Tell us about your app! Let me introduce our innovative app Exam Pal. Exam Pal is a student exams and personal organiser for school or college. The idea came from having run the exams in my school for five years. Exam boards release dates for exams months in advance but schools only tend to issue dates and personal exam timetables weeks prior to the exams. When I asked my Year 11 GSCE students when their exams were last summer they all held up a piece of paper with exam details, duration, venue and seat number (all of which can be stored in the app). I thought at the time this should be something scheduled in an app. Students will often lose their exam timetable but rarely lose their phones. Having also mentored students for many years I was constantly being asked by them: ‘When should I start revising, what are the best methods and how do I create a revision plan?’ ExamPal was really born out of experience and a need I saw in my students.
Once we had created the app I sent an email to Tim Cook and Phil Schiller at Apple and tried to get their attention by sending them £2 via PayPal to download the app. Neither Tim nor Phil responded (and I’m not too sure where my £2 is) but I was sent an encouraging email from Mary Jane Beth at Apple Education UK & Europe. She loved the app and passed the details onto her iTunes team and sales staff.
The app works on many levels. It integrates exam dates for students, provides exam date countdowns, stores previous exam results and it syncs to iCalendar and Google calendar. The app provides dates for official exam dates with all major examination boards, some 3,000 exams this summer. It also enables students to put in their timetable, log and track homework and has access to key revision tips. The calendar function is pretty useful as anyone with an iCal or Google calendar can sync – which means parents can have full access to their children’s exam timetables, revision timetables and homework alerts too.
How is your app different from similar apps? The app works on many levels. It integrates exam dates for students, provides exam date countdowns, stores previous exam results and it syncs to iCalendar and Google calendar. The app provides dates for official exam dates with all major examination boards in the UK, US and worldwide, some 4,000 UK exams this summer alone. It also enables students to put in their timetable, log and track homework and has access to key revision tips. The calendar function is pretty useful as anyone with an iCal or Google calendar can sync – which means parents can have full access to their children’s exam timetables, revision timetables and homework alerts too. The key aspect for us is to enable students to revise better and organise themselves more efficiently during exam time. The ability to access your official exam date months in advance of your school giving it to you on a piece of paper is priceless. There are no competitors and we are the only app that provides official exam dates directly to your smart phone.
What went into the design and UI? The app icon was sketched first and derives from a clock and clip board checklist that people use in the exam venue to take a register. The initial design was very much the same but we removed the wording Exam Pal and designed the app to fit in the minimalistic style of iOS 7 at the time.
From initial sketched conception to App store debut the process took 12 months. I quickly discovered that although I was a computer geek, app programming was beyond me. After several quotes from the ridiculous to reasonable, I designed and developed the app with a UK company 4fx Design & Multi Media. The process was truly inspirational and I have thoroughly enjoyed the designing and coding aspects of the app.
What tools or resources did you use in building the app? The app was designed by 4fx design and multimedia based in Milton Keynes, Bedfordshire, UK using X code for iOS and Elipse for Android. The app has been trialled and tested within my own school and several surrounding schools in the area. We secured some national exposure when featured on BBC Click and The Times Education Supplement. We are also on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter, where all our target market is, which we think is key! We have sold in over 23 different countries and have been as high as number 7 in the Educational Appstore.
What lessons did you learn creating the app? Be patient, and get it right first time. Upgrading the app or adding new content is always a precarious time especially to the Appstore where an upload can take weeks. Making sure that the app is fully tested for a new release is essential and be prepared to have to make updates even if you don’t want to as new platforms emerge or are updated.
What went right and wrong with the release? Timing is everything. Releasing our app prior to the exam season was a great boost for us. A product like an app can no longer be left to sell itself on the app store (we are no Angry Birds) so marketing is key. We are looking at schools buying the app in bulk for their students such as Year 11 and post-16. Apple offer educational discounts on apps if brought in bulk so that is a route we are looking at. Hopefully the website will grow too.
What were you doing prior to creating Exam Pal? I have been working in secondary education for 20 years as a lead practitioner is Design and Technology. I have taught from Key stage 3 to Key stage 5 with numerous other responsibilities such as exams officer, teacher coach and design/ICT coursework advisor. I am also working as a freelance graphic designer and educational app advisor for The Educational App store.
What's next for you? Do you have any other projects in development that you could tell us about? The app now sits proudly on both platforms, android and iOS. My real goal is to spread the word about Exam Pal and have it on every student’s smartphone in the country. I will be adding further content to the revision tip and techniques and enhancing the performance of the app as well as giving students further early access to their exam dates. We are currently working with a major player in mobile technology to hopefully get the app pre-installed on their tablets for schools. A standalone US version of the app will be our next development as well as trying to reach Asian markets.
What other apps inspire you? There are so many apps that I use on a day to day basis especially keeping in touch with social media, this really is our target audience. I love Instagram and twitter as a powerful to get in touch directly with our audience, you would be surprised the amount of students who take selfies whilst revising! I also love at the moment Spendee a budget controlling app and as a big golf fan I can’t live without my Golf shot tracker app.
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