SimpleStudy: An app that promises to be the Duolingo for exam prep

28 Aug 2023

From left: Zac Dair, Phillip McKenna and Oisin Devoy. Image: SimpleStudy

Founded by Oisin Devoy, Phillip McKenna and Zac Dair in Cork, SimpleStudy has been used by more than 17,000 Irish students this year.

Last week, thousands of Irish secondary-school students received their leaving certificate exam results. While not the be all and end all, these national exams are a crucial factor in deciding where they can go to college and what they can study.

Like most other aspects of human life, advancements in technology have been changing the way Irish people learn, from enhancing language learning creatively with an app to simplifying the grading and feedback process in education with artificial intelligence.

‘Private school in your pocket’

Now, there’s an app that helps secondary-school students learn and revise for their exams by incorporating elements of adaptive learning, gamification and AI. Based in Cork, SimpleStudy wants to make learning fun while relieving some of the stress associated with exams.

“We like to think of ourselves as solving the most painful problem in education, which is competitive examinations,” said Oisin Devoy, an entrepreneur from West Cork who founded SimpleStudy last year with Phillip McKenna and Zac Dair.

“It is a real pain point for over 200m students in secondary level education as every single student has to take exams that have real consequences on their future career and academic opportunities.”

Devoy describes SimpleStudy as a “private school in your pocket” for students from all backgrounds. The aim is to disrupt exam preparation the same way Duolingo disrupted language learning, using techniques known to increase engagement.

“[SimpleStudy] improves grades by tackling some of the key stresses of exam-prep and offering students a learning experience tailored to their specific needs. We blend technology and learning theory to transform how secondary-level students tackle exam preparation,” Devoy explains.

Through the app, students can access curriculum-focused resources such as study notes, timed exam questions, quizzes, experiments and even sample essays, across all major subjects including English, Irish, Maths, Business, French and the three science subjects.

“That said, our software goes beyond just providing revision content. The future of education is personalised, and we believe we can use technologies such as AI and NLP [natural language processing] to achieve that,” Devoy goes on.

“We are also introducing game design elements to challenge and reward students for their progress. This gamification adds friendly competition to the learning process and is scientifically proven to boost student motivation and exam results.”

Beyond Ireland

Friends for more than six years, the founders have some strong collective experience in both education and business. Devoy studied economics at Sciences Po in Paris and went on to work in consulting before founding SimpleStudy and taking the helm as CEO.

Meanwhile, McKenna was previously head of growth at Bitaccess, a crypto software company backed by Y-combinator that exited last year. Dair is undertaking a PhD in AI and applied psychology at the SFI Centre for Research Training in Advanced Networks for Sustainable Societies and has a background in software engineering.

“We have always wanted to build something together and are excited to use our skills to help students around the world with SimpleStudy,” said Devoy. “Start-ups are challenging, so we are delighted to see our early hires committing to the vision we share.”

It’s not just the junior and leaving cert exams that SimpleStudy wants to focus on. Devoy said that there’s a broader exam prep opportunity waiting to be tapped in other markets, with the “millions of students taking exams around the world” as potential customers.

And the team is off to a promising start in achieving that goal, with more than 17,000 Irish students using SimpleStudy before their exams this year.

“We have two new hires joining us this month, which is super exciting as we see our vision adopted by our growing team. Being selected for the NDRC Accelerator out of over 300 applicants was also a huge boost for us,” Devoy added.

“We are now fully focused on hitting our revenue objectives in Ireland before we expand to new markets before the end of the year.”

Backed by NDRC and Charlotte Street Capital, Devoy said there is potential for a fresh funding raise in the coming months to accelerate its market expansion plans.

“That said, in the short term, we are focused on hitting key revenue milestones, as that is the real mark of a successful business,” he said, adding that the team is aiming to hit €50,000 in monthly recurring revenue by the first quarter of 2024.

“We face new challenges every day, but I think one that I am particularly excited about is attracting new talent to our team as we look to grow and get SimpleStudy into new markets.”

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Vish Gain is a journalist with Silicon Republic