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Do’s & Don’ts for Study Group Success!

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There are very important things to consider when both creating and facilitating a successful study group. Our goal is to provide you with the most comprehensive list of study group tips and suggestions that will help you have the best possible study group experience. We also believe it is important to explain why these elements are important for your immediate and prolonged collaborative learning success.

Watch the short video presentation by the BYU Center for Teaching & Learning. Study Groups – The Secret to Success.

1. DO! – know your personal strengths and weakness.
a. What skills and abilities can you offer other potential study group members?
b. Do you take great notes? Are you extremely organized?
c. Do you know the subject matter well and simply want to reinforce your learning?
d. Are you a poor public speaker, but great at writing?
e. Perhaps your strength is in your communication and presentation skills!
f. Or, are you simply a reliable, committed and dedicated team player?
g. If you don’t know your own strengths and weaknesses, how will you know what skills and abilities from other potential study group members will help you reach your goals? You may also be asked what skills and abilities you can offer other study group members.

2. DO! – choose great study group members.
a. Pick “likeminded” members that are serious about accomplishing their academic goals.
b. If you are looking for study group members from a common class, choose members based on their level of class engagement. Friendships should not be a priority!
c. In other words, skip on recruiting the “sleeper”, “social-butterfly”, or general “slacker”.
d. Great study group members will be “note-takers” and “Q&A’ers”. They ask great questions, and are willing answer the professor’s questions –right or wrong.
e. Consider what skills you can learn from others that will help you become stronger academically! What abilities will members bring to further the groups goals?
f. This is extremely important! Think of this as attempting to draft a championship team!

3. DON’T! – forget about your personal goals and the goals of the study group.
a. Is your goal to pass a specific test or course? Or, are you looking to gain greater understanding or comprehension of a particular subject matter?
b. Does your group have a “Mission or Goal”? If not, establish one!
c. Is your group working to complete a specific project, task or assignment?
d. Is the goal of the group to assist each member with test preparation?
e. What do you and your group members want to accomplish when you meet? Develop study group structure and time management expectations!
f. Frequently review course objectives, syllabi, review sheets, and reading assignments.

SGI Study Group FB Pic

4. DON’T! – make your study group too large or too small.
a. First off, two (2) people studying together are “study-partners”, not a group!
b. Three (3) members is a great start. However, more members mean that ideas, concepts, perspectives and understanding are increased exponentially.
c. With that said, too large of a group can become difficult to manage or facilitate!
d. Small groups become easily hampered if one or two members are unable to attend a scheduled study session.
e. The maximum number of members should be six, not including a formal facilitator.
f. If more members are interested in joining the group, then form two groups; and meet up occasionally to share ideas and information.

5. DO! – choose a group leader or formal facilitator.
a. The Group Leader typically starts as the person or persons who initiates of the study group. Consider rotating this responsibility weekly amongst members.
b.  “Formal Facilitators” like Mentors/ Tutors/TA’s can be very helpful for groups that do not share a common class or text book; and need more guided structure.
c. The Group Leader or Facilitator responsibilities include the following:
i. Keep the group focused and moving toward accomplishing its goals.
ii. Ensure the group develops and follows an agenda. Keep everyone on topic!
iii. Assist with organizing, scheduling and group communications.
iv. Must be willing to enforce group rules and provide constructive feedback.
v. Ensure that all members are fairly contributing to the group.
vi. Encourage members to share their strengths and weaknesses.
vii. When group problems occur you must help to quickly resolve them.

6. DON’T! – pick poor locations for your study sessions.
a. Pick a meeting locations with the follow attributes:
i. Convenient for all of your study group members.
ii. Consider live-and-local meeting sessions, or virtual-online sessions (i.e. library meeting rooms, coffee shops or Google Hangouts and Go-To-Meeting).
iii. Large enough to comfortably accommodate everyone and your materials.
iv. Choose locations that welcome large study groups; create as few distractions as possible; and allow for lengthy meeting sessions.
v. Pick locations that provide comfortable seating, large tables, plug-ins for laptop and access to snacks & drinks.
vi. Meeting tools are a plus (i.e. WiFi access, whiteboards, and copier/printers).
b. Great meeting locations will encourage participation; reduce poor attendance; and help improve your study group’s productivity.

