[dropcap]S[/dropcap]tudents can learn from and with each other—that’s supported by multitudes of research and maybe in your own experience as well. The learning doesn’t happen automatically, and the group study doesn’t rule out the necessity of individual study. But study groups can improve exam scores and deepen students’ understanding of the content. Based on that research, here’s a set of guidelines that improve the effectiveness of study groups. I encourage you to share them with your students.
– Smaller is better than larger, all the way down to one study buddy. In general, avoid groups greater than seven. Four to six members is a good range.
Group composition –
Invite classmates you can trust and communicate with comfortably, but also add some diversity to the group—not all the same majors, for example. Students in the same major tend to think alike, and there’s a benefit to hearing something explained or a question asked by somebody who approaches the content differently. Ditto for some group members with different experience sets, different perspectives, and different backgrounds.
Meet more than once
– It takes time for a group to gel, but the real reason is the effectiveness of short, regular study periods. Yes, cramming does work in some courses, but if the content is something you care about or if exams are cumulative, it makes sense to get the group together several times—for say 30 minutes every other week or 30 minutes three times the week before the exam, as opposed to two hours the night before the test.
Group dynamics matter
– How group members feel about the effectiveness of the group is largely determined by how well the group functions. How the members want the group to operate should be discussed up front: we’ll arrive on time, start and end on time, we’ll know what we’re going to review before hand, we’ll come prepared, and we’ll all contribute. If those are the rules and someone doesn’t live up to them, the group can decide whether they should be asked to leave. Individuals in a group have the right to expect the group to function productively and
the group has the right to expect individual members to function productively.
Good group study strategies
– There’s excellent research on study strategies that make a difference in exam performance. Unfortunately, a lot of favorite study strategies don’t cut the mustard. Groups should focus on those study strategies that are more difficult to do when studying alone. Here’s a run-down of dos and don’ts:
Touch bases after the exam –
- Don’t “go over” content; “get into” it. Don’t spend time talking about how the exam will be easy and or sharing hearsay about the exams in this course.
- Going over content means a quick and easy discussion of it. Getting into it means taking a concept, explaining it to the group, and providing relevant examples. Getting into it means checking what’s in your notes against what’s in the text or other assigned readings.
- Do use the study group to improve your class notes. Take a day and have everyone discuss what they’ve got in their notes. Or, assign each group member a class session and have them give everyone in the group a copy of their notes, elaborated with references to related material in the text.
- Asking and answering potential test questions is a very effective group study strategy. Do consider having everyone bring two or three possible test questions or problems and then use the time together to come up with answers. Yes, it’s easier to just talk about the content, but that’s not what you’ll be doing on the exam, so try to replicate the exam experience as much as possible. It’s more difficult and it can be embarrassing, because it makes clear what you don’t know or understand. Better find that out in the group than on the exam. And chances are good, there’ll be someone in the group who does understand and can explain it to you.
Not necessarily to share scores, but to chat about what the group contributed to exam preparation. Should the group continue? If so, what if anything, might the group do that would better support individual study?
And finally, don’t be shy about asking your classmates join you in a study group. You can start small, just two or three persons you know. Or, post an invite online and don’t rule out the possibility of an online study group. Set up the first meeting and start by asking everyone how they think a study group might help with exam preparation in this course.