Student Success Resources

Study Groups

Study groups are a great idea—as long as they are thoughtfully managed. A study group can give you new perspectives on course material and help you fill in gaps in your notes. Discussing course content will sharpen your critical thinking related to the subject, and being part of a group to which you are accountable will help you study consistently. In a study group, you will end up “teaching” each other the material, which is the strongest way to retain new material. But remember, being in a group working together doesn’t mean there will be less work for you as an individual; your work will just be much more effective.

Online Groups

Online groups can be incredibly effective. Using video-chat programs such as Skype or Messenger, study groups can work together, fulfilling the same goals as face-to-face groups. This is especially useful in online courses where students may be taking the course from distant locations.

Author’s Story

I did a Master’s in Distance Education and did the whole thing online. The students lived all over the world, and I regularly had classmates from Italy, Greece, Brazil, Ireland, and Australia, to name a few countries. Even the instructors lived all over. Though I never met any of the other students in person, I got to know them quite well and befriended a few. I got to know who I worked well with on projects and who were good study partners. We met regularly by Skype and it truly felt like friends meeting around the table to accomplish a goal.

— Mary Shier, College of the Rockies

Study Group Tips

Here are some tips for creating and managing effective study groups:

  • Think small. Limit your study group to no more than three or four people. A larger group would limit each student’s participation and make scheduling of regular study sessions a real problem.
  • Go for quality. Look for students who are doing well in the course, who ask questions, and who participate in class discussions. Look for people who are likely to be willing to put the work in. Don’t make friendship the primary consideration for who should be in your group. Meet up with your friends instead during “social time”—study time is all about learning.
  • Look for complementary skills. Complementary skills make for a good study group because your weaknesses will be countered by another student’s strengths. When a subject requires a combination of various skills, strengths in each of those skills is helpful (e.g. if one person is great coming up with ideas, another is great with analyzing logistics, and another is great with the fine details – together they could make a great team).
  • Meet regularly. When you first set up a study group, agree to a regular meeting schedule and stick to it. Moving study session times around can result in non-participation, lack of preparation, and eventually the collapse of the study group. Equally important is keeping your sessions limited to the allotted times. If you waste time and regularly meet much longer than you agreed to, participants will not feel they are getting study value for their time invested. Optional visiting can be allowed after the regularly scheduled study time is over, which gives people the option of leaving knowing that the studying portion is over.
  • Define an agenda and objectives. Give your study sessions focus so that you don’t get sidetracked. Based on requests and comments from the group, the moderator should develop the agenda and start each session by summarizing what the group expects to cover and then keep the group to task.
  • Include some of the following items on your agenda:
    • Review and discuss class and assignment notes since your last meeting.
      A group of students talking a computer lab
      Studying together helps the whole group learn better.
    • Discuss assigned readings.
    • Quiz each other on class material.
    • “Reteach” aspects of the material team participants are unsure of.
    • Brainstorm possible test questions and responses.
    • Review quiz and test results and correct misunderstandings.
    • Critique each other’s ideas for paper themes and approaches.
    • Define questions to ask the instructor.
  • Assign follow-up work. If there is any work that needs to be done between meetings, make sure that all team members know specifically what is expected of them and agree to do the work.
  • Rotate the role of moderator or discussion leader. This helps ensure “ownership” of the group is spread equally across all members and ensures active participation and careful preparation.
  • Dead weight. Inevitably there are people who don’t pull their weight in a group assignment. This can be very frustrating for everyone. Don’t be that person! It may mean you get away with not doing your fair share of the work, but in the end it will cost you. Others will not want you to be in their group in future assignments. Or you may have someone like this that you end up having to work with. You may have someone in your group who seems to mysteriously disappear when meetings happen and work is distributed, but is magically there when it’s time to hand it in and get credit. This can be most infuriating and feels incredibly unfair. However, dealing with these things is an important skill to develop and will be useful in the workplace as well.

Group work has many advantages and often means that the end product is a much better product than it would have been if done individually. Group work incorporates the strengths and perspectives of a number of people, making the result richer and more balanced. Often the exercise of group work is much more than coming up with the end product (the completed assignment). It invariably is about the journey and the process of getting there and the teamwork skills that are developed along the way.

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Study Groups Copyright © 2021 by Sarah Malo and Maggie Convey is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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