A note about side-by-side study: While not a study group per se, side-by-side studying can be useful. It involves going to a study location with another student to study independently. This can be a good way to get yourself to start studying and to persist for a longer time. Also, if you find that you’re confused about something, you have someone nearby who can help.
A study group does the following:
- Provides practical advice on how to deal with particular courses and gives you feedback – before the test – on how well you are learning the material.
- Reinforces, clarifies, and deepens your learning by providing the opportunity to teach. Teaching requires that you develop an organizational framework for the material, and as you verbalize, you are moving to a more conceptual understanding.
- Provides a support group. All students feel discouraged at times. A study group can refuel your motivation and make studying more engaging.
- Helps you become motivated to study because you know your study group is depending upon you.
- Get to know your classmates by talking before class, during breaks, and after class. Determine which students are serious about their studies and have a personality that would mesh with your own. At a minimum, get phone numbers from students in your classes so you can call when you’re confused.
- If you feel awkward about asking other student to study with you, simply study in a location where you are likely to see other students. Then, ask a classmate a question about the subject matter and begin chatting.
- Keep your group small (ideally 2 to 4 members). Larger groups tend to waste time.
- Group members need to study the material on their own before the group meets.
- Study groups usually focus on either a content review or questions (oral questions or a practice exam).
- When doing a content review, most groups use their lecture notes, a study guide, or a lecture handout to guide the order of topics to discuss. They also discuss how to recall various facts.
- If you prefer a formal group: At the end of each session write an agenda for the next session, with each group member assigned to prepare/present specific material. Volunteer to be the presenter in the area you find most difficult. Research this area thoroughly and become an expert. When you teach your study partners, use visual aids but don’t look at your notes.
- If you prefer informality: Decide at the beginning of the session what topics you will study and how you will study. You might assign topics/single lectures to each other and then work independently for a time to come up with 5 to 10 questions on each topic or lecture.
- Some groups take turns asking and answering questions. For example, you might ask a question of the person on your right and then that person would make up a question for the next person. It can be helpful to challenge each other with follow-up questions that focus on logical analysis. For example, if someone says that the kidneys respond in a certain way, you would ask why it does that.
- Some study groups spend part of their time going over practice exams and discussing answers. It can be helpful to challenge each other to correct your mistakes by asking leading questions (this will be more likely to stick in your memory).
- If a group member is seriously confused about the content, it’s usually best for that student to go to either the professor or a tutor, rather than taking up group time.
Sharing the Load
- You and your study partners can share ideas about how to recall various facts. You can also share specific memory devices.
- You can create and share summary sheets and charts, or you can Xerox particularly helpful pages from your supplemental books.
- If a professor provides you with course objectives or a review sheet, try splitting it up with your study partners. Each person can write up notes on designated items and then share these notes with the study partners.
- You can split up the lectures among your study partners and then write up questions and answers for your assigned lectures. (One group emailed these notes to each other and met later on to discuss the material.)
- If you aren’t able to do all of the reading, you can split the material among your group members and then write up notes to share.
Where to Meet with Your Study Group
- Only study in a public area like a cafeteria if the group members are able to stay focused.
- Do find a place with comfortable chairs and with a dry erase board or blackboard. (Or buy a portable dry erase board and bring it with you.)
Pitfalls & Problems
- If your group begins to deteriorate into merely a social group, use a strict agenda and a strong convener. Or, simply ask, “Will that be on the test?” when group members get off track.
- Don’t allow lengthy complaints about courses or professors during group time; do this afterwards if you must.
- Many groups report that most of their time wasting occurs during late night sessions. Decide ahead of time when you will stop studying for the evening. Also, to stay focused, schedule regular breaks.
- Encourage members to reveal their weaknesses so they can strengthen them.
- Don’t hesitate to tell study partners if you feel things aren’t working out. (Most students understand that some personalities don’t work very well together.) Also, don’t allow group members to attend unprepared. To keep members who are failing to do their fair share is to enable irresponsibility. Remember, you are not providing free tutoring.
- Effective study groups require that members develop skills in group dynamics. If at first you don’t succeed, discuss the problems with your group and try again. If all else fails, you might try again with another group of students.
Written by Cecelia Downs
UIC’s Academic Center for Excellence
1200 W. Harrison, Chicago, IL 60607 312-413-0031