In high school, I had a great routine. About five minutes before I had to leave to get to school on time, I would be hitting print on the paper, project or homework assignment due that day. If I truly had timed things perfectly, I might be printing out anything due in the afternoon in the school library during my lunch period.
To put it mildly, I was a great procrastinator. College put a little bit of a kink in that approach, though. Professors think nothing of setting due dates all on the same day, forcing me to actually plan ahead. I struggled a little with that sort of planning, to be honest. I had never really needed to plan my time out for studying: I could make a project take as much time as I thought I had before it was due, and prioritizing wasn’t exactly my strong point.
Looking at my list of must-haves for a good study planner, I noticed that Study Rails (in open beta) seemed to have most of them. I’m taking one class this summer. I figured that maybe Study Rails might be able to help me out.
Setting up a Study Rails account is pretty easy — although only a 14 day trial is free. After that, there’s a subscription fee of $10 per month. Once you’ve confirmed that you really do want to register, the site asks you some basic questions. You will need to put in your class schedule, so I’d recommend have that handy. You’ll also need your cell phone, for Study Rails’ text message capabilities. There is one optional piece of software that the website asks you to download.
At first glance, Study Rails seems like little more than a calendar application with a few study skills bells and whistles. You input your class schedule, along with any other appointments that block off your time. You list out your upcoming assignments and estimate the number of hours you’ll need to complete it. Nothing fancy, right?
When you start marking off hours for your study time, you start to see a difference. Study Rails automatically prioritizes what assignments you’ll work on during a given hour. The program doesn’t automatically assign you to work straight through on a project, either. It breaks up your study session so that you do a little work on all your assignments and projects.
Study Rails also tells you when it’s time to hit the books. During the setup process, the site asks for your cell phone number. That’s so it can send you a text message 10 minutes before you’re supposed to start studying. It also text messages you when you need to switch over to a different project or assignment.
As far as calendar applications go, Study Rails is a pretty aggressive taskmaster. But for many of us not used to planning study sessions on our own, a stern calendar may be necessary. I wouldn’t recommend it for a student who has a good planning system, and it may be a bit overkill for part-time students. It is worth $10 a month to students who need a little help, though.
As you provide the site with your class schedule and cell phone number, Study Rails offers something in return: a software download. This download is available in both Mac and Windows flavors — although Linux users are out of luck. When installed, this program, known as Study Rails Blocking, will prevent you from accessing any applications and websites you chose. You can prevent yourself from opening up a chat client while you’re supposed to be practicing your Latin vocab or browsing YouTube when you’re supposed to be doing math.
I’ve seen plenty of plugins and websites that limit your web surfing but most of the methods I’ve seen for blocking AIM and other distracting applications have required a bit more complicated setup than Study Rails Blocking. Interestingly, settings for the blocking software are handled through the web application’s dashboard. Furthermore, you can’t change blocking settings (eliminating sites, etc.) while the calendar says that you’re supposed to be studying.
I can think of a number of problems that sort of limitation could create — what if you had to IM a classmate to get the question numbers for your math homework? Overall, though, I think it’s a good idea for some people. I know I struggle with checking my email and other distractions when I’m supposed to be working on a specific project. It isn’t the most elegant execution, but it is a decent implementation.
Study Rails isn’t the perfect web application for every student. Its niche is students who have difficulty managing their studies on their own. For most other students, I can’t recommend spending $10 every month for a calendar — even if it is a great calendar. I think, however, this application is perfect for parents working with their kids to better manage study time. It would be great if Study Rails added some functionality to allow parents to check up on their kids’ schedules down the road, but as is, Study Rails works well as training wheels for study skills.
I can’t imagine anyone sticking with Study Rails forever. Even for perpetual students, it isn’t a lifelong system. But I could easily see a student using it for the full four years of his high school or college career.
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