"Two heads are better than one." That's the simple idea behind study groups. By participating in a study group, you take advantage of one of your best academic resources at UW: other students. You get to add their understanding to your own. Study groups also bring a social quality to your study time.
Guidelines for a Successful Study Group
- Keep it small, but not too small. Four to five participants is about right.
- Try to group with people of equivalent ability. It doesn't help you to have the class genius in your group if she is way ahead of the rest of you. You need the chance to make your own discoveries, to learn how to learn the material. Understanding someone else's explanation is not as good as being able to explain it yourself.
- Clarify your goals. Are you coming together to prepare for a particular test? To discuss reading? To review homework?
- Agree up-front how many weeks you want to meet, and how many times per week. You might want a group that lasts the whole quarter, or you might want to meet a few times before a test.
- Schedule your first two meetings ahead. Try to find a regular time and place to meet. Get a verbal commitment from group members that they will not schedule other activities to conflict with study group.
- Allow for socializing in the group — this is one of the pleasures of group study — but make sure it takes up only a small portion of your group study time.
Roles Within a Group
Some groups like to assign members certain roles to keep the group functioning smoothly. You might like to try:
Organizer: This person gets group members to agree to a common purpose and a convenient time and place.
Expediter: This person watches the time, making sure the group doesn't spend too long on one thing. The Expediter will also try to keep the group focused on the task at hand, for example by directing a social conversation back to study questions.
Source-seeker: This person reminds group members to identify their sources. When a group member says "I read somewhere that...," the Source-seeker remembers to ask for specifics. He reminds the group that it's important to know who said what, and where it was said.
Gatekeeper: This person tries to make sure that all group members are participating. The Gatekeeper might ask a direct question to help a shy person participate, or find a tactful way to get a dominating member to listen.
Harmonizer: This person resolves conflicts between group members.
Some Uses of Study Groups
- Review the week's lecture notes. Agree on what points were most important and fill in missing information. Correlate lecture notes with assigned reading.
- Discuss class readings. Clarify difficult passages. Practice explaining difficult concepts to each other. Correlate with lecture material. Create reading questions for upcoming assignments.
- Study for tests by predicting test questions. Have members contribute sample exam questions and evaluate which questions are most likely to appear on the test. Look at important topics and make up different kinds of test questions (objective, application, evaluation) for each topic. For an essay exam, practice outlining essay answers to your questions. (Note: if you're working on a paper or preparing for an exam where the prof gave out exam questions in advance, don't create a group outline, as it can lead to plagiarism.)
- In a math or science course, do your homework problems individually before study group. Then have group members teach each other how they solved the problems. Concentrate on the reasoning process, how you thought your way through the problem.
- In a writing course, come together to critique each other's rough drafts.
Much of this material comes from Active Learning: A Study Skills Worktext by Rory Donnelly (1990).