College Study Strategies: Organize a Study Group

Dr. Richard Light, a Harvard researcher and Professor of Teaching and Learning at Harvard Graduate School of Education, was sent out on a mission to find the single best predictor of college success.

After ten years of research and surveying 1,600 Harvard students, he found a key element to university achievement: the ability of a student to either join or create a study group.

We encourage you to incorporate this successful study strategy into your routine: Find or create a study group for your classes.

College students in a study group

Assuming you already have a solid study plan in place, it’s time to partner up with classmates for greater benefit. Students typically learn more when they study together in small groups than they do studying alone.

Your goal for every class should be to get yourself into a study group or form one on your own by finding study partners.

What are the benefits of a study group?

Students who study in groups are more engaged in their studies, are better prepared for class, commit more time to coursework, and learn significantly better than students working on their own.

By studying with others, you learn better by the teaching element that study groups provide. When you teach or explain something to someone, the material gets reinforced in your memory.

“While we teach, we learn.” — Seneca, Roman philosopher

The teaching benefit works the other way around too: You can seek guidance from your study group. If you don't know something, or if something is unclear, a fellow student can explain it to you. This can also be an opportunity to go over and compare notes for both review purposes and in case you missed anything the professor mentioned in the lecture.

When working with other students outside of class, you’re able to discuss ideas and further expand on things covered in class. Hearing the thoughts of other members in your study group opens you up to new ideas and perspectives, giving you a fresh new way of looking at things.

This is one of the greatest and most overlooked aspects of the college experience: being able to collaborate with other brilliant minds. People who are successful surround themselves with equally smart and motivated individuals.

Many professors encourage students to form study groups. This wasn’t the case in the past. In the old days, many professors would forbid students from working together, as they viewed it as a form of cheating. Now the education spectrum has found when students work together, there are benefits to be had all around. Discussions are livelier, students are more motivated, and more material is taken in.

Other Study Group Benefits

  • Fights procrastination: When other people start relying on you, it makes you accountable. This forces you to do the coursework and keep up on the readings.

  • Motivation to study: Study groups increase motivation as members keep tabs on each other.

  • Involvement and well-being: By working with fellow classmates, you’ll feel more involved and a part of the class. Study groups can be especially beneficial in larger classes where the professor is in high demand.

  • You’re surrounding yourself with success-minded individuals: Those who want to do well in the class. These connections made outside of class can lead to new friendships.

  • Practice leadership skills: Being the organizer of a study group will help build leadership qualities, as you’re able to form and lead a team to greater success.

  • Be better prepared for exams: Study groups really come in handy during test times. Whether you study better alone or not, having a study partner can be useful for quizzing one another during test preparation.

Being on a college campus, you're constantly surrounded by all kinds of smart people from all sorts of backgrounds. Take advantage of this: form a study group with fellow students. Everyone in the group will see benefit.

Guidelines for Forming a Study Group

  • When selecting candidates to work with, pick students who appear to be engaged in the coursework and are asking questions and following the lecture closely.
  • The ideal size for a study group is 3-6 members.
  • Keep the group focused: Have a specific agenda for each session.
  • Meet at least once a week.

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