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How to Organize an Effective College Study Group

Updated on February 13, 2011

Study groups are one of the harder study aids for students to utilize. At their extreme, study groups can save or destroy a student’s grade. The real problem here is that students often don’t know how study groups are supposed to work or what a study group can offer. Many of my fellow students are of the opinion that study groups are a huge waste of time. They find usually four common problems with study groups:

1. They cannot get along with the other students in the group

2. They just spend their “study time” socializing instead of learning

3. They never get anything done because they can’t decide how to study

4. They feel like other students in the group mooch off the hard work of well-studied students

It’s really unfortunate that study groups have gotten such a bad reputation, especially since all of these problems can be prevented with proper planning.

What is the point of a study group?

Study groups have so many uses for students; you can reteach lectures and textbooks and can provide an opportunity for shy, disgruntled, or confused students to ask questions. It gives students the time and place to teach what they have learned and have repetition of learned information, both of which lead to stronger long term memory and can provide an opportunity to double check that learned information is correct. You can get copies of notes or take mock quizzes. You can also find students who you might work well with for presentations. For students who want these opportunities there are ways to organize study groups and get the most out of your time and effort.

IMPORTANT! Study groups are least effective when everybody just sits around reading. Study groups should be more like discussion groups or for practice quizzes. Class is for first covering material, not your study group. The point of having your classmates around is to get answers and to check with others if what you believe you have learned is correct and clear in your memory.

1. Finding the right partners.

For most students the first hard step is finding the right partners. The trick to this step is half planning and half luck. The really important part here is that you must be outgoing, and it works best if you are outgoing from day one of class. The idea is that the more people you talk to the easier it is to find people you think will work well together. The idea here is to get a group of no more than five people together. If there is more than five it will be ineffective because of too much input in the group that will just be distracting even if it is knowledgeable. Less than three people in a group tends to lack enough combined brain power. The real idea here is to grab people with varied levels of understanding but the same level of desire. One of the best times to organize a study group is around a test week because people tend to be much more responsive, especially if other people seem to be interested.

2. Finding the right place.

One of the keys to a productive study group is the meeting place. Because one of the problems with study groups is that they often get off track it is always a good idea to meet with your group in a study setting. Libraries on campus and off almost always have study rooms you can use. If your library doesn’t have study rooms available it is a good idea to ask if there is an area where your group won’t disturb other people while you study. Remember that the library is supposed to make you want to study more, not make you worry about being too loud. If possible call your campus info center to find out if your campus offers study rooms in other buildings of your library has no room. The idea is not to meet in a place with a tv or a loud atmosphere that can distract your group.  

3. Finding the right times.

It is important to get a regular meeting time for your group. The more often your group meets and the better the group will work. Getting commitment from your group to meet at least once a week is ideal. It’s a good idea to get everybody to bring a copy of their schedule so that the group can work out a few good times to meet so that when tests are close the group can meet more often if needed. However, having a regular, weekly meeting time will help to keep the amount of review needed at testing time to a minimum.

The ideal time to have a study group is after the material has been covered in class. That way everybody has an idea of what they might not understand and can build a study pland from it. Reviewing in a group also reinforces what you have already covered.

4. Who does what?

Before your group meets it is a good idea to decide what activities will be done before meeting and while meeting. If your teacher relies in the textbook heavily then it would be a good idea to have everybody read the chapter before coming. If your teacher lectures a lot then it would be important to read over notes first. If there are study guides, homework, or practice tests that need to be printed then the group needs to decide how to handle that. Regardless of how they get it, students should always come with a written list of questions about the material. While working with your group it can be helpful to switch off who reads from the text, who quizzes people, who asks questions, and who looks up answers. Make sure that everybody gets a chance to do everything so that everybody gets a chance to learn. 

5. What do we do?

Study groups are mostly for answering questions that each student has and reviewing information learned from class. Students should always take turns answering and asking questions. Even if a student struggles answering it is important for them to participate and attempt to answer before other students help him/her to find the answer. This helps all of the students involved to learn, either through asking or teaching. It also prevents one student from mooching off the others.

Extra test prep.

Reviewing study guides and giving each other practice quizzes is the main purpose of study groups. Use this time to quiz each other on the study guide by going over each subject with as many questions as your group can think of. Text books often have quizzes at the end of chapters or sections that also can be used. The more questions your group comes up with or answers the less likely it is that the test will have surprises on it. This is also a good time to cover old tests to prepare for comprehensive tests. Comparing everybody’s answers and reviewing the questions is a good way to remember and learn, especially since many teachers reuse old questions.


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      Stef 5 years ago

      This reads great! My only problem is that I'm not very outgoing, but I'm working on that. I do hope these tips work, as I've found in the past I do a great deal better when committed to study groups. Just never been able to mesh with students in the same degree as me. Wish me luck for next semester!