Better Grades With A Study Group

Based on the positive feedback from our "Success With A Study Buddy" post, here are some thoughts on organizing a successful study group.  Especially in college, the onslaught of material to be learned can quickly overwhelm the individual student. Enter the study group. By dividing the subject and sharing insights and study materials, everyone in the group can perform better.  So what makes for a successful study group?

Becoming part of a study group has a lot of benefits.  Beyond the social interaction that easily trumps solitary study, having classmates to answer your questions and validate your ideas is invaluable.  The process of explaining a concept to another person reinforces the material in your own mind, and hearing other perspectives can broaden your understanding of issues that you thought you understood.  Further, having a scheduled study session makes it far more likely that you will actually spend that time studying without yielding to the temptation to skip the studying and go directly to your favorite form of relaxation.

There are a few possible down-sides to a study group.  Sometimes a study group can veer off track and become more of a social gathering than a learning community.  Members can hijack the topic and spend everyone's time expounding on a small point and leave the larger issues not addressed.  Remember that the group can only go as fast as the slowest member, so choose your study partners wisely.

It is important to be selective when putting together your study group.  It may be tempting to choose members based on appearance and personality, but it is more important to find people who share your work ethic and commitment to good grades. You want dependable and motivated partners, not slackers who you will drag through the entire course single-handed. Aim for a range of perspectives, but remember that the group will be operating under some stress as finals approach, so widely diverse opinions could lead to trouble.

Decide on some ground rules for the study group up front.  How often will you meet?  Once or twice a week is usually good.  Meeting for 90 to 120 minutes should be your target.  Less time than that and you will spend most of it getting started, and more time will leave you burned out and ineffective. Find a quiet and convenient place to meet.  Your dorm room is probably not idea, given the cramped quarters and frequent distractions that intrude.

During your first meeting, spend some time talking about expectations and responsibilities.  Everyone should agree on how the work will be shared and consequences for not keeping up.  Will there be a single group leader or will the leadership rotate from meeting to meeting or topic to topic?  Will you tackle the "optional" material that is part of many classes, or stick with the basics?

Once you get the group rolling, be sure that everyone plays nice with each other.  That is, let everyone contribute without interruption, show up on time and ready to work, stay on task, and keep a civil tone throughout. The common good should be everyone's goal.  Together you can accomplish much more than each individual, so it is worth giving up some level of independence in return for better success in the class.

By forming a study group you can leverage your time and increase your chance of success.  You might even free up enough time to make it to a party or two on the weekend.  Need a few more study buddies?  Check out and see if there are some classmates looking for a group, too!

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