January 17, 2017

The Benefits of Study Groups

Wondering whether study groups are for you? Sharon Stearns, student learning advisor with the Student Success Centre, shares the benefits of having a study group and strategies to make them more effective.

As you power through the second half of the semester, you may want to consider forming a study group for one of your classes. While some students prefer to study solo or have had unproductive experiences with study groups, research insists that study groups can benefit their members’ learning immensely. The very mechanisms that make study groups useful for deepening your understanding of course content — interaction and collaboration — provide benefits to the development of soft skills as well. These are the skills regularly touted as desirable by employers and include effective communication, group planning, group decision-making, problem-solving, adaptability, and leadership skills.

Additional benefits include the following:
  • Perfect your notes. By comparing notes with one another, study group members can fill in or clarify any important concepts they missed. 
  • Divide and conquer. More people can cover more material. A group can assign each member specific material to summarize and share.
  • Widen your perspective. With each member bringing their own knowledge, talents, and insights, your perspective is bound to be enhanced by the contributions of other members. This is especially useful when quizzing one another, as other members will think of questions that would never occur to you!  
  • Increase retention. Teaching and verbalizing concepts to your group members will reinforce your own learning. 
  • Feel connected. School can be stressful and studying alone can promote isolation. Studying with a group can provide motivation and support. 
Common pitfalls of study groups — the difficulty of scheduling mutually convenient meeting times, the built-in temptation to socialize rather than study, or the possibility of members slacking — often turn students off from study groups. But, keeping in mind these common problems and using the recommendations below, you can learn how to work effectively within a study group.

Recommendations:
  • Restrict your group to 4-6 members; if it’s too small the benefits of sharing ideas decrease, and if it’s too big organization becomes unwieldy. 
  • Invite students with whom you work well or who complement your strengths, not just students with whom you like to socialize. Include only serious members who commit to participating.
  • Meet weekly, but limit your study sessions to 2 hours with a brief break. Not taking a break might cause your group to become too easily distracted.
  • Maintain a consistent meeting schedule. Following a routine helps students be accountable for their participation. 
  • Each meeting should have an organized agenda with clear objectives and goals. 
  • Member participation is encouraged by giving each student a clear role and/or assignment for each meeting.    
  • Dismiss slackers. A study group is an optional activity, but somebody who doesn’t participate responsibly drags down the whole group.
Just remember — a study group does not replace your need to spend some time studying solo; it enhances the time you spend working on the material alone.