Personalised tutoring service aims to make grade in online grinds

With children as young as 11 years old now being sent for grinds to help bolster their future academic performance, Ethan O’Brien, David Neville and Pádraic Hogan spotted a gap in the market for top-up learning with a twist.

Unlike traditional grinds that endeavour to cover big swathes of the curriculum, JumpAgrade focuses specifically on teaching students how to do better in exams while building their competence and confidence around exam technique.

O’Brien says JumpAgrade has a number of features that set it apart from the tutoring help currently available. “We provide students with a set of personalised questions relevant to the exam they are taking and follow this up with feedback on their performance that is unique to them,” he says.

“The system adapts to each student’s learning needs and everything is done online so there is no need to travel and students can work in their own time. We also provide the benefits of the collective expertise of a network of experienced tutors.

“Young people today are acutely aware of the high stakes attached to the State exams,” O’Brien adds, “but with one teacher to 25 students in a classroom it’s difficult for every student to get the detailed feedback they need to improve. Many turn to grinds to meet this need, but grinds are expensive and inefficient, especially when parents have to drive children to them and wait outside.

“To get better grades, students need to practice with exam-like questions and to be challenged at the right level to achieve their goals. By applying cutting-edge machine learning, we can observe trends in students’ learning patterns to provide insights to educators about how to tailor teaching methods to suit different learning styles. It’s 21st-century learning for 21st-century students.”

One-month blocks

JumpAgrade asks parents to commit to its service in blocks of one month at a cost of €100. This covers four weekly worksheets. To get parents on board, the company offers a one-week free trial. The platform covers all subjects and is suitable for students of all abilities. Tutors get paid €10 per worksheet correction.

“For students who are struggling, it removes the fear of falling behind and for students trying to achieve top marks it helps them to reach their potential,” says O’Brien who has a background in computer engineering and previously worked for Intel and the Limerick-based start-up Electricity Exchange. Neville’s experience is in finance and marketing, while Hogan worked in financial SaaS sales for Oracle and Miagen.

JumpAgrade was launched last October and the platform will be promoted mainly through social media and student reps in schools. “Students typically spend two years working towards the Junior or Leaving Cert but only get one practice run at the exam during their mocks and that is not enough,” says Neville.

“Where we can really make a difference is in reducing the stress by getting students comfortable with the format and in showing them where they did well or fell down in their answers and how/where they could improve.”

Development on JumpAgrade started two years ago when the founders met at a Google start-up event. The company has recently participated in the Enterprise Ireland-backed New Frontiers programme run at the Synergy Centre at Tallaght IT and is now based at the Nexus innovation centre at the University of Limerick.

The founders have spent in excess of €170,000 (€50,000 from Limerick local enterprise office and the rest from personal and private investment) building the technology behind the platform to ensure it will travel easily to other markets. For now, however, the focus is on Ireland and the 150,000 students sitting the State exams in 2018. Neville says that as students usually begin grinds well in advance of their exams, the service will also have appeal for students in pre-exam years.