17 Tips for Forming a Study Group That Gets Results
The study group will become more important to you as you progress throughout your high school and college experience. While it can be an effective mechanism in covering a lot of ground academically, It can also be a hindrance if used incorrectly. The key lies in the dynamic of the group.
There are some specific things that you can do to ensure those in your study group are there for the right reasons and contributing always. To assist you, we have put together a list of 17 study group tips that should help you find the right people. Let’s get started!
1. Avoid longtime friends.
Friends are good for lots of things, But studying together doesn’t happen to be one of them—at least not under normal circumstances. That is because you and your friends don’t tend to build your friendship around school and studying. While there are always exceptions to the rule—and they are more valuable study buddies in high school—they tend to make poor partners the older you get because of the likelihood that you no longer share classes, majors or professional interests. If you do, then great! Give it a shot. But try to focus on the right people for your study group instead of simply the ones that you most enjoy being around. Plus, you never know. A good study group chemistry can lead to new friendships.
2. Seek out people with similar goals.
So now that we have established the fact that your longtime friends are unlikely to be helpful in the study group context, let’s look at the sorts of people that you should be focusing on—namely those with similar goals. You don’t have to of like these people, though it certainly helps if you do, but you do need to find some form of kinship in what all of you are setting out to accomplish.
This can be more difficult at the high school level where are you are still taking a lot of courses with a broad cross-section of classmates. However, as you move into college and specifically your college major, it’s a lot easier to find classmates that have the same worries and ambitions. Just look as far as your classroom.
3. Use social media.
A third study group building option that many of us did not have when going through college, is social media. What are your favorite social networks? Chances are good with that they will allow you to find others in your area that share interests and/or courses (perhaps with different instructors). This is a way that you can open channels to find more relevant candidates for your study group. It is also a way that all of you can connect when not in whatever physical location your study group usually meets.
Just be careful if you go this route because of the highly addictive nature of sites like Facebook and twitter. You want to keep the activities of your study group compartmentalized, at least until you are comfortable enough to switch in and out of study mode with your group members. Facebook and Twitter can quickly devolve into pointless searches and photo-stalking.
4. Work together to ensure everyone is carrying their share of the load.
Occasionally you will end up with someone in your group who really doesn’t belong there. This happens more often when you are assigned a study group in class. If you find yourself in a situation where someone is not carrying their fair share of the load, then you need to address the problem right away no matter how uncomfortable it may be.
This is easier to accomplish when you and the other members of the group are working together to confront issues as they occur. There is nothing that says confrontations have to be unpleasant. Borrow an idea from parenting two-year-olds and redirect the disruptive member’s lack of contribution to something that he/she can accomplish. Weight goals equally. Make sure that you’re all in a situation where you depend on each other and have to exert comparable effort to meet the goals of your group.
If the person isn’t responding to this, then you may have to take the next (uncomfortable) step of direct confrontation or outright expulsion.
5. Continue to hit the books on your own.
Another important thing to do when trying to build a good study group is to make it as academically attractive as possible. In other words, your group is the kind of group people WANT to be in because they know they can really benefit from it. And the best way to ensure that vibe is to be as good of a contributor as possible.
That means not allowing the study group to be your only exposure to the material. Crack open those books in your spare time and utilize that opportunity to reinforce what you’ve discussed in class and with each other. Also, take advantage of solitary study time to prepare for new material. After all teaching others is one of the best ways that you can teach yourself!
6. Capitalize on all available resources.
As a student in the 21st century—high school or college—you have more educational resources at your disposal than any other generation before you. The Internet carries a vast library of data covering most any topic imaginable.
Furthermore, real libraries still house hundreds of thousands of books that allow you to add to your knowledge base. Also, your professor has a mastery over the subject you are studying for and can provide ample insight into what he or she expects from you/your peers on assessments.
Don’t depend solely on your group for your learning. Make all of these resources and whatever else you can think of a part of your game plan.
7. Emphasize diversity.
Diversity is a good thing in most any context, but in the study group situation it means something a little different. While it’s great if your group has people of different ethnicities and backgrounds, here we’re referring to educational levels of each member. You don’t need five bozos or five geniuses. You need an assortment of people who are at different levels.
The members who really “get” the material will be more accessible to the middle-of-the-roaders while the middle-of-the-roaders, in turn, will be more accessible to those of limited understanding.
What good are the low-rung group members, you may be asking? They give others a chance to teach them and simultaneously reinforce their own understanding of the material. Everyone wins.
