Tips For Starting A College Study Group
It’s never too early in the semester to form a study group. But there are things to consider so that your group is successful for all participants.
Many students find that studying in college is very different than what was needed in high school. So even if you didn’t enjoy studying in a group then, you may find it very beneficial for your college classes.
It’s a good bet that the freshmen who don’t return for their second year (or even second semester) don’t come back because they didn’t have disciplined study habits. It is common to hear students say that they didn’t need to study while in high school.
study group for college in the library
This is definitely not the case in college! In fact, for every 1 credit hour spent in class, you should expect to spend a minimum of 2 hours outside of class (on homework, reading, test preparation). Study groups can give you a routine, at least for some of those hours.
Study groups also provide you with a sounding board to clarify your ideas about class material and allow you to benefit from others’ understanding and perspectives. And groups can keep you accountable to your class work-others are counting on you to do your share.
Often students feel intimidated about asking questions in class, but a peer learning environment gives them the opportunity to get their questions answered by others who understand the material better. And maybe most importantly, study groups can give you confidence in your knowledge and abilities so that you perform at your best.
group of penguins
Invite Only Peers Who Will Actively And Positively Participate
Keep your eyes open during the first weeks of class. Notice who seems to be seriously engaged in the lectures and discussions. Who answers questions and takes notes? These are the types of students who you want to invite into the study group. It may be tempting to add “fun” folks to the group, but ask yourself if they will be strong additions or just distractions.
You can always socialize with them, but you don’t need to include them in the group if they won’t take it seriously. Some students will want to “latch onto” the group when a big exam approaches…they are often peers who haven’t been keeping up with the reading, taking good notes or attending class regularly. They will only impede the progress of the other members, so be firm about whom you include!
Small Group Size Is Best
Keep the group size small so that everyone’s schedule can be accommodated. The more people involved, the more likely it is that the group will become unmanageable and unproductive. Five is an ideal number for a group.
Once it is formed, agree to keep the original members and not add any others. This limit will also give you an excuse to say “no” to anyone who wants to latch onto the group only because they aren’t prepared for an exam.
Create Specific Guidelines
Create specific guidelines for group etiquette, such as timelines, conflict resolution, meeting times and locations.
Coordinate each member’s schedule to ensure that everyone will be able to participate equally and fully. This may sound boring, and maybe even like a waste of time, but it will save time and stress when things get down to the wire before an exam.
Meet On A Regular Basis
Don’t wait to meet right before an exam. This defeats the purpose of the group, since the goal is to really know the material, not just to cram as a group. Plan on meeting at least once a week for the entire semester, though the more often, the better. Always meeting on the same day and at the same time is the best way to have complete attendance at each meeting.
Meet At A Regular Location
Just as you should have a specific location where you study on your own, a regular study space will add to the environment of the group.
It’s a part of what I call the psychology of studying-when you study in one spot, you condition yourself to go into your “study zone” whenever you visit that location. This benefits you and the group by conditioning members to come to each meeting with their “game faces on” so that the group stays on-task.
Exchange Contact Information
Exchange phone numbers and email addresses and find out what each member’s preferred method of contact is. It’s easy to assume that everyone now owns a smart phone…that isn’t the case. Some people prefer a phone call to learn that the group has had to make a sudden change, while others will check their Facebook for messages. If something comes up, which it inevitably will at some point, and plans must be changed at the last minute, it is important for all members to be contacted using the communication they prefer, and therefore, check regularly.
Determine What Each Member’s Strong Points Are
For example, someone may be great at definitions and have already made flash cards. Another member might excel at explaining complicated concepts. If you know each member’s strong points from the start, you will save valuable time by having them “lead” those sections of the material when they come up.
Choose A Leader
Take turns being the moderator of the group. You may choose to do this according to what will be studied on a given meeting day and what each member’s strong points are. The moderator should facilitate the group so that you all stay on-task and meet your goals for that study session.
Keep The Conversation Positive
This is a challenge for all groups, so you will need to be vigilant in keeping the group on-task. Complaining about the professor doesn’t get the studying done! And have you ever noticed how discontent breeds more discontent?
Once a good gripe session gets going, it is hard to put the brakes on it. It’s easier to agree that complaining will be kept to a minimum and that you will call each other out on those negative attitudes and comments that only cause friction and stress.
Maintain Open Communication
If an issue needs addressing to ensure the group’s success, discuss it as a team. It is easy to verbally bash a member of the group when they aren’t around, but creating and keeping a, “What happens in the group, stays in the group” mentality allows for open communication.
If you have created group guidelines as suggested, you should be able to bring issues to the group in a way that avoids friction.
Anytime differing personalities gather together, there will be some conflict. Since you can’t totally avoid conflict, creating and upholding agreed-upon guidelines with open communication will assist members in feeling safe to participate fully in the group.
Use The Time That You Meet Wisely
It’s human nature to socialize when in a group, so it will be vital to the success of each member to not allow the group to become just another way of avoiding doing the studying necessary. Time and time again I have heard students complain that they studied for hours and still did poorly on a test.
But, time and time again, I have seen those same students have their books open and their notes out, but finding all manner of distractions that keep them from truly studying. The moderator of the group should gently, but firmly, guide the discussion back to the study topic if too much socializing is going on.
Visit The Professor As A Group, If Possible
There may be times when no one in the group clearly understands a concept. Rather than spinning your wheels and wasting time, go to the professor’s office hours and get clarification.
Going to the source will ensure you aren’t just guessing, and guessing wrongly, and it will save time, which is at a premium. Try to schedule it so that all members can go together to the professor’s office so that everyone gets the same detailed explanation.
Maintain Loyalty To yourself
Now, I know that you have been taught that winners never quit and quitters never prosper. But if it means the difference between passing or not passing the class because the group has, for example, become just a place to gossip and complain, it may be time to move on, even if you started the group.
Your time is precious and you must make the most of it. If the group isn’t working for you anymore, even though you have followed all of the suggestions above, you owe it to yourself to find another way of studying.
Because humans crave that feeling of belonging, it can be difficult to make that break. Often, we stay with a group that no longer serves our needs longer than we should out of loyalty. Loyalty is a wonderful quality to have, but remember why you started or joined the group in the first place. If you have tried and failed to whip the group into shape according to the agreed upon etiquette and guidelines, it may be time to be loyal to yourself and leave the group.
Jacqueline Myers is a long-time college English instructor who also provides expert tips, tricks & techniques for successful college writing and research at Nitty-Gritty English. Her life’s work has been dedicated to guiding students through the messy world of writing, grammar, literature and research. She is a proud contributing writer for American Educational Guidance Center.