Elevate Review: Brain Training That Works

Our blog posts share what our students and staff have to say about selected apps. In this blog post, Josh reviews Elevate, a brain training app.

Elevate Review: Brain Training That Works

etopI am usually pretty skeptical of “brain training” and its promise to improve cognitive function. Many of the recent popular tomes touting the neuroscience of this-and-that (Happiness! Love! Diets!) come across as self-help books wrapped in a veneer of scientific authority. So I tend to view most brain trainers as humbug.

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Elevate, a brain trainer available on iOS or Android that was recently named Apple’s 2014 App of the Year, changed my mind (or should I say “brain”?). Developed by a team of programmers, education specialists, and neuroscientists, Elevate creates a personalized training program based on specific skills you want to improve. As a born and bred Southerner, I tend to let things I say morph into longwinded stories, so I chose to work on articulating my thoughts more clearly. I also wanted to work on math. Other options include focusing while reading and processing written material more quickly.e2 After I told the app what I want to improve, it had me play a few quick, fun, colorful games to assess my current EPQ, or “Elevate Proficiency Quotient.” It is an open question whether EPQ is a valid measurement of one’s mental abilities, but Elevate uses it to determine the games’ difficulty. Users improve their EPQs in different areas by succeeding in the daily regimen of educational games the app provides.

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The games are genuinely fun. The above example is from a game intended to improve your ability to refine language. You’re given a poorly written paragraph, and your goal is to make it less horrible. Like the other games, this one isn’t necessarily easy: it had me actually thinking about how to change the passage.

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And that difficulty is the best part of the app’s content and design. You can’t play these games mindlessly, which means that if you want to improve your math skills, the app will make sure that you do some math each time you use it.

The best part, though, is that after a few weeks of using Elevate, I do find that I seem to be able to formulate articulate sentences a little more quickly; I can also do mental math a little more accurately. The changes aren’t enormous, but I didn’t expect them to be.

Here’s the bottom line: at minimum, you will have fun playing with Elevate. And the app’s basic structure—the evaluation, the daily games, the tracking—is free. A Pro version ($4.99 a month, $44.99 a year) adds Pro-exclusive games, unlimited access, rankings, and additional content, but it’s not necessary for Elevate’s core functions. In other words: go get it!

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Synopsis: Compile Notes & Make Flashcards from PDFs

Our blog posts share what our students and staff have to say about selected apps. This blog post by Joy reviews Synopsis, a note organization and flashcard-making app.

Synopsis: Compile Notes & Make Flashcards from PDFs

s1 Do you like using flash cards but hate the time it takes to make them? Would your life be immeasurably better if an iPad app would let you open up and read any PDF document and make flashcards just by highlighting the text? Smile, because happy days are here: Synopsis can do all that and more.

Synopsis has four key functions:

  • An interactive reader
  • Notes section
  • Flash card creator
  • Notes Library

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From the interactive reader, you can highlight important parts of the text. It’s easy to make flashcards from the highlighted notes. Further, once you make a flashcard, you can view it on any smartphone, making studying a snap. Even better: the flashcards can be exported to a Quizlet account. You can also make a PDF document that contains all of the highlighted notes.

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Priorities App: Pros & Cons

Our blog posts share what our students and staff have to say about selected apps. This blog post by Melissa presents the pros and cons of Priorities, a task management app.

Priorities App: Pros & Cons

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PRO: See an overview of all your classes and assignments for the entire semester! You can have Priorities automatically make an assignment a priority in advance of the due date so you can work ahead of time. It will show up in the app’s “priorities” page, and you can see the most important tasks you’ll need to tackle in the upcoming weeks. priorities1
PRO: Priorities syncs with iCal so that you can find due dates in both the app and the calendar. When you complete a task and check it off on the app, it is automatically removed from iCal. pri2
PRO: You can make task lists under each assignment to further outline the steps you need to take to complete that assignment. This makes it easy to break assignments down into bite-sized chunks. pri3
CON: Inputting all of your assignments can be time-consuming. To get the most out of Priorities, it’s best to grab your syllabi at the beginning of the semester and spend some time typing in all your assignments and due dates. No worries if you start using it mid-semester, though: you’ll have fewer assignments to plug in!

OVERALL

Priorities does take a bit of legwork up front because you have to input your assignments for each class, but having a list of all your assignments in one place is worth it! Plus, the app can alert you and automatically prioritize assignments based on due date. It takes the guessing out of when to start a task and also takes away the need to flip through all your syllabi when you have a question about a due date.

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Notability Review: Your Notes Everywhere

Our blog posts share what our students and staff have to say about selected apps. In this blog post, Josh reviews Notability, a note-taking app.

Notability Review: Your Notes Everywhere

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For most college students, there’s something comforting and nostalgic about the beginning-of-the-semester ritual of buying school supplies. What are new pencils but the promise of academic achievement to come?

Notability, a note-taking app that can take the place of pen and paper, is worth forgoing these fuzzy feelings. For $2.99 (iOS) or $4.99 (Mac OS X), Notability offers you a way to audio record, type, or handwrite your notes (it handles images, too).

nb2As these screenshots indicate, Notability is not a flashy app: it minimizes obstacles between you and the notes you wish to take. When the app opens, it immediately displays a list of your notes—no prodding to download a Flappy Bird clone, no begging that you try its publisher’s other products.

nb3Once you begin composing a note, Notability makes it simple to put down exactly what you want to put down. Are you a doodler? Do you need to draw a graph? The app’s robust drawing tools make it a snap. You can even take pictures to add to your notes. From there, the app can sync to iCloud, Dropbox, and other cloud storage services so that you can view your notes no matter what device you’re using.

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Notability also makes it easy to record the audio of a lecture while you write and draw. When the lecture’s over, you can tap your notes to hear the audio in context.

 

For the cost of a pack of pens, Notability offers a great way to make your notes digital. I would add one caveat, though: it can be a struggle to take comprehensive notes on most smartphones. Devices with larger screens (tablets, laptops, the behemoth new phones offered by Samsung and Apple) might be a better bet.

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MindMeister: Pros & Cons

Our blog posts share what our students and staff have to say about selected apps. In this blog post, Melissa explores the pros and cons of MindMeister, a concept mapping app.

MindMeister: Pros & Cons

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PRO: You can create a concept map however you like: content, format, and structure are all in your hands! You can even use emoji. mm2
PRO: After you make a concept map, you can export it in a variety of formats (e.g., PDF, MS Word, MS PowerPoint), email it, or print it directly from the app. mm1
PRO: Are you a visual thinker? No problem: MindMeister lets you store more information than just words. You can add pictures, notes, links, attachments, and tasks.
CON: The app is difficult to use on phones because of the size of the text. But it’s easy to use on computers and tablets. mm3

Overall Impressions: MindMeister allows for flexibility in creating a concept map that works best for you. The app takes this idea a bit further by allowing you to add links, notes, attachments, task lists, and pictures to your map and then allowing you to export it into a variety of different formats. With all of these options, MindMeister is a perfect tool for studying since it could be easily adapted to any of your courses

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