Forming Study Groups

Study groups can be very helpful. In fact, one of the best ways to review is by forming study groups. Some students will form study groups that meet on a weekly basis to talk about and review what went on in class that week. Other students like to use study groups just before an exam as a way of reviewing and perhaps even getting a new or different perspective on what they have learned. Either way, study groups have big advantages if they are done right.
Perhaps the biggest advantage of being part of a study group is that it allows you to listen to information on another person’s voice, which can provide insights that you may not have considered. In a traditional course, you listen to your professor’s interpretation of the information during lectures, you read the text for another interpretation, and through these two sources, you come up with your own interpretation or meaning. You have listened, read, and written down material, so you have used several if your senses. All of this interaction should help you gain a greater degree of understanding of the material. It stands to reason, then, that by listening to and interacting with others who are also trying to understand the course information, you would gain a deeper understanding, be able to remember the concepts better, and subsequently do better on the exams.
It’s important to think about the characteristics of good study groups. Just meeting with people in the same course does not necessarily make a study group. Good study groups have the following characteristics:

-Everyone comes prepared. Study groups do not replace studying on your own. Everyone should come to the group prepared to review the information, pose and answer possible test questions, and voice questions about material they don’t understand. If the study group members have to spend all their time trying to teach a large portion of the course material to someone who didn’t even attempt to learn it on her own, most members will not benefit.

-Everyone can talk through a difficult idea with the group. It helps everyone in the group if you choose something that is giving you a bit of trouble or something that you may have some questions about. As you are reviewing your understanding of the concept, others who may understand it better than you should be encouraged to offer additional explanation. Don’t shy away from discussing information that you don’t know very well; it defeats the purpose of the group.

-Members of the study group should be classmates, but not necessarily friends. Everyone knows what can happen when friends get together to study: everything goes fine for the first few minutes, but it’s easy to get off track. It’s much better to have serious students, who all have the goal of doing well, in your study group rather than just recruiting your friends. That’s not to say that studying with friends will never work; it’s simply harder to study with friends than it is with classmates working toward a common goal.

-Meet at a place that is conducive to studying. Campus libraries often have study rooms set aside for just this purpose. Such rooms are generally small and sound proof so that normal conversation an discussion can be carried out with ease. If your library doesn’t have study rooms, dorms often have common areas equipped with study rooms. Empty classrooms can also work well if your only alternative is to study in someone’s room or at someone’s home or apartment, remind yourself what the purpose of the session is-to review the course material for a test, not to socialize.

-Have clear goals and structure. When you initially form a study group, you should have a more specific goal than to get together and study. Most groups meet at regular times. Groups that have a game plan in mind before they come together are generally the most successful.

Almost everyone can benefit from belonging to a study group at one time or another, but study groups work particularly well for students who learn better auditorily and through discussion and in courses they find problematic.

Excerpt from College Success Strategies by Sherrie L. Nist and Jodi Patrick Holschuh.

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