In addition to libraries, tutors, and on-campus resources, many of today's students rely on web-based study guides. Below we consider comprehensive, user-friendly guides for biology, history, literature, and other major fields of study, as well as some generalized sites whose study tools cover a range of disciplines.
But before we begin, please note: online study guides should only be used to supplement course texts ― not replace them. In order to truly succeed, college students simply must complete any work they are assigned. Also note that copying materials from study guides is considered plagiarism, an offense punishable by suspension or expulsion from most places of higher-learning.
At the college level, organizing course notes can be a time-consuming task in its own right. We've identified three sites whose software allows users to easily record and manage notes.
Evernote: Originally launched in 2008, Evernote creates searchable, fully transcribed notes by capturing text, images, audio, and video files. Users can also bookmark certain sections, and then easily access them later. Key features include:
- The Evernote app, available for most major smartphones, desktops, and tablet devices.
- Skitch, another app that lets users add signs, drawings, and other symbols to digital presentations, photos, and other media files.
- Penultimate, an application that allows tablet users to write and draw on their touchscreen using a special pen-like device.
- UberNote: This tool stores all course materials in a cloud-based location, making individual accounts accessible from any computer or web-supporting device. The user-friendly interface enables multi-page viewing, dragging/dropping, and other helpful functions.
Zoho Notebook: This free online service is available to anyone who creates an account. The site is geared toward teachers and professors, allowing them to create live pages (known as ‘Books') and upload content to students who have been invited to the Book. Zoho Notebook is also useful for creating small study groups.
- Book creators can add video and audio clips, images, live website widgets, and other media files.
- Book owners will be able to view (and, if permitted, edit) the Books created by everyone on their contact list.
- Books are compatible with Skype and and Google Notebook, allowing for easy syncing between programs.
Most educational experts agree flashcards are an effective way to memorize and retain key course information. While some students prefer traditional paper cards, the following sites provide great digital alternatives.
StudyBlue: These free flashcards are fully customizable; users may choose their cards from a vast assortments of templates, or create their own designs. The StudyBlue app also allows mobile access to flashcards via smartphone or tablet.
- Specialized flashcard templates are available for certain academic subjects and exam prep
- StudyBlue account-holders can access an expansive, user-generated content library located on the company's website.
- Audio, text, and video files are compatible with cards.
Cram: More than 1.1 million users have obtained membership with this crowd-sourced flashcard site. Account-holders can create new flashcards by scratch or by importing content from their Google Drive database.
- Cram offers three mobile apps: Cram, Flashcard Elite, and FlashCards++; app designers are encouraged to submit their own designs for the chance to be featured on the site.
- Visitors can browse flashcards for more than 30 subjects.
- Additional flashcards are available for law enforcement and military programs, common core testing, continuing education, and some non-academic formats.
Quizlet: This site features thousands of user-generated, flashcard-style quizzes that cover everything from medical terminology to foreign vocabulary. A variety of formats, including a formal test and games like ‘Space Race' and ‘Scatter,' make this a great tool for learners of all ages.
- Attractive, interactive world map displays geographic origins of different user-generated quizzes.
- Specific flashcard sets are geared toward entrance exams like the SAT, LSAT, and GMAT, as well as high school-level AP courses and the GED exam.
- Flashcards also cover different topics related to five professional fields (law, medicine, banking, accounting, and technology).
Online Study Groups
These sites feature simple interfaces that allow students to create study groups, upload shared content to one place, and conduct web-based group meetings. Online small groups are especially helpful for individuals who value the collaborative experience, but are not necessarily able to make the time commitment for real-world meet-ups.
Google+ Hangouts: This program runs live chats using audio and video technology. All participants must be Google+ account-holders, and some additional media software installations may be required.
- Conversations including up to 10 participants are supported.
- Google+ Hangouts are accessible using any PC, laptop, smartphone, or tablet device.
- Calls may be initiated through Google Chat.
- Chegg: This crowdsourcing site allows users to submit questions and receive answers from other registered users. The site features a team of academic experts who address questions specific to their fields.
Open Study: This site specializes in large, virtual study groups; offerings on-site include a math group with more than 168,000 members, a physics group with more than 28,000 members, and a history group with more than 29,000 members. Visitors can also get live assistance from subject experts and chat with fellow students.
- Open Study features its own points system that allows users to build a ‘SmartScore' and obtain site credentials attached to their usernames.
