January 20, 2018

Forming an effective study group

Forming an effective study group - photo copyright 2012 Rick Sherrell

I witnessed the death of effective study groups after pre-school. On the few occasions that university professors tried to assign three or four of us to review course material at the library, we would arrive in class with contrived notes on what we agreed—through text messages an hour earlier—we would say we talked about. These contrived notes were usually mine because, really, no one wanted to waste time on group study and I, the introvert, worked better alone.

To be fair, some of us do work and study better on our own, but even introverts have something to gain from study groups—done right.

Forming effective study groups comes down to enthusiastic students and/or a perceptive professor who knows that students have other things they’d rather be doing that studying at someone else’s pace. That’s why, according to the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, study groups are most effective when required. Students having any trouble retaining classroom material—or who notice others with such trouble—can suggest to professors the following tips or take the initiative to commit to a study group themselves. Here are a few tips I wish I had known to make study groups worth your while.

  • Commit to a study group either in writing or in the presence of a third party, preferably one of authority like the professor, a resident director, or a resident assistant.
  • Meet weekly at the same time and place. Routines are harder to break than spontaneous gatherings. You can also plan ahead and make time in your schedule to habitually attend the study group.
  • Vote on a group leader to keep everyone on task.
  • The group leader can delegate different members to focus and take notes on a particular assignment or section reading (to be presented at the next meeting). For example, everyone can read and take personal notes on the sociology textbook, but student A presents notes for Chapter 1, student B presents notes for Chapter 2, and so on. During a chapter presentation, other study group members can write down supplementary notes.
  • Take equal turns asking and answering test prep questions.
  • In the event one study group member consistently fails to contribute, he or she can be approached by the group leader for first a warning and then dismissal. Consider recruiting another person into the study group to maintain numbers dynamics and morale.
  • Ask for suggestions and tips from the professor. If your study group is initiated by students rather than required by the course, the professor may be moved by your commitment and enthusiasm and offer your group extra aid.

As with any cooperative endeavor, there is potential for setbacks. Schedules inevitably collide, meetings will be rescheduled, or a session will go on as planned in the absence of one to several group members. The key here is commitment on behalf of the students to the long-term goal of achieving greater academic excellence through active rather than classroom learning alone.

If you find that your study group is helping you perform better on assignments, tests, and class involvement, share your experience with your professor. Many will be relieved to see better grades and may consider making the practice a requirement in future classes.

About the Guest Blogger: Carmen Brettel is a writer and manager for Studentgrants.org, where she has recently been researching scholarships for returning students. In her spare time, Carmen enjoys gardening and volunteering at animal shelters.

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