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Smartphones popular among exam takers as study tools, but could cause distractions

A university entrance exam taker uses a smartphone to look up contents of a textbook in Tokyo's Shinjuku Ward on Jan. 5, 2018. (Mainichi)

Smartphones have become useful study tools for university entrance exam takers in recent years, but some people are cautious about using the devices for such purposes as online games are just a tap away to distract them.

"I memorized English vocabulary and words for Japanese classic literature using smartphone apps during my commute to and from school by train over the past year or so," 18-year-old Toma Tomitaka, who took the National Center Test for University Admissions standardized exam over the weekend of Jan. 13 and 14 at Kyushu University, told the Mainichi Shimbun. "I was able to use my commute effectively," said the resident of Kasuga, Fukuoka Prefecture.

According to a fiscal 2016 Cabinet Office study, 94.8 percent of high school students in Japan use smartphones. For many high schoolers, the device has become an essential part of their lives. Publishers have released digital textbooks that can be read via smartphones. Some apps allow users to highlight and put stickers over key parts in the textbooks, and commentary videos that assist in studying are also available as paid services.

Stationery for studying has also evolved. Stationery product manufacturer Pentel Co. has introduced "highlighters for smartphones" for memorization -- users can mark parts in textbooks and other materials they want to memorize with the highlighter and scan the pages with an app. The highlighted parts will then get blacked out when checked on the app and will appear again when tapped.

Risa Hiruta, 19, a first-year student at Keio University Faculty of Law, says she used the smartphone app "Studyplus" -- which some 200,000 third-year high school students nationwide reportedly register to use every year -- to prepare for her entrance exams. With the app, users can record what they have studied each day, communicate with other users who are applying for the same universities and share information about textbooks, among other features.

"I learned that I was falling short on study time for some subjects and it allowed me to review how I studied," Hiruta recalled. She also used her smartphone to watch commentary video uploaded online for free views as well as English news sites. Hiruta says, "It was helpful. I could pause or rewind the video to study at my own pace."

Meanwhile, there could be some negative effects when studying with smartphones. A 17-year-old third-year high school student who took the standardized test at the University of Tokyo says he used smartphone apps to memorize English words, but he had to resist the temptation to play games.

"Apps helped me to study effectively, but I also ended up playing games at times," he said. "So I would put my smartphone out of my reach (so that it would not cause distractions)."

There is an app that prevents users from operating their smartphones while they study. It allows them to set a timer and lock their phones, permitting them to only use the telephone function of their devices for that time frame. When the user tries to unlock their phone while the timer is still going, the app charges the user a fee.

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