- Users can submit subject-specific questions and receive feedback from fellow Open Study account-holders.
- The site boasts more than 1 million site members in 160 different countries.
In recent years, many online education providers have begun to offer open courseware: mini-classes pertaining to a specific subject free-of-charge. Although open courses don't award actual college credits, they are a great opportunity to explore concepts related to one's coursework and major. The following sites are considered some of the top open courseware providers:
Khan Academy: One of the original purveyors of open courseware, Khan Academy offers dozens of courses related to five core subjects: math, science, economics/finance, humanities, and computing. Additional offerings include courses for entrance exam prep and ‘partner content' from institutions like the Museum of Modern Art and Stanford School of Medicine.
- The student pretest allows first-time visitors to gauge the areas where they could use the most supplemental assistance.
- Open course enrollees can record and track their progress using the site's Learning Dashboard.
- The site also allows educators to create course modules, and other adults to play the role of ‘Coach' for the students in their lives.
MIT OpenCourseWare: In 2005, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology created the OpenCourseware Consortium, one of the first major initiatives for OCW offerings on the Web. Today, the site offers dozens of courses in 39 different academic fields of study (from aeronautics to writing).
- Users can search courses by subject, academic department, or (if applicable) a corresponding MIT course number.
- 96% of the nearly 100,000 educators who visit the site each month claim MIT Open Courses improve on traditional offerings.
- Courses are available in nine languages.
edX: Thirty-four higher-learning institutions ― including Harvard University, MIT, University of California-Berkeley, and the University of Chicago ― have contributed courses to this OCW database. At any given time, the site hosts more than 150 courses collectively instructed by more than 400 licensed college-level educators.
- Courses cover 26 different academic subjects, most of which are concentrated in STEM-related fields.
- Students may earn certificates of completion for all finished courses, or simply audit different classes.
- Many of the courses feature interactive media, such as the 3D molecule builder.
General Study Guides
The following sites feature materials for a wide range of different subjects. Additionally, they contain blogs, user-generated posts, games, and other content that can help make the studying process a little more entertaining and enjoyable.
CliffsNotes: Best known for their annotated guides to famous literary works (with a section dedicated to Shakespeare), CliffsNotes also features guides for math, science, foreign languages, and more. Each guide is accompanied a brief quiz and links to similar works/subjects.
- Users can search for specific works using the alphabetized study guide database.
- SparkNotes: In addition to a comprehensive list of annotated guides to books and other popular course texts, the SparkNotes site features test prep resources, blog posts, a ‘No Fear' section for notoriously difficult texts, and a pop culture-driven section known as The MindHut.
StudyStack: This interactive site allows users to take study different subjects and take flashcard quizzes. Offerings include 30 different foreign languages, 30 subject areas related to medicine, and prep materials for 12 different entrance/exit exams.
- Users submit their own data, and then have the ability to customize flashcards based on their own learning preferences.
- StudyStack accounts come equipped with public profiles that allow registered users to share information with one another.
- Users can use information to create hangman, crosswords, word searches, and other interactive games.
Subject-specific Study Guides
The following nine sections consider some of the best online study tools available to students in specific fields.
Artcyclopedia: This compendium of information about famous artists and their works features a navigational tool that lets users browse nearly 60 different ‘movements' (from abstract expressionism to Ukiyo-e printmaking). And not surprisingly, the site also includes thousands of high-resolution images of paintings, sculptures, and other works of art.
- The ‘Art News‘ section provides up-to-date articles and bulletins from around the world.
- The site also features an international art museum directory with thousands of entries.
- Site visitors can search artists and works of art by medium, subject, and nationality; there is also an entire section dedicated to female artists.
ArtLex Art Dictionary: This directory of artistic terms features more than 3,600 definitions, complete with pronunciations and (if applicable) some sample synonyms.
- Many definitions are accompanied by high-resolution images.
- All content on ArtLex is crowd-sourced. Individual users contribute definitions or suggestions, and site administrators upload new terms onto the site.
- More than 100 keywords are supplied to assist with more specific searches.
The History Guide: Undergraduates enrolled in European history courses will gain a lot of supplemental information from this site, which features lectures from four core classes: Ancient/Medieval European History, Early Modern European History, Modern European Intellectual History, and 20th Century European History.
- The ‘Student's Guide to the Study of History‘ highlights the ways in which historians approach past, present, and future events.