SGS_5_Office-Large-table SGS_Online-Meeting_Example SGS_6_School_Large-Table

7. DO! – divide and conquer.
a. Group members should share contact information; Exchange email addresses and cell phone numbers. Get to know each other’s schedules.
b. Group members must be committed and come to sessions prepared and ready to work.
c. Split work assignments up fairly, keeping in mind everyone’s strengths and weaknesses.
d. Divide work based on lectures, course topics, and various subject areas.
e. Share resources; split up reading assignments or homework problems when possible.
f. Have group members develop potential test questions.
g. All members should be responsible for taking notes. Spend time to reviewing and comparing notes as a group, then fill in the blanks.

8. DO! – consider doing these things when you meet.
a. Decide how often your group will meet (once or twice per week)! How long will each meeting session be? An hour may be too short when you figure in the time it can sometimes take to get a group ready to work; and anything over 3 hours can become unproductive, frustrating and tiring.
b. Establish and agree on written study group “rules”, guidelines and expectations.
c. Each group member should spend time teaching and explaining concepts. This will help each member reinforce their mastery of the information being studied.
d. Try role-playing: A lawyer explaining something to a client; be the professor deducting what questions will be on the test; or imagine you are a parent explaining a difficult concept to a child. This can help your group break through the monotony and encourages creativity.
e. Work on activities that will help with retention (i.e. flash cards, acronyms and chants).
f. Develop questions that will test comprehension, application and retention.
g. Create group member assignments and agendas at the end of each session in preparation for your study group’s next meeting.
h. Consider giving your study group a “Team Name”, which is fun and builds camaraderie.

9. DON’T! – ignore the importance of group dynamics and common courtesy.
a. Group members should remember when making a point to be brief and relevant!
b. Be sure to encourage everyone to share their thoughts and opinions.
c. Challenge each other but be respectful and expect differences in perspective. Healthy debate is good! Pointless arguing is unproductive!
d. Embrace different study and learning approaches. Remember that everyone learns in their own unique way and at different paces.
e. Collaborate with a goal of mutual group success and you will all succeed individually.
f. Don’t be shy about asking for feedback or providing it. Be honest and willing to give and receive constructive (not destructive) feedback.

10. DO! – reach out to other study groups and new potential members.
a. Seek out other study groups for best practices and fresh ideas.
b. Look for new like-minded and high quality potential study group members.
c. Talk to Teacher Assistants (TA’s) and Graduate Students for additional group help. Use your schools Supplemental Instructional (SI) resources.

11. DON’T – forget to evaluate.
a. Think about periodically evaluating your study group’s performance as a whole.
b. Consider having group members anonymously evaluate each other’s performance as study group partners. Evaluate each members level of  commitment, reliability, participation and professionalism.
c. How effective is your group’s materials, notes, questions and role playing? Review the group’s average test and/or class room performance results.

12. DO! – have fun, but not too much.
a. Studying alone can be boring, lonely and difficult for many learners.
b. Study groups can be fun and when you’re having fun time flies making it easier to study.
c. Try different group brainstorming techniques to encourage fun ways to generate ideas.
d. Allow for a small amount of time, before or after a session to socialize and catch up.
e. Take short, but disciplined, (10 min) breaks to refresh during marathon study sessions.
f. You are working together to accomplish your academic goals. It’s safe to say those goals won’t include dating, clubbing, or bar hopping updates and efforts.

You may be thinking, “I just want to study with a few folks! Does it really have to be this complicated?” Well the answer is yes and no! The more of these things you are able to consider and implement, the more likely your study group will be successful and long lasting. Education is expensive, time consuming and many debate if it is financially worth the effort. Remember that the time you put into creating a highly effective study group is an investment in your academic success, thus your financial future.

◊ Look for our next blog posting: 10 ways that study groups can save you time and money.