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Study Tools


Study Tools are a group of tools that are used by a reader to become an “active reader”. An active reader is a person who does not simply passively take in information but actively seeks out information to answer questions. Study Tools include a wide variety of tools including those that annotate a text (e-sticky notes, e-highlighting, e-text notes, and audio notes), tools used to help organize a students thought process (mind mapping), and tools used to practice information recall in preparation for a text or exam (flash cards, quizzes, etc.). As each of these tools is used differently and boasts different benefits to the student, they must be individually researched and critiqued (please see our analyzes of some study tool on the following pages: AnnotationGraphic Organizers, & Cue Cards). However, there has been some research done of using study tools generally.


Study tools are used by most students, those with and without learning difficulties, especially in high school and post-secondary education settings. While these tools are popular, their effectiveness is debated in the literature.  Johnson (2008) found that different study tools have differential effects for knowledge and comprehension and furthermore than some tools are preferred by students over other. Students preferred online quizzes to online study groups, however this preference for quizzes over the study groups was not related to any increase in academic achievement. This suggests that while students have preference for certain tools over others, it may be better for teachers to select and offer study tools based on learning benefits rather than student preference (Johnson, 2008). Another study compared classes of university classes on their use of online study tools and the performance. They found that percentage of questions answered correctly was comparable between the students in each class whether online tools were promoted or not. Furthermore despite a reported increased sense of preparedness by students, these study tools did not seem to have a measurable impact on the students' exam grades. While course provided study tools may be less validated, many other types of study tools have been shown to have strong effects on student comprehension and performance. The following are some widely used and more empirically validated study tools: 


E-Highlighting: E-highlighting is used to identify important information in a passage using a virtual highlighter. E-highlighting can be used by both students and teachers to identify main ideas, topic sentences, or important details within a text. Most programs provide a variety of highlighter colours, allowing students to colour code their highlighting (E.G. blue for main idea, pink for supporting ideas). In some software, the text that has been virtual highlighted can be extracted as point-form notes or column notes. The extraction of highlighted text is an important feature to consider, as extracting the highlighted text is an easy way for a student to take notes on a reading. These notes can be used to study from or to aid in the completion of a project. Teaching students how to identify important information is a critical skill when using e-highlighters and must be directly taught.




E-Sticky Notes: E-sticky notes are very similar to the paper version, they are small notes used to write down ideas, questions, or important information and are then stuck onto the paragraph where the information came from. With e-sticky notes, this entire process is on the computer. One strategy for using e-sticky notes is to have a student write down all the questions that they need to have answered before reading a document on e-sticky notes. Then as the student reads the document they can put the e-sticky note on the paragraph that contains the answer. When the student comes back to complete their homework, they simply look for their sticky notes that have their questions located right beside the paragraph with the answer.


E-Text Notes: Similar to a paper notebook, e-text notes provide a user with a place to jot down notes as they are going through a document. These notes are usually tagged to the page or website that the notes are taken on. Some programs allow for the extraction of these notes to a separate word document, this process can be very helpful when studying or the completion of projects. While note taking may seem like an intuitive skill to most, for best results note taking needs to be explicitly taught to students.


Audio Notes: Audio notes are notes created by a user using an audio recording rather than written text. By hitting the record button in the software, individuals can make a note about what they have just read or heard. This recording is then tagged to a specific page, website, or positioning the document. Research has shown that's students who summarize what they have just read at the end of the document retain more information about what they have read or heard.


Graphic Organizers: A graphic organizer allows for the visual representation of knowledge, concepts, or ideas. They help with learning, planning, and organizing information. Features of the software support brainstorming, planning, organizing, outlining, pre-writing, diagramming, concept mapping, webbing, and more.


Cue Cards: Cue card or flash card aid in the studding of new information.  Provides a prompt word (the Cue) with a hidden definition or explanation that can be viewed.


Integrated Example: Study tools can be integrated into a variety of reading and writing strategies to help users stay organized and deepen their understanding of the material. The following is an example of one such strategy.


SQ3R is a reading strategy that divides the process of reading up into five steps. Robinson (1961) proposed that this strategy would aid individuals in their reading comprehension and for study purposes by helping them to 1) activate prior knowledge, 2) set goals for reading, 3) record relevant information, 4) and review what had been learnt. The process goes as follows:


S = Survey: Student briefly looks over what they are about to read. They look at headers, diagrams, pictures, and read the summary if one is present.

Q = Question: Student writes down any questions that they need to have answered or they brainstorm after reading the summary. Students could use a sticky note to write down these questions and place the sticky note in the relevant section of the text once they find the answer.

R = Read: Student reads a section, preferably one paragraph, and then moves on to the next R, Record.

R = Record: In this step, the student identifies important information or other interesting facts that they just read. E- highlighters and e-text notes can be used in the gathering of this information.

R = Review: The student then reviews the notes that they have made. This can be done by extracting the notes from the text and/or creating their own summary of what they have just read by using the audio memo.


An example of SQ3R integrated with Kurzweil 3000 is provided. For more information on SQ3R, please see Dr. Wiener's lab website.


Research Rating: Due to the experimental nature of the information cited in this description this information is to be trusted as valid and reliable.



  • When used effectively, these tools can deepen understanding and allow for more masterful application of information.



  • These tools require direct instruction

  • These tools may be distracting for some users.


To Consider

  • While students do prefer certain tools over other, these preferences don’t always line up with leaning benefits.


The following chart includes some programs that include a wide variety of study tools in one program/service. Many individual study tools can be found for free.

Special Consideration: Workflow

OS Compatibility
Internet Reliance
Optimized Use

Exact prices change frequently, which is why only approximate ranges are listed. 

$ - Under $5

$$ - Between $6 and $50

$$$ - Between $51 and $250

$$$$ - Over $250


Johnson, G. M. (2008). Online study tools: College student preference versus impact on achievement. Computers in Human Behavior, 24(3), 930-939.

Austin, T. L., Biss, J., & Wright, C. (2010). Student use of online study tools in business communication courses. Journal of Strategic Innovation and Sustainability, 6(4), 42-49.

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