- The Resources for Historians section features nearly 60 links to different documents, scholarly journals, and other useful, history-oriented materials.
- The site's administrator, Steven Kreis, has also included syllabi from 11 different community college courses he taught between 1990 and 2006.
Library of Congress: The U.S. Library of Congress is one of the most expansive publication and document collections in the world, and the institution's official site is filled with digital books and excerpts, maps, and other helpful resources for students.
- Specific collections available online include ‘Veterans History‘, ‘Historic Newspapers‘, ‘Prints and Photographs‘, and ‘Sound Recordings‘.
- The site also features links to the American Folklife Center, World Digital Library, and other programs and resources associated with the Library of Congress.
- Eleven blogs are featured on-site, and five downloadable apps are available for smartphone and tablet users.
- Best of History: This site (administered by EdTeacher Inc.) features links to more than 1,200 history-oriented websites. Special sections are dedicated to particularly significant periods, such as World War II and the 2012 Presidential Election.
- The Busuu mobile app is available for most smartphones and tablets.
- Courses are designed by certified teachers who have experience creating effective, language-learning lesson plans.
- Since 2013, two iPad apps have been available for children who wish to learn either English or Spanish.
- Chat accessibility enables users to communicate in real-time.
- The site's ‘Phrase Maker‘ tool provides accurate translations between the user's native language and the language they are attempting to learn.
- The user's proficiency level will increase after successful completion of on-site vocabulary and grammar tests.
PaperStarter: This site features study guides for more than 140 novels, plays, poetry collections, biographies/autobiographies, and other works frequently assigned to contemporary students. Each guide features essay topics, notable quotes, and miscellaneous other information about the work in question.
- The on-site Resources section features an essay guide, SAT writing tips, and other useful links for college-level writers and readers.
- The User's Guide to PaperStarter includes some helpful hints for using the site to effectively supplement English/literature-oriented coursework.
- Text-related articles are included in some of the study guides; the Othello guide, for instance, features links to articles like ‘Perception of Race in Othello by Shakespeare‘ and ‘The Power of Words & Language in Hamlet and Othello by William Shakespeare.'
Web English Teacher: This site is essentially an aggregation of articles, study guides, and other online resources for English students. In addition to links specifically related to a particular field or genre of English literature (the list for April reflects ‘National Poetry Month'), Web English Teacher houses its content in searchable categories, such as Children's Literature, Journalism, and Mythology.
- Chalkdust, the site's official blog, covers topics related to English studies, as well as online learning and researching.
- The site's robust Twitter account boasts more than 18,000 followers, and uploads several posts per day.
- The Advanced Placement/International Baccalaureate section contains links for those who do not qualify as typical college-level learners.
Bartleby: Free-of-charge and chock-full of content, Bartleby allows users to search for information about various fiction, nonfiction, verse, and other published works. The site's offerings include a full digital version of the classic medical textbook, Gray's Anatomy, and fully transcribed versions of 70 different works included in the Harvard Classics collection.
- Different works may be browsed by author, title, genre, or subject.
- Full versions of Bartlett's Familiar Quotations, Oxford's Shakespeare, Strunk's Elements of Style, and other time-honored texts are also available in full.
- Visitors may buy books published on Bartleby or download free e-book versions for their electronic reading device.
- Math.com: This collection of lesson plans touches on mathematics at all grade levels, from elementary-level arithmetic to advanced disciplines like calculus and trigonometry. The site features calculators, study plans and sample tests, games, and other learning materials.
Math Help: With the tagline ‘Your Personal Math Teacher,' Math Help is geared toward online learners who struggle in particular areas of the subject. Live study sessions, practice problems, tests, and graded report cards are all included.
- Specific sections target math for elementary and secondary students, community college enrollees, and individuals currently studying for collegiate entrance exams.
- The Textbook Search tool allows users to find lesson plans that correspond to their specific assignments.
- One section of the site is specifically dedicated to homeschooled students.
PatrickJMT (Just Math Tutorials): The administrator of this site (a college-level math instructor with nearly a decade of experience) provides an extensive collection of instructional videos for thousands of basic mathematical operations.
- The offerings include nearly 400 guides for algebra, 275 for calculus, and just over 150 for trigonometry.
- Most videos range between 6 and 10 minutes, providing a clear explanation of the subject at hand.
- A search tool allows users to find videos pertaining to specific operations or functions.
