New Year, New Frustrations: Quizlet switches to payment-based plans


Gretchen Highberger

Junior Lauren Masengarb looks at her Quizlet account before Spanish class. Like many high school and college students around the world, Masengarb has not subscribed to Quizlet Plus and now has limited access to Quizlet’s study tools.

Gretchen Highberger, Copy Editor

Students of all ages around the globe were bittered at the start of this school year by a significant change to the accessibility of the dominant study site Quizlet. 

Quizlet, a for-profit educational technology company, is known for its effective, efficient and convenient study tools. However, a recent update to the platform put most of its tools behind a paywall, frustrating students who were unaware of the changes made to the site over summer break. 

Quizlet’s niche is helping students build their long-term memory to prepare for future recall, such as during a test or future coursework. While Quizlet’s tools don’t help much in learning new material, they have created a monopoly on individual review and memorization among high school and college students. 

Two in three high school students use Quizlet to study, and 60 million people visit Quizlet each month. For reference, there are approximately 15.4 million students enrolled in public high school in the United States for the 2022-2023 school year. 

Senior Alyssa Gauss, who has her seal of biliteracy in French, credits much of her success to Quizlet. “Quizlet is a vital resource for many classes, but especially world languages,” she said. “I know a lot of people who have passed tests and courses simply because they used Quizlet to study.” 

Quizlet’s success can be partially attributed to a general trend of students turning to technology for study tools, but what made Quizlet so dominant was the fact that their unique features were completely free to use. 

Until recently, a free account included unlimited access to all study modes: Flashcards, Learn, Write, Spell, Test, Gravity and Match. While ads were present on the site, the ads’ placement and frequency wasn’t a nuisance.

That all changed this fall.  

With the new changes, flashcards are the only study mode with unlimited free access. Nitin Gupta, Vice President of Product at Quizlet, provided clarity about Quizlet’s changes via blog post. “Quizlet’s world-class Flashcards are (and will always be!) free,” he said. While flashcard mode is certainly a powerful study tool—and Quizlet’s most popular—it lags behind modes such as Learn and Test in its effectiveness at building long-term memory. 

The company itself even advocates methods of studying now primarily under a Quizlet Plus subscription in its explanation of the science behind the site. Guidance fading is a teaching technique in which instructional support is gradually decreased as students become more confident with the material. “Quizlet provides this progression by moving you from easier multiple choice questions to more challenging written questions when you study with Quizlet Learn,” their website reads. Further down the page, Quizlet explains the benefits of pretesting, and how these benefits can be achieved through Test and Learn modes. “Rather than re-reading your notes or textbook, start your studying with a pretest by using Quizlet’s Test mode,” Quizlet suggests. “Then practice the terms you missed in Learn.”

Quizlet Learn and Quizlet Test are now only available in an unlimited form to students on a Quizlet Plus plan. Non-subscribers get five free rounds of Learn and one free practice test per study set. This amount cannot even vaguely familiarize students with all terms in a large study set, as some sets can take well over ten rounds to complete in Learn.

If students want to interact with these science-backed tools in a meaningful way, they must pay. Currently, Quizlet Plus offers two different payment plans for individual students: $35.99 per year or $7.99 per month, which can be canceled at any time. 

Compared to other supplementary study options, such as private tutoring, Quizlet offers a scaled-down and more affordable option. For instance, Chegg, another popular online learning site, offers a plan of $15.95 per month for homework help. The plan includes textbook answers, Q&A with experts, flashcards, citation formatting and more. For students who don’t want—or can’t afford—that level of support, Quizlet Plus is a more affordable option. 

For some students at PV, $35.99 is an annoyance, but not a financial burden. Students have either given up the money or adapted to using more limited features. 

Senior Alexa Very has used Quizlet since 8th grade, but only upgraded to Quizlet Plus a month ago. “I felt that I had no choice. I don’t know any other way to study Spanish vocab, or any other trivial test topics” Very explained. “The decision to require students to pay to get the full study experience is a smart move. They are not a for-profit company, and need to make profit somehow.”

Very and many other students at PV have been able to continue past study habits by upgrading their accounts. For other students, Quizlet Plus created another obstacle to success. 

Quizlet Plus separates students into two groups: those who can pay for Quizlet Plus and those who cannot. In a 2020 Report, Quizlet stated, “With students in lower-income regions facing a digital divide, technology support and resources are needed to narrow the gap. We hope that sharing these findings can help provide awareness and guidance to counter potential learning gaps that students face.” A similar sentiment was echoed in a 2021 Report as well. 

Quizlet recognizes there is a problem, yet still pushes out changes that only exacerbate it. As a for-profit company, Quizlet’s goal is to monetize education, and in a world of cutthroat admissions and pressurized academic environments, that isn’t too hard to do.

Unlike Khan Academy, a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization, Quizlet isn’t bound by a goal of working for the greater good. Khan Academy’s website ends in .org, Quizlet’s in .com. 

This difference is highlighted well in the two companies’ mission statements. Khan Academy’s reads, “Our mission is to provide a free, world-class education to anyone, anywhere.” Quizlet’s reads, “It’s our job to give every student the tools and confidence to succeed, no matter what their motivation, or what they’re striving to achieve”. 

While Quizlet’s statement does include the phrase, “every student”, the sentiment falls short of promising real change. Khan Academy is on a “mission”; Quizlet is fulfilling a “job.” Khan Academy wants everyone, everywhere to have access to learning tools, and so does Quizlet—but for the latter, access might come with a price. 

While the changes Quizlet made are frustrating to many, it is important to recognize that Quizlet is a for-profit company. Expecting a for-profit company to take the lead on resolving accessibility and inequality issues is a futile hope. 

A more constructive conversation would be to question the situation that bred the problem.

Are the resources provided by schools not enough, or is a personal financial investment on the part of the student’s family an expectation in classrooms? Why does an accessibility gap exist in the first place? How can it be fixed, and who should take primary responsibility?

Quizlet’s change in pricing is just one symptom of an education system rapidly falling ill.