Start-ups that aim to make exams less of a grind

Start-ups that aim to make exams less of a grind

By Ruth Doris

As students settle back to school and prepare for next year’s State examinations, two Irish startups are providing solutions to help the students improve their grades.

Co-founders of jumpAgrade, Ethan O’Brien, David Neville, and Pádraic Hogan met at a Google Startup Weekend and “bonded over the shared desire to improve education”.

They were accepted into the New Frontiers Phase 2 programme in 2017, which helped them to develop their idea.

A computer-engineering graduate, Mr O’Brien previously worked as a systems architect for smart-grid technology provider Electricity Exchange. His co-founders are business graduates.

Launched in October, 2017, the price is €25 per subject, per week, with a 20% discount for additional subjects. When a student signs up with jumpAgrade, they complete a needs analysis. Tutors then design personalised worksheets for each student.

The process simulates a real exam, with students writing their answers on paper, as they do in the real State exams. They then upload photos of their answers to their account. A team of expert tutors corrects the work and returns it with detailed and personalised feedback for the student.

Mr O’Brien compares it to doing 100 mock exams, taking away much of the anxiety and the pressure for a “high-stakes exam like the Leaving Cert”.

The feedback has been “brilliant”. He says that, “basically, everyone who went through the jumpAgrade process has achieved or overachieved on their target grade”.

The key to accelerated learning is the personalised feedback, which shows students what they need to do to jump the grades, he says.

“It’s personalised, so it can work for someone, whether they’re struggling in a subject or whether they’re going for top marks,” Mr O’Brien says.

He says the tutors will have given grinds in the subject, they will have corrected State exams, or they could be doing a masters in the subject. They’re vetted during recruitment and subject to continuous quality assessments.

Mr O’Brien says jumpAgrade can be easily adapted to any market where there’s a demand for private tuition, because a key part of the business model is leveraging the local, private tutoring resources.

The company has raised between €150,000 and €200,000 over the past two years, including LEO grants, a loan from Strategic Banking Corporation of Ireland, €100,00 from private investors, and self-funding.

Currently taking part in a 12-week Google Adopt a Startup, jumpAgrade recently made it through to the regional finals of the Seedcorn competition. The company is looking to expand to third-level.

Meanwhile, ExamLearn offers an alternative to grinds for students preparing for the State exams. It was set up in 2015, as JC-Learn, by Jack Manning, Johnnie Bell, and Eamonn Flannery, who had achieved 30 As between them in the Junior Cert exams.

They subsequently added Leaving Cert subjects to the platform and relaunched in December, 2016 as ExamLearn.

The company’s initial website set-up cost €20, and they made €20,000 in the first 18 months. The business has been self-funded, to date, with any revenue earned put back into development.

Mr Manning says the subscription price of €39 for access for one calendar year, for both Junior and Leaving Cert students, offers good value, as it works out at the cost of a single grind.

ExamLearn has 20,000 users and covers 11 Junior Cert and 10 Leaving Cert subjects.

Features include study notes and tips, sample exam questions and answers, online quizzes, and a function that allows users to search by topic. A unique feature is the Exam Builder, which allows users to create their own exams on their chosen topics, Mr Manning says. Having completed the Leaving Cert exams this summer, Mr Manning is studying management science information systems in Trinity College, while his co-founders are studying engineering at UCD.

The three co-founders are working on another business project in education.

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