Science World: The guides on this site are divided into five categories: Physics, Chemistry, Astronomy, Mathematics, and Biography. Each was created by researchers from Wolfram using Mathematica software, and are available to users free-of-charge.
- Many guides feature .GIF images, 3D animation, and other high-resolution media resources.
- A large portion of the articles are user-generated; contributors upload content, and site administrators edit the submissions for accuracy and readability.
- Famous figures in the sciences are searchable by name, nationality, historical period, and/or prizes won during their lifetime.
Science.gov: This bare-bones site features links to more than 200 contemporary science topics. The list is alphabetized, and each entry will redirect users to all federal agencies and organizations associated with that particular field.
- The site curates information from more than 55 databases, 2,100 websites, and 200 million individual pages.
- The Science.gov homepage also features a news bulletin, video clips, and other science-oriented resources.
- The list is also available in a Spanish-language format.
- Eformulae.com: This site is a collection of scientific and mathematical formulas used in fields like engineering, physics, chemistry, and statistics. The layout is fairly rudimentary, but the materials are easy to access and the information is reviewed and edited by experts in these respective fields.
Biology Online: Registration is free on this site, which hosts digital books, article links, tutorials, and a dictionary of biology-related terminology.
- The site's forum lets users post questions and take part in biology-oriented discussions.
- Another popular feature of the site is a monthly blog that covers topics like allergy season, botany, and obesity.
- Published authors are invited to share their work on the site and receive feedback from other registered users.
Biology Reference: Simple and easy-to-use, this alphabetized directory of biology topics features detailed encyclopedic entries written by on-site authors.
- All articles feature a bibliography of sources and comment field for readers to provide feedback.
- Key terms are bolded to give entries a textbook aesthetic.
- A significant amount of interlinking between entries allows users to browse similar topics with relative ease.
Ptable: This illustrated guide to the Periodic Table of Elements features definitions of all elements, as well as information related to orbitals, isotopes, compounds, and other fundamentals of chemistry.
- All element definitions are linked to their corresponding Wikipedia pages.
- The interactive diagrams allow users to toggle boiling/melting point, electronegativity, density, and other comparative aspects of different elements.
- The site also features photos, videos, and podcasts.
ChemnetBase: This database of reference materials includes guides to specific scientific topics, such as the ‘Combined Chemical Dictionary‘ and the ‘Dictionary of Drugs.' Subscriptions to the site are not free, but all new members receive a free thirty-day trial.
- The site also includes a section dedicated to ‘Librarian Resources.'
- ‘Subject Collections‘ of e-books pertaining to 43 different professional fields are housed on individual pages.
- A digital copy of the ‘CRC Handbook of Chemistry and Physics' is viewable in the read-only format, while hard copies are available for purchase on the site.
Chemtutor: Recognized by the National Science Foundation and SchoolZone, Chemtutor provides study guides related to 16 generalized chemistry subjects, including elements, kinetics, gases, and acids/bases.
- All lesson plans are illustrated, and feature practice problem sets for new learners to complete.
- The site features a search tool that allows visitors to browse different lesson plans for specific topics.
- The site's link directory is powered by PSIGate, a search engine that exclusively yields pages related to the physical sciences.
PhysLink: This collection of learning tools related to physics and astronomy includes a directory of articles sorted by general topic, resources for educators, a job board for aspiring physicians and astronomers, and an online store.
- The Physics and Astronomy Directory contains lists of university departments, student and professional associations, academic journals, and other resources pertaining to these two subjects.
- Visitors can pose questions and receive feedback from experienced professionals, thanks to the ‘Ask the Experts‘ tool.
- The ‘Fun‘ section features puzzles, cartoons, humorous articles, and other recreational materials.
Physics Help: Dr. Konstantin E. Nikitin maintains this compilation of study guides for different physics-related topics. Although the site is incomplete, Dr. Nikitin urges visitors to send him questions related to fields that do not have study guides at this time.
- Each guide contains diagrams, tables, formulas, images, and other media to bolster the text.
- Three appendices are available: Physics Constants, SI Units and Symbols Used, and Vectors.
- Dr. Nikitin also offers online tutorial services (however, this option is not free-of-charge).
MinutePhysics: Created and run by Henry Reich, this Youtube channel presents short videos geared towards educating viewers–students and non-students alike–on the wide range of physics topics.
- Videos run between one and four minutes in length.
- They are presented in a style and language that simplifies complex topics without dumbing them down.