Laura McMullen

These sites help you stay clear of distractions, study flashcards, and correctly cite sources

Class assignments are nearly impossible to complete in this day and age without sitting in front of a computer for long periods of time. Homework may require the use of an online calculator or searching for recent news events on Twitter, but it seems that when there's classwork to be done, Internet distractions beckon. Fortunately, there are free websites that will actually help you focus, study for tests, and complete research.

Here are three:

1. MinutesPlease: Step away from the Facebook. Checking your notifications every two minutes will not make studying go any faster. Keep yourself in line with MinutesPlease, which gives you the boot after being on an addictive website such as Reddit, StumbleUpon, or Facebook for too long. Josh Kramer, the creator of MinutesPlease, uses his own website to stop himself from obsessive Wikipedia searching. He originally built the site when his wife spent too much time on Facebook when she needed to get work done.

"There are legitimate reasons to be on Facebook, but you can get sucked in," Kramer says. "I wanted something that would allow you to pace yourself."

On MinutesPlease, you can enter a website that you visit regularly and restrict the length of time you want to spend there before getting back to work. If you enter "" and "15 minutes," Reddit opens in a separate tab, and a countdown clock displays on the MinutesPlease tab, along with options to add or subtract time. When the countdown hits one minute, a pop-up displays on the Reddit page to inform you of your remaining browsing time. After the final minute, the Reddit tab will close, and, ideally, you return to being productive.

2. Quizlet: What's the capital of Kansas? The French word for "green?" Making flashcards to study material like this is nothing new, but these days you don't have to deal with index cards and markers to make them. Quizlet is an online haven of study games and more than six million sets of flashcards, with subjects that range from German verbs to LSAT questions. The study material appears on virtual flashcards, with an option to have the content presented in the test-form or within a competitive game.

If you don't see a flashcard set that you want, make your own by submitting the information you want to study. Quizlet CEO Dave Margulius says he and much of the Quizlet team in San Francisco have decided to learn Spanish together and often use the website's Speller tool. When using this tool, a voice says a vocabulary item without showing the word itself, and you must type the word you hear. For example, the voice might say, "bailar," which is Spanish for "dance," and then you type the word the best you can. If spelled correctly, you move to the next word, and if not, the screen shows the accurate spelling.

3. Citation Machine: That 20-page research paper about the downfall of Rome is finally complete, and now your reward is to agonize over the tedious details of the dreaded Works Cited page. It's easy to get lost in the confusing rules about semicolons, commas, italics, and underlines that can make citing sources stressful.

Fortunately, websites like Citation Machine can be helpful. First, choose which editorial style to use, such as AP or MLA, and then pick what kind of source to reference, such as a book, magazine article, or podcast. Fill in the necessary information, such as the publisher, date, and author name, and click the submit button. You then see the full citation, and an in-text reference, with the punctuation and style correctly formatted. From there, copy and paste the citation from the website to the reference page of your essay. David Warlick, creator of Citation Machine, wants everyone to feel comfortable giving credit where it's due. "The idea is to make citing sources so easy that students get in the habit of doing it in college and after they graduate," Warlick says. He also points out that one day it could be your work that people reference, and you would hope that those people would cite your work correctly.

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These Free Websites Help Students With Classwork