Optimize Group Study with These Top 5 Tips
Study groups can encourage you to actively deepen and clarify your own understanding of subject material. Through lively discussion and friendly head butting, study partners/teams acquire a richer understanding of topic areas. In addition, study colleagues can be a good source of encouragement, providing increased confidence in your understanding of new and review material.
Too often, however, learners rely on study groups for all of their learning. Groups are effective for problem-solving activities, reinforcing concepts, and testing, but they may not be as effective if you are unfamiliar with the material you are covering as a group.
To make the most of your group study time:
- Agree ahead of time on the topics your group will be going over the next time you meet. Prior to that meeting, each member must first preview and then spend a personal study session doing a thorough reading of the chosen material:
- Previewing consists of going over the material in a very general way a couple of days before actually reading/studying it for the first time. You are mainly getting familiar with the concepts and getting a good sense for how they fit together. You are getting a gist for what you do and what you don’t know. When you preview, simply go over the content. Do NOT “study” the material. You are simply priming the engine and getting the mind nice and “sticky” in preparation for your personal study session.
- Your personal study session consists of reading through the material slowly and carefully for deep understanding. Schedule this study session so it occurs a few days before your group study period. Know that you NEVER need to read through the same material more than once! Research has proven that true integration of the information, its durability in your memory, and your future ease of recall are not improved one iota by any amount of re-reading the same information! All of these benefits do occur though with episodes of self-testing on the same material—which you will do next!
The following tips are for helping the study group along:
- Appoint a group facilitator. It is necessary to have someone charged with keeping things moving and ensuring that the agreed-on content is covered. This person is given the authority to stop overly long discussions, ensure no one hogs the conversations, and ensure new topics are picked before the group session is ended. You can trade around being the facilitator or keep one if you feel he or she is working just fine. The facilitator should have the meeting divided into 4 time periods:
- Two quick teaching periods discussed in tip #3 below (10–30% of your total time)
- A testing period discussed in tips #4 and 5 below (60–80% of your total time)
- A prepping period where you decide topics for the next session, as mentioned in tip #1 (10% of your total time).
- Take turns teaching concepts to each other. When picking the new topics for a subsequent meeting, some especially confusing or difficult concepts may come to mind. The start of that following meeting is an excellent time for different group members do some quick teaching on these topics. Explaining something in your own words is an “effortful activity” (a deep learning practice) that helps you more fully process the information and embed it into long-term memory. Likewise, hearing another perspective adds context, which aids in retention.In your personal studies, you will certainly come across unanticipated difficulty with certain material. Make the most of other group members’ areas of expertise to answer these questions!
- Work through test questions together, comparing answers and strategies for responding to the questions. Discussion allows you to revisit concepts you may have thought you already had “down.” You may also discover a new way of approaching a question.
- Draft test questions together and test each other. Creating your own questions is another effortful activity that helps imbed knowledge before you’ve even begun quizzing one another. “Spaced testing” (another deep learning practice) with progressively longer periods between sessions on the same materials is one of the most fruitful study techniques available. If you don’t have time to do this in your group sessions, be sure to make it a staple of your personal study sessions!
Learn more about the MedStudy Method for additional study tips.