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How to ace summer school: great online homework-help and tutoring sites

online study tools

Alice Cooper may be on the radio singing "School's out for summer," but for many students, classes are about to begin again. Whether you are heading to summer school to make up for lackluster performance during a previous course or looking to get a jump start on next year, homework help is available at the click of a button. From online tutoring to online study groups, the Internet is full of options to make summer school a success.

Online homework help runs the gamut from free information to paid sites offering one-on-one services. Some, such as WyzAnt.com, offer to hook up students with local tutors for face-to-face instruction. Others, such as Grockit.com, take this education option online. "Tutoring sessions can be conducted either through the chat bar or with the additional aid of talking over Skype," says Grockit tutor Jill Muttera.

Homework help for the new millennium

Homework sites offer convenience, namely, you can study whenever it works for you. Students often have 24-hour access to information and experts on everything from world history to calculus. For parents concerned that this is the 21st Century equivalent of peeking over a classmate's shoulder for the answer, those familiar with the sites say there is nothing to fear. "We see it as the same help you'd be getting from staying after class to talk to your teacher," Carleigh Graves, marketing manager for homework help site Cramster.com, explains. "It is traditional homework help but in a new setting."

Dan Fullerton, a physics teacher at Irondequoit High School in Rochester, N.Y., agrees. After watching students fall behind from missed classes and recognizing he has limited time to help them catch up, Fullerton created APlusPhysics.com as an online "home base" for those needing extra help. "I've found it to be a terrific resource for my physics students," he says of the site's tutorials, videos and quizzes.

Where to go for online homework help

While some sites, such as Fullerton's cater to a specific niche, others provide comprehensive resources on a variety of subjects. To ace your summer school exams, these are among the biggest and best online homework help sites:

Cramster: Split into two sections, Cramster offers both textbook help and homework help. For textbook help, students can search for 800,000 solutions that take you step-by-step through solving a problem. "This is super helpful for students checking their work," says Graves. "They can see the steps and not just the final answer." In the homework help section of the site, students can submit a question and receive an expert response in as little as two hours.

"In a nutshell, Cramster is all about getting students unstuck," Graves says. "Any time they are stuck and don't have access to a teacher or study group, they can come online 24/7." The site offers a free membership with limited features. Those looking for unlimited access can sign up for plans ranging from $5.00 to $8.33 a month.

Khan Academy: At the Khan Academy, homework help is free. As a non-profit, the academy is supported by donations from private donors as well as groups, such as the Gates Foundation. Site founder Sal Khan envisions the Khan Academy as being the first free virtual classroom where everyone across the globe will have access to information on every subject.

For now, the academy boasts more than 2,000 videos that provide 10-20 minute lessons. Current material on the site is math- and science-heavy, but videos are also available for history and finance. Log-in with your Google or Facebook account, and the site will track your progress through a number of mathematics exercises that test your math knowledge from basic addition through advanced algebra and trigonometry.

CliffNotes: Perhaps the granddaddy of homework help aids, CliffNotes has come a long way since the company's founding in 1958. The original little yellow books could take a lengthy classic, such as War and Peace--clocking in at approximately 1,200 pages--and condense it neatly into a 120-page booklet. Today, the CliffNotes website follows that same tradition of condensing big concepts into easily understood plain English.

Visitors will find free practice problems, quizzes and study guides in subjects beyond the company's original specialty of literature. Science, math, foreign languages and history are some of the topics offering free online homework help. An "Ask Cliff" section also allows students to find answers to specific questions.

HippoCampus: Another free site, HippoCampus was created by the Monterey Institute for Technology and Education. Offering multimedia presentations provided by a variety of universities and schools, the site covers subjects, including math, science, religion and history. No log-in or registration is needed although Adobe Flash is required to view lessons.

HippoCampus is planning a site redesign in the summer of 2011, including additional content and features. Already, a history mini-site has been launched to provide in-depth study materials for U.S. history lessons.

Grockit: Deriving its name from the Robert Heinlein classic Stranger in a Strange Land, Grockit adds a social networking twist to online homework help. Students can review sample problems simultaneously and conduct real-time chat discussions on the review page. Students can also earn badges and points as they work through practice sessions. In addition to online study groups, Grockit offers an Academy section based upon California state standards for grades 7-12 in subjects ranging from math to language arts.

"Grockit offers test preparation for the SAT, ACT, GRE, GMAT, LSAT, AP Calculus AB, and AP US History," Muttera says. "Students practice with real questions adapted from previous tests and can choose to work on their own or join other students in a group study session." You can sign up for a three-day trial to try Grockit for free. After that, the site charges $19.99 a month for unlimited access. Those looking for more personalized help can purchase one-on-one tutoring at a price of $50 per hour.