As students, the largest part of our lives is represented by working on projects, preparing assignments and presentations and of course, the cherry on top of the cake: preparing for exams. With this in mind, I think it is high time to learn how to make the most of all this time spent on studying. Here are some things that you might (or might not) know about study groups…
Why do we avoid study groups?
There are two main reasons why students might avoid taking part in a study group. First, there is a publicly acknowledged reason, represented by the common belief that an isolated environment is necessary for better concentration.
This might be true if you want to learn the material by heart, without processing the information and with the guarantee that you will forget everything by next week! If you want to understand what and why you are studying, the interactive approach is undoubtedly superior.
The second reason is something we are often aware of but refuse to admit. This refers to the fact that when studying in a group, you become vulnerable due to having to face the things you are not so knowledgeable about. As I’ll explain further, this is actually one of the main reasons why you should join a study group.
Why are study groups better than self study?
1. The first argument here is related to the last point about why people are reluctant to form study groups and rather self study. That is, when you are studying in a group there is a higher chance that most of the things you are uncertain about will pop out. As annoying/embarrassing as this might be, it goes without saying that it is better to face your weak points in good time. This way, there will be a much lower probability that the exam will catch you off guard.
2. Secondly, it is often quite hard to understand every detail of the lecture when doing self study. However, some colleagues of yours might have paid more attention to the parts you missed, and so, you can all help tofill in each other’s gaps. And in my experience, the best way to really learn and understand something is through explaining it to others.
3. Thirdly, through their cooperative but also competitive nature, study groups promote critical thinking and creativity as new questions and explanations within discussions and debates. Thus, this interactive environment ensures a much deeper learning of the material that would be missed with self study.
4. Finally, when you are alone, the temptation to procrastinate is incomparably larger than when in an interactive environment. While being alone, you can always find ways to rationalize postponing the start of your studying – you make a cup of tea every hour (telling yourself it’s important to stay hydrated), you check Facebook every five minutes (again, telling yourself you want to see if a classmate posted anything about the exam…).
Although taking breaks is important, all of this dipping in and out of your study mood can only make you lose time, and contribute to the build-up of frustration due to being inefficient.
What makes an effective study group?
The above mentioned aspects are obviously not valid for just any kind of study group. Thus, you should be very careful when choosing your “companeros”. Here are some tips to help form an efficient study group:
- Work with the people that motivate and inspire you rather than those that are superficial and only looking for an easy way to get a passing grade.
- Look for those that are alert and focused in class, and that are asking questions but also answering professors’ inquiries.
- “Too many cooks spoil the broth” – meaning that a study group turns out to be inefficient if too many people take part of it, as it becomes more difficult to coordinate, communicate with all members and maintain the necessary study discipline. Thus, an ideal size of a study group is around three to four people.
- Prepare the necessary reading before the meeting so that the group discussion can add value to your understanding.
Now, go find yourself a cozy and efficient study group and who knows, maybe studying will turn out to be actually pretty fun!