A couple years back, Ashish Rangnekar was preparing for his GMAT exam, while also working a full-time job. “I realized that I was always short of time. If I had a few spare minutes to study for the GMAT, I did not have my book with me. And when I had the book with me, I did not have time,” Rangnekar tells Fast Company. “It just wasn’t lining up.” Furthermore, he noticed, studying for the GMATs was boring. There was no fun involved. It was solitary. If both he and friend were studying up, there was no way for the two of them to interact.
The iPhone was just coming out, and Rangnekar and a friend, Ujjwal Gupta, got the idea to take test prep mobile. They founded Watermelon Express for iPhone, debuting in 2009. Having found their market (100,000 paid downloads to date), they are about to announce that they’ll be porting their app to the iPad–which squares with many people’s sentiments that the iPad could be a great e-learning tool.
Watermelon Express isn’t a content provider. Rather, they have deals with publishers like McGraw-Hill and Cengage, as well as K12.com. Watermelon Express takes books from these publishers, digitizes them, and reformats them to make them interactive. A practice test in an SAT book now becomes an interactive experience with drop-down menus and an automatically tabulated score at the end. “Everything comes to life,” says Rangnekar. Watermelon Express books cost from $10-$20.
E-test prep has some neat features you won’t find in the dead-tree version. Rangnekar says that he and Gupta noticed that is was simply human nature for students to want to take a break after a long bout of studying. After the tension of practice test, for instance, students would trade jokes or share funny YouTube videos. The Watermelon Express guys decided to simply integrate that experience directly into the app. A feature called “Chill Out” is an enforced study break of sorts, prompting you to read a joke or watch a silly video.
“I realize it’s edgy,” says Rangnekar. “But that’s what our approach has been to test prep. Let’s make it more fun. Let’s make it human!”
Watermelon Express has another neat feature called “Study Groups.” With the feature, students can look on a map of their area to see who else is studying for the same exam within a given radius. Then they can issue an invitation to meet up in a cafe or elsewhere for a study group. Think of it as test-prep-meets-Foursquare-meets-Meetup.
What’s next from Watermelon Express, then? A test-prep dating app? Enforced video game breaks? “We have to strike a balance,” says Rangnekar. After all, if it were too fun, it wouldn’t prepare you for tests.
Follow Fast Company on Twitter.