Study Strategies

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Study Groups

A note about side-by-side studying: While studying side-by-side with another student is not actually a study group, it can be useful. It’s a good way to motivate yourself to begin studying and to persist for a longer time.

A study group:

  • Provides practical advice on how to deal with particular courses and also gives you feedback on how well you are learning the material.
  • Provides a support group. All students feel discouraged at times, and a study group can refuel your motivation.
  • Helps you become motivated to study because you know your study group is depending on you.
  • Reinforces, clarifies, and deepens your learning by providing the opportunity to teach. Teaching requires you to organize your thoughts and to explain the why and howbehind what you are learning.
  • Provides a nice break from all the time you spend alone with your books.

Getting Started

  • Get to know classmates by chatting with them before class, during breaks, and after class. At a minimum, get phone numbers from a few students so you will have someone to call if you become confused while doing your homework.
  • If you think you might be able to work well with a classmate, begin by suggesting that you meet to do homework together.
  • You might also try forming a study group by emailing classmates. Give them a time and location where you will be studying and invite them to join you.
  • An alternative way to find study partners is to study in a location where you are likely to see students from your class. You might consult these students as you complete your homework and eventually begin studying together.
  • Don’t over-commit to new study partners until you’re sure you can work well with them.
  • Keep your group small (ideally 2 to 4 members). Larger groups tend to waste time.
  • Let group members know that they should study the material on their own before the group meets. If one group member is extremely confused, suggest that the student would do better by consulting with the professor or a tutor rather than participating in the study group.

Study Agenda

  • Use your lecture notes, a study guide, or a lecture handout to guide the order of topics to discuss. Be sure to also discuss how to recall the most important information.
  • Take turns asking questions. You might ask a question of the person on your right and then have that person ask a question of the next person. Try to challenge each other with follow-up questions that focus on logical analysis.
  • For problem solving courses such as math and chemistry, spend part of your time going over practice exams and discussing answers.
  • 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. Develop five questions to ask the others.
  • 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 or 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.

Sharing the Load

  • Share ideas about how to recall various facts (this might include memory devices).
  • Create and share summary sheets and charts. Photocopy particularly helpful pages from your supplemental books.
  • If a professor provides course objectives or a review sheet, have each group member write up notes on designated items and then share these notes with the others.
  • Split up the lectures among your study partners and then write up questions and answers for your assigned lectures. (Some groups email these notes to each other and later meet to discuss the material.)

Where to Meet with Your Study Group

  • Only study in a public area such as a cafeteria or coffee shop if the group members are able to stay focused.
  • Find a place with comfortable chairs and a blackboard or dry erase board. Or buy a portable dry erase board and bring it with you.
  • Try one of the following locations: an empty classroom, a group study room in a library, a lounge area or study room in a residence hall, a tutoring center within a department, a cafeteria.


  • To stay focused, decide on a start time as well as a stop time for your study session. Also, schedule short but regular study breaks.
  • If your group deteriorates into a social group, use a strict agenda and appoint 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; vent afterwards if it helps with your stress.
  • Don’t hesitate to tell study partners if you feel things aren’t working out. (Most students understand that some personalities don’t work well together.) Also, don’t allow group members to attend unprepared. You are not providing free tutoring.
  • Encourage members to reveal their weaknesses so they can strengthen those areas.
  • Effective study groups require that members develop skills in group dynamics. If have problems, discuss them openly with your study partners and try to resolve them.
  • Don’t give up on study groups just because your first group was disappointing. Sometimes it takes a while to find the best study partners (just as it may take a while to find a best friend or a significant other).