Using Study Groups Effectively

Have you ever noticed that when you explain something you’ve learned in class to a friend, you begin to understand it better yourself? This happens because when you explain an idea to someone else, you need to actively think it through. By thinking more deeply about what you’ve learned and explaining it to someone else, you begin to understand it better.

As the old saying goes, “Two heads are better than one.” While studying alone may work well for things such as memorizing facts, sometimes you’ll need to understand complicated ideas. Rather than repeat memorized facts, you’ll be required to apply what you know to solving problems. Effective study groups involve hashing out lesson materials together — explaining concepts, arguing about them, figuring out why one person’s answer differs from another’s — and in the process, you learn more than you ever would have studying by yourself.

Benefits of a Study Group

A study group can be beneficial in many ways. Here are some of the most important benefits:
• A study group can “pick you up” when you find that your
motivation to study is slipping. The other group members can be a source of encouragement.
• If you are reluctant to ask a question in class, you may find it easier to do so in a study group.
• You may become more committed to study because the group members are depending on your participation. You will not want to let them down.
• Group members will listen and discuss information and concepts during the study sessions. These activities add a strong auditory dimension to your learning experience.
• One or more group members are likely to understand something you do not. They may bring up ideas you never considered.
• You can learn useful new study habits from the other group members.
• You can compare your class notes with those of the other group members to clarify your notes and fill in any gaps.
• Teaching and explaining information and concepts to the other group members will help you reinforce your mastery of the information and concepts.
• Let’s face it: studying can sometimes be boring. Interacting with the other group members can make studying enjoyable.

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Starting a Study Group

Don’t wait around to be invited to a study group — create your own! Here is what you should do to get a study group started:
1. Get to know your classmates by talking with them before class, during breaks, and after class. When selecting a classmate to join your study group, you should be able to answer yes for each of the following questions:
Is this classmate motivated to do well? Does this classmate understand the subject matter? Is this classmate dependable? Would this classmate be tolerant of the ideas of others? Would you like to work with this classmate?
2. Invite some of these classmates to work with you in a study group until you have formed a group of three to five. A larger group may be difficult to manage.
3. Decide how often and for how long you will meet. Will it be once a week or before assignments are due? If you plan a long study session, make sure you include time for breaks. A study session of about 60 to 90 minutes is usually best.
4. Decide where you will meet. Select a meeting place that is available and is free from distractions. There are many good study group rooms in the library.
5. Decide on what you want to accomplish during the study session. This can include comparing and updating notes, discussing readings, comparing answers to assigned problems, and preparing for exams.
6. Develop a list of all group members and their cell phone numbers. Make sure each group member has this list and update the list as needed.

Characteristics of a Successful Study Group

Once started, a study group should possess the following characteristics to be successful:
• Each group member contributes to discussions.
• Group members actively listen to each other without interrupting. Only one group member speaks at a time.
• The other group members work corroboratively to resolve any concern raised by a group member.
• Group members are prompt and come prepared to work.
• The group stays on task with respect to its agenda.
• Group members show respect for each other.
• Group members feel free to criticize each other but keep their criticisms constructive. This can encourage group members to reveal their weaknesses so that they can strengthen them.
• Group members feel free to ask questions of each other.
• Above all, the positive attitude that “we can do this together” is maintained.

Possible Pitfalls of a Study Group

A study group can be a very positive learning experience. However, there are pitfalls to be avoided. Here are some cautions:
• Do not let the study group get distracted from its purpose.
• Do not let the study group become a social group.
• Do not allow group members to attend unprepared.
• Do not the let the session become a negative forum for complaining about teachers and courses.
• Do not allow one or two group members to dominate the group.
• Don’t let the study group become your own only contact with the material. Study on your own first, and then get together to discuss ideas or assigned problems.

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If your group is having any of these problems, discuss together how to overcome them. Don’t give up at the first sign of trouble. However, if those in the group are unwilling to make needed changes, don’t let them drag you down. Go find or form a new group. With a little experience, it will be clear to you very early on whether a study group will be effective.