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Group Think: We’ve got tips to help you make the most of your study group

When it comes to test prep, comparing notes and absorbing class material, experts say two or more heads is often better than one. Studying together could be the key to acing the class.

“I think just about any student could benefit, so I do encourage students when it’s possible to participate in a study group,” said Grace Fleming, a university student success coordinator who writes for on homework and student success topics.

But you need to be smart about what group you join and how it works, she said.

“I like for best friends not to be in the same study groups,” Fleming said. “It can be a distraction … if one feels resentful about having more work, carrying more of the load -- that just happens a lot when friends are involved in study groups. I think it’s best to avoid anything like that from the get-go.”

Ideally, your group will have a range of academic strengths, she said. Some students are best at taking detailed notes, others may see the big picture more clearly, and some are good at the critical skill of recognizing the difference between an example to illustrate a point rather than a fact you need to commit to memory.

“I think students have different talents and it usually comes from different personalities,” she said. “I think a diverse group of different personalities is best in a study group.”

If you’re taking part in an organized group that meets regularly, Fleming recommends pinpointing an effective leader and having specific expectations all members agree to meet, including a “No Drama” rule. An occasional, more casual group may not need the same structure, she said.

“I recommend students start out with an agreement,” she said. “They agree to pull their own weight, they let someone else be a leader. Maybe one of the first discussions they want to have is how organized do they want to be and do they want a leader.”

In order to make the most of your group, be sure you keep up with readings and come prepared with discussion points and potential test questions.

“There are studies that show that the best way to study is to test yourself,” Fleming said.

“Practice tests are the best thing you can do to retain information. The best thing they can do for each other is come prepared with test questions to test each other.”

There are several options for effective test practice, Fleming said. You can create flashcards of questions and pass them around for members to answer. Then discuss your answers to flesh out concepts and details.

“You learn a lot from taking a test even if you don’t get answers right,” she said. “You get to discuss them afterward. That’s a really good learning process. You remember that very well.”

You may also be able to borrow a page from the Immediate Feedback Assessment Technique (IF-AT), which instructors may be able to order for your class, Fleming said. You can create multiple choice answers worth different point levels depending on how quickly you select the right answer.

“These tests have been shown to be really effective in students learning as they’re testing,” she said.

While it may be more fun to meet in person, Fleming says online groups are just as effective as sessions in person. What matters is that you’re actively engaged in learning.

“You do get something out of (face-to-face contact), but you’re not at a disadvantage if you can’t all get together and meet in person,” she said. “Studies also show the more active you are in studying, the more you remember. Just discussion and talking with other people and going through anything active – active study sticks better than reading on your own.”

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