successful study groups

Working in a study group is one way to actively engage yourself with the material you are learning in school. It can also help deepen your understanding and your classmates’ understanding of the material as you share your knowledge and thoughts. Here are some guidelines for getting a study group together.

1. Gather your study group.

Keep your group small; three or four people are ideal for both focusing on the work and keeping things manageable. Determine your logistics: How often will you meet, and for how long? If you are working together to prepare for an exam, you could plan to dissolve the group after the exam. Or if you’re all facing a particularly tough class together, you might want to plan to meet weekly for the entire year. Select one person in the group to be a leader/coordinator to set a schedule, send out reminders, and set a focus or goal for each session. Your leader can change from week to week or month to month, or stay the same. Choose a neutral location where you can work with few distractions: an empty classroom, the library, or a community center, for example.

2. Plot out your study sessions.

To achieve success from session to session, the group needs a structure. For example, you might plan to spend the first 10 minutes reviewing the most recent class notes, 10 minutes drilling one another, then working alone on some aspect of the work for 20 minutes, then reconvening for 30 minutes of discussion. Whatever structure seems reasonable for your group, map it out and stick to it.

3. Be clear about your goals as a group.

Just as you set goals for yourself in school and life, your group needs to set a goal to know where you’re going. Before your first session, be sure everyone agrees on the group’s goals and how you plan to reach them. For example, your goal might be to increase your French fluency leading up to the AP Exam (the finish line for your group). Or maybe your group is tasked with working on a specific project, in which case, you will need to break down the tasks to be done, schedule them, and assign them to members of the group. Whatever your goals are and however you reach them, everyone needs to be fully on board.

4. Ask questions.

One way to engage more deeply with your subject is to make it a point to have all group members prepare and ask each other questions about the topic. When you answer another person’s question, you’re essentially recalling what you know and processing the information in a way that will help you really learn it and recall it later. Have your group plan a chunk of time for asking questions in each study session. End with a big-picture question, such as “Why is this concept important? How does it relate to our overall unit?”

5. Compare notes.

Members of your study group should bring in-class notes, reading notes, etc., and compare them with the group. This process helps everyone review and build an understanding of the material. If any group member is missing a portion of the material in their notes or didn’t understand the material, this is a good time to review the material together. However, don’t turn this into a note-copying session!

6. Assess yourselves.

As the group gets well underway, take some time at the end of the session to have an honest talk about how it’s all working. Is everyone contributing equally? Is everyone comfortable in the space? Are you all staying focused? If you need to adjust your goals, group assignments, or space, make the change right away.

Summary

Working cooperatively in a team is a skill you will use throughout your life.  Successful study groups are a great way to actively learn new material and make sense of it all. Working with two or three other people who share similar goals can be of great benefit to you all.

Make sure everyone agrees to the structure and goals of the group, and make a solid plan for how your group will work. Once that is in place, enjoy this great learning and working experience!

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