minion is a wonderful thing. Like, really wonderful. Once you’ve pasted your essay or report into its text box, this delightful online app will run through your work with a fine toothcomb and check for common misspellings, frequently used words, clichés, grammatical errors and practically every other potential issue in your work.
Much like Write or Die, this could easily be used for other (non-academic) work. It has held my story-writing in good stead.
Once you’ve finished typing up your lip-smackingly awesome essay on Write or Die and perfected it with Edit Minion, decent referencing is the cherry on top of your academic ice cream. Programmes such as Mendeley are great for anybody who needs to use referencing in their work – so, as a university student, this programme is a modern-day deity in my eyes. In order to get going, you need to make a free account, download the programme on to your computer and simply add books/websites/articles to its index. You can organise your catalogue of material into folders, allowing you to separate different subjects. At the end of an essay or report, this app is perfect because you can click one simple button and it churns out an entire bibliography in any referencing style you need. Mendeley stands out for me above other referencing programmes I’ve come across because you can simply input the ISBN of a book; once you’ve done this, magical Mendeley will recognise the book, author, year of publication and edition number (and, if you ask nicely, it could probably tell you the size and consistency of the author’s most recent lavatorial deposit).
My advice to you if you use a programme like Mendeley is to start logging your materials as soon as you can – it saves the last-minute panic and allows more time for more post-coursework binge drinking. In fact, even if you don’t utilise referencing software, early referencing will make your life so much easier.
This website is, without a doubt, my most frequently-used website. It’s trustworthy, it’s expansive and it’s simple – there’s not really much more you could ask for from a dictionary website. I use it for everything. As well as basic English lexis (and American lexis too, in case you were wondering), it also holds a plethora of definitions for terminology. But that’s not the best bit. This website has simple, brief profiles of people, places and events. Therefore, if Simple Wiki, BBC and Google all let you down, Oxford Dictionaries is likely to bear the basic information which you require. Plus, there’s now a free app for Android and Apple. Hooray for Oxford Dictionaries!
And if none of these tips help you with your work, try turning off the computer. The only reason you’re reading this is probably because you’re procrastinating (I know I am). Sod off. Go on.*
*Although, please don’t. I like you guys.