study groups

Getting Involved with Study Groups
Making the most efficient use of your study time is one of the most difficult challenges you will face in college. How, when and where you study makes all the difference in your preparation to participate in class discussion, take exams, write papers and most importantly, learn in the most effective way to help you retain knowledge.

Learning how to study effectively

To start, it will be important to understand what kind of learner you are. Everyone processes information in a different way. Some people learn best when they are presented visual information. Others find that they are able to retain more if they can listen to study material. Some students are more comfortable with abstract ideas while others do much better with concrete information and are more inclined to computational or linear thinking. Some students have aspects of all these qualities. Knowing your learning and thinking style will help you become a better student in all your courses.

Creating study strategies that most suit your style of learning will improve your performance. For example, if you are an aural learner or one who retains information by hearing it, you can make a tape of the material that you need to learn and listen to it repeatedly. If you’re a visual learner, then you may want to make study cards that reinforce the lecture material. Think about what will aid you best as you encounter different subjects and expectations for mastering the material. When you understand your own strengths and the most effective way you learn, you can also develop a strong and balanced study group.

What is a study group?

One of the most productive ways to study is in a group with other reliable classmates. Studies have shown that when serious students form a small group to study and then prepare and present the material together, they tend to improve their performance over time.

A study group is a committed and cooperative group of students who share the same goal: to learn the material in the most effective and efficient way. If you would like to try a new method of acquiring knowledge, a study group may be the perfect answer for you. Working with other students who have different strengths, perspectives and learning approaches can bring new clarity to your assignments and help you retain information. Fruitful discussion is often the difference between memorizing and truly understanding important information.

There are basically two methods for working in a study group. One way is for everyone to prepare for the assignment and then go over the material together and quiz each other, making sure that the correct information and answers are shared with the group. This is a simple and direct way to get the most out of a group effort.

Another way to work in a study group is called the Jigsaw method. Research has shown that one of the best ways to learn is to teach. This means that if you are responsible for presenting a portion of the material to others in the group, there is a much greater likelihood that you will learn the material on a deeper level. In this method, the material that needs to be learned is divided up for each member of the group. Each member goes over all the material but is responsible for mastering one particular piece of the material. Then the group reconvenes and each member presents their portion to the rest of the group, answering questions and leading dialogue. At each stage every member is engaged in the presentation and sharing of their knowledge on the topic at hand. It’s all about teaching each other the material, which requires everyone to go over all the material but be especially prepared in one aspect. The Jigsaw method requires a strong trust and positive interdependence within the group. You can think of it as a kind of interlocking accountability, one where everyone is enriched by the strength of each individual.

How to Form a Study Group

Start by making connections with other students in your classes. Don't feel you have to limit yourself to study only with friends or familiar faces. Recruit smart people who can reliably keep up with homework, who will stay focused and who will actively contribute to the process. The most successful study group is one in which everyone comes prepared and every person participates in going over and presenting the material to the group, asking relevant questions to bring clarity and understanding to the learning process. Study groups require responsibility, trust and commitment, so look for classmates who are capable of bringing something positive to the group and will commit themselves over the long haul.

If you decide to form a study group, establish some rules and guidelines at your first meeting to keep the group from being distracted and losing enthusiasm and momentum. Limit the size of your group to three to five students. Too many students may add confusion and organizational problems. If there are more that are interested, form two groups and find the time to get together to share information and learning strategies especially for exams.

At your first meeting, emphasize that the group exists to study and to accomplish clear goals for understanding the coursework in time for assignments, exams and deadlines. Remind everyone that members who slack off can’t continue to be included if they don’t keep up their end of the bargain. Be clear and set boundaries so there is no confusion if the going gets rough.

Allow a 10 or 15-minute period at the beginning of each study session to socialize and check in with each other. But always, always, always keep your goal in mind and get to work. If you are having a long session, plan a short break about halfway through to allow people to stretch or eat a snack. Let people know that it is a 10 or 15-minute break and that the group will get back to business when that time is up. Structure will help to lead to the long-term success of your study group and will be a key motivator for everyone.

Study Group Success Factors

  1. Members of the study group must attend all class and section meetings.
  2. Choose a regular and recurring meeting time to limit confusion and disappointment.
  3. Have clearly stated goals for each study session and be sure to allot enough time for each level of the learning process.
  4. If no one wants to lead the group, rotate the leadership and keep the responsibilities balanced.
  5. Stay focused and on task. Everyone’s time is precious. Nothing is worse than allotting study time and then not getting any studying done.
  6. Stay in close communication with each other if something comes up.
  7. Always remind each other of expectations and assignments so there are no disappointments or setbacks.
  8. Be accountable to one another at all times. Encourage each other and remind everyone how important it is to be prepared for each study session.
  9. Establish ground rules for staying focused and getting the work done at the very beginning of your study group formation.
  10. Do not continue to include people who do not meet the expectations of the group.
  11. Make sure everyone understands the material before moving on.
  12. Be sure to consult with your professor or your TA if there are questions that come up during a study session. Report back to the group so everyone is clear about the correct answers.
  13. It can also be very effective to have more than one study group get together to help each other study before a mid-term or a final exam.

The benefits of being part of a reliable study group are the opportunities to:

  • learn on a deeper level
  • make more efficient use of your study time
  • improve your listening and presentation skills
  • gain new perspectives on the material
  • learn to collaborate productively with classmates
  • have the support of your classmates

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