by Jen Nguyen
Student at University of Irvine
Until recently, I thought group studying was an excuse to get together at a noisy Starbucks to have an excuse to gossip and buy overpriced coffee. Then I entered university in a competitive major and realized I’d been completely wrong!
So what was I missing? A few tips will help you turn the study experience from a hangout to a time for learning.
Pick hardworking students for your group
These should be people who are going to show up to the group prepared, who aren’t going to expect group members to do all the heavy lifting, and who are willing to help others in return. Look for people who come to class every week and participate actively in discussion. Maybe avoid asking the student who sleeps in the corner. Group studying is all about sharing the load–everyone should put in work with the concepts to derive useful knowledge to share with the rest of the group.
Schedule study group meets in a quiet environment
Skip the noisy Starbucks and tea shops that blast pop music and are filled with people hanging out with their friends. Instead, save that as a reward following a few hours of focused group studying. Go to a library or a quiet study room with a large whiteboard instead. Being in an environment meant for studying will motivate you to actually study, and will even provide you with tools to enhance your efforts.
Review before you attend the study session
Like we said earlier, everyone should be able to participate in group studying. It’s okay if you don’t understand everything (you are here to learn, after all). Instead, identify your questions or areas of confusion and mark down anything you do understand so that you can share it with your group members. Remember that something that seems obvious to you may not seem obvious to someone else–and vice versa.
Outline clear topics for your study session
It helps if you have an agenda for the day. That way, you know exactly what you hope to get done rather than a vague concept of “studying.” Use your syllabus to guide you–there’s almost always a class schedule on syllabi (or an entire separate sheet). You can also focus on the lecture, the textbook, or the homework if you need to narrow the scope further. This can be decided at the beginning of the session or at the end of the session for the following week.
Some bonus tips for group studies:
Use a whiteboard and/or lots of paper.Multi-sensory learning has been shown to help everyone learn better, so visually teaching others and breaking down the material by “drawing it out” will benefit everyone.
Bring snacks and water! This is especially important if you plan for the session to run for hours. Snacks will give you the energy to study and will stop you from leaving to get food in the middle of the session.
Take turns being the “professor.” Teach the whole group a concept or how to do a problem. Not only will you practice your presentation skills, you’ll also be mastering the material as you achieve the ability to teach others.
Take breaks! Studying is a lot of work, even with a group to help each other. Remember to take it easy and realize when you’re mentally exhausted. Allow yourself to rest up because there’s more to life than just getting good marks.
Shut it down after three hours. Most people burn out around three hours on the same topic. Don’t expect yourself or your study buddies to be any different. For some topics, three hours may be too little time to cover the material, but in many cases, you should call it a day at that point.
Sometimes it is just not realistic to spend hours grinding on your own trying to understand a tough concept or problem, and using study groups the right way will make your life better. They also represent what life is truly about: collaboration. Almost every job requires some type of teamwork to accomplish things. So it’s better to get some practice in now–your grades and your future self will be thanking you!
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