8. Mix it up with people in your class.
The old-fashioned way to selecting a study group is still plenty effective. Simply get out of your comfort zone and approach others who are either in the same class or taking the same courses with different instructors. Ask them if they will partner with you. If you feel like you don’t know enough people to do this effectively, latch onto someone with a better sense of outreach than you. All it takes is one good partner to start bringing others into the fold.
9. Expand your reach.
With connectedness now a bigger part of our lives, chances are pretty good there are surrounding schools or meet-up groups in the greater area that you can utilize. You will likely find all these people and opportunities on social media, but don’t underestimate other more localized sources of information. Also, think about asking your teacher if he or she can connect you with others that wouldn’t mind taking on a new study group member.
10. Take advantage of any post-boards.
Colleges, coffee shops, and other physical locations around your community likely have physical bulletin boards that people are allowed to post things to. Break out a sheet of paper and make a sign, then ask permission to hang it. Make sure that people know the best way to get in touch with you from the information provided. If you’re on the other side of it and wouldn’t consider yourself the organizational type, still make a point of checking out these hubs of information because you never know when you’ll find someone looking for the same opportunities.
11. Try not to make it all work and no play.
Yes, we know that this runs a little contrary to what most people will tell you. You definitely want the work to come first in a study group, and you also want to stay focused on your objectives whatever they may be. That said, try to fit in some time to build camaraderie. After all, if your group becomes too much of a drag on everyone else, then the chances are pretty likely that you’ll be looking for a slew of new members in a short amount of time.
Instead of making your meet-ups all grindstone, think about scheduling them in fun locations like coffee houses or bookstore cafes. Use a timer in between sessions to break up the monotony and get to know the people you’re working with better.
12. Stay focused on your reason for being together.
But yes, at the end of the day, it’s about finding a balance. You want to enjoy the time that you have with your study group but not at the expense of your core mission. To ensure this, make sure you’re using that timer from No. 11 to maximize attention spans.
13. Start a virtual study group.
Virtual study groups aren’t as cold and impersonal as they used to be when all you had to go on was a chat room. Today you can make use of Skype or Google Hangouts to incorporate visuals into your study group time. Being able to see each other while you’re communicating allows you to have the best of both worlds—the convenience of home with the accountability that comes with keeping everyone on task. And since no one wants to be on a Hangout or Skype video call all day long, there is a far greater likelihood of you staying focused so that it takes up less of your day while delivering maximum benefits.
14. Limit membership.
There are always limits. Too much of even a good thing always turns bad. That’s why you can’t afford to keep saying yes to people once your group hits critical mass. Typically you should have more than two, but no more than five in your study group. Four or five are generally thought of as the sweet-spot numbers because if one group member doesn’t work out, you still have a large enough group to manage the workload.
15. Give everyone a job.
By entrusting duties to everyone in the group, you are signaling trust, illustrating expectations and holding others accountable. You will certainly want to divvy things up according to skills, knowledge and abilities, but everyone should depend on everyone. That’s the only way you can grow collectively and, by extension, individually from the experience.
16. Create realistic agendas.
Just like you wouldn’t want to schedule a 90-minute study session with zero breaks, you don’t want to stuff your agenda full of too many objectives and burn out the other members. When getting a feel for your study group, determine each person’s individual bandwidth and don’t go too far beyond the weakest member.
You should challenge them, but not to the point that they start to zone out or, worse, text friends and family members as you move from one point to the next.
No one can really tell you what the ideal length of time is because so much depends on how much time you have to work and the personalities of your group. Only you can know those things. But once you have it figured out, give your group enough time—both on the calendar and in the session itself—to do its best work. That may mean scheduling more frequent sessions for shorter amounts of time, or it could mean just the opposite. Just be realistic based on your specific group of people.
17. Provide advanced notice.
We cannot tell you the number of times a study group member forgot about the session. And every time it happened, it inconvenienced everyone else. This is avoidable if one of you is designated to send out reminders in advance of the date.
It’s suggested that you send two messages before a study group meeting. Let’s say you meet up every Friday. We would send a reminder email two or three days before the event, then another on the day of. This gives your members plenty of time to RSVP, and it helps you isolate chronically unproductive behaviors, so you can get those people out of the group or stage an intervention early enough to put them back on course.
As for which platform you should use, don’t be so beholden to email that you fail to capitalize on social networks if those come more naturally for everyone.
Now that you know the elements of a great study group, you should be able to put together a perfectly sized and capable gathering of people. Doing so will help you get more out of your studies and elevate your understanding beyond the most challenging of material. Good luck!
[Image via University of Vanderbilt admissions]