how to study in a group

How to study in a group: Tips for group study sessions

Katie Azevedo productivity, study skills, study tips

how to study in a group

Even the most independent students can benefit from a group study session. I am the absolute definition of a lone-learner, but even I — a classic solo-student — can recognize the benefits of group studying for certain occasions. And if you’ve tried group studying before and thought it wasn’t for you, make sure you know how to study in a group the right way – it can make all the difference.

Benefits of studying in a group

Even if you usually study by yourself — for whatever reason — there can be a perfect time and place to study in a group. Studying with others can:

  • reveal gaps in our understanding
  • increase our confidence in the material
  • give us a new perspective on the material
  • make learning the material less boring
  • hold us accountable to learning the information
  • prevent procrastination

Want more reasons to plan a group study session? Here’s more proof.

When to study in a group

Sometimes it really is better to study by yourself. If you’re simply preparing for a short vocabulary quiz (here’s 3 tricks for studying vocabulary) or something similarly small, there’s no need to gather a group of friends. If there’s not much material to cover, you’ll likely spend more time socializing than studying. You’re better off just studying the simple stuff by yourself (here’s how to do that), and then getting together afterwards with your friends for something non school-related.

However, for larger assessments like midterms or final exams, study groups are awesome. I highly highly recommend planning your study group for some point towards the end of your preparation (close to the actual test). More on that in a second.

Who to include in your study group

Choose carefully who you ask to join your study group. Don’t form a group of your “favorite people,” but rather form a group of the people who will best support your study efforts. Of course you will likely want to study with some friends — and that’s totally fine — but your study group should consist mainly of people who are at the same level as you and have the same work ethic as you. These people may not be the same group of friends that you hang out with on the weekends, but that’s okay.

If someone in your group understands the material better than you do (they’re at a slightly higher level than you), then you can learn from them.

If someone in your group doesn’t understand the material as well as you do (they’re at a slightly lower level than you), then you can teach them. Remember: teaching someone else is one of the best ways to learn something yourself.

Who not to include in your study group

Obviously don’t include anyone who is distracting, negative, or unmotivated. Don’t include anyone who doesn’t have the same goal as you, even if it’s your best friend. (Good luck trying to tell your best friend that you don’t want him/her in your study group! Ha. Awkward.)

What to do BEFORE your group study session

It’s best to study in a group after you’ve studied the material by yourself. This sequence is so important! Think of a group study session as a final step in your preparation. So study as much as you can independently before you get together with your group so that you can use the group study session to polish off what you know, or even fill in the gaps on information that you struggle with.

As you study by yourself before your group session, keep an ongoing list (an actual list on a piece of paper!) of questions that pop up, material that you don’t understand, information that you’re missing, and other things that you need help with. Bring this list with you to your group study session so that you can get answers from your group members.

As early as you can, start planning your study group: Think about who you want to invite, where it will be (House? Library? School? Here’s some ideas for locations), when it will happen, and how long it will be. Get a date on the calendar. This will become your “deadline” for trying to learn the material by yourself. Because remember: the group study session is most effective when you use it as a review!

How to study in a group: What to do DURING the actual study session

1.  I recommend starting your study session off by creating an agenda. Go around the group and ask everyone what they want to cover, writing down everyone’s input. Add the items from your own list too. You can also do this step before the actual study session – via email or whatever.

2.  Start with the easiest material first, or start in chronological order if you’re studying something like History or a novel.

3.  Check each item off the list as you cover it. It’s okay if someone wants to add something to the list as you’re studying: just write it in!

4.  Listen well to what everyone has to say, even when you’re reviewing material that you think you’ve mastered. Sometimes someone else might have a way of explaining something that is clearer or more complete.

5.  Whenever you can, reiterate (repeat and rephrase) back what a group member says. Doing this can seriously help you learn information faster. So after someone explains a tricky piece of material, you’d say “Okay, so in other words ….” or “Okay, so let me rephrase that …” If you can’t rephrase it easily, you don’t understand it enough.

6.  If your study session is long (more than 90 minutes), take short breaks. Keep breaks to about fifteen minutes so you don’t get distracted. Fifteen minutes is enough time to grab a snack, go to the bathroom, move around, etc.

Why are group study sessions so important — beyond the obvious

Knowing how to study in a group is an important school habit that eventually will translate into skills that you can use in the workplace. That might sound all “lame teacher-y” and stuff, but it’s so true.  In fact, knowing how to listen to others’ ideas, tactfully contribute your own, and better help others understand information are really life skills. And life skills are, uh, more important than ANY other kind.