Many students find it helpful to study in groups to help them better externalize their thoughts, keep their study sessions stimulating, and maintain accountability. While studying with a partner or a group may not completely replace independent study, it can be an effective part of a comprehensive study plan. However, if not done well, studying with friends can be more distracting than helpful. This guide shares tips for how to create effective, productive, positive study partnerships, whether in person or online.
Accountability. You’ll be more prepared and stay focused if you know your group is counting on you.
Active studying. When studying in groups, you’re more likely to use the active study strategies that research shows are more effective for learning.
Support. Have a question? Need help? Your group will be there when you need it.
Community. You and your group are all working toward a common goal, and for most students, this is more enjoyable than studying alone.
Study groups are most effective when kept small enough to allow enough time for everyone to ask and answer questions. Choose peers who are committed and will come to each session prepared and ready to work.
It is often useful to designate someone to facilitate the group. This person will be in charge of scheduling, tracking group progress, and helping the group stay focused. This could be one set person or you could designate a “leader of the week.”
It can be difficult to take the first step of forming a study group. If you don’t know your classmates very well, consider starting by asking the people around you. Even if they are not interested, they may know someone who is. You might also consider thinking about how members of your class communicate with each other. Do students in your class communicate through a platform like GroupMe or on a platform used for class like Blackboard, Teams, or Zoom? Platforms you use for class like Blackboard, Teams, or Zoom can be a big help when reaching out to classmates that you may never meet face to face. If you don’t know your classmates very well but need someone to study with, chances are that other people in your class feel the same way!
Use the chat. Do you have live video classes? If so, consider using the chat feature to connect with other students. Before or after class, use the chat to see if any of your classmates are interested in forming a study group. To ensure that the conversation doesn’t become distracting or bleed into class time, consider including your email address so that fellow students can follow up with you after class. In many classes, you also have the option to send a direct message through the chat, so you may be able to reach out directly to classmates who you feel you would work well with.
Take advantage of breakout rooms. Does your instructor use the Breakout Room feature on Zoom, Teams, or Collaborate to split you into smaller groups? If so, consider using that space as an opportunity to build a ready-made study group. Ask the people in your breakout room if they’d be interested in forming a study group. Gather their email addresses and follow-up via email after class to iron out the details.
Use Blackboard Messages. Does your instructor have the Messages function enabled on Blackboard? If so, consider sending your classmates a message via Blackboard to identify classmates who may be interested in building a study group together.
If you are still stuck, consider reaching out to your instructor. They may be able to connect you with a study group or send a message to the class on your behalf.
Your study group should aim to meet about once weekly. While meeting right before an exam is a good idea, meeting regularly throughout the semester will yield the greatest results.
Once the “who” is decided, find a mutually agreeable time when everyone can attend and then agree upon the length of the session (60-90 minutes). Scheduling websites like When2Meet and Doodle can help you identify a time that works for everyone, especially if you’re coordinating study groups remotely. The FindTime tool in Microsoft works especially well for scheduling a meeting time in your NIU student Outlook calendar! Consider times when everyone is likely to be focused. If your group likes to socialize, consider adding time for socializing to the schedule. It may help to have some time to catch up socially at the beginning, or socializing may work well as a reward at the end of a successful study group session.
Look for a space that allows discussion but isn’t too noisy. Ideally, this space will have whiteboards and outlets for your laptops. Look for seating that isn’t too comfy so you’ll stay focused and ready to use the whiteboard.
The library offers a variety of study rooms and so does Holmes Student Center.
Don’t overlook the option of meeting online! Consider using Zoom, Slack, Microsoft Teams, Group.Me, or any group chat software you currently use to keep in touch with friends and family to host a study group or an accountability group. If you are studying remotely and find yourself missing certain features of in-person studying, consider searching for online alternatives. For example, if you love using a big whiteboard, try using the whiteboard feature in Zoom or Teams. If you usually study with flashcards, consider using Quizlet.
Suggestions: everyone takes turns asking and answering questions, no phones or social media except during breaks, show up prepared, no judgment of anyone’s skill level, no competition.
It’s hard to get things done together if someone’s not running point. You can have a permanent facilitator, or you can appoint a “leader of the week” to be the timekeeper and help the group remain on task.
The best study group sessions happen when everyone is prepared. Work with your group members to decide what you want to cover in your next session. Consider using email or a OneDrive Document to keep track and delegate, and remember to choose content that is relevant and up-to-date. Pick specific homework problems to review with one another and decide who is presenting each problem. Be careful not to focus on too many application problems, but instead make a point of discussing more conceptual questions.
Decide with your group how you want the session to proceed, and most importantly, set SMART goals for your session (see this video). Adding structure will ensure that you stay on task and cover all the material.
Let each participant suggest topics to review, practice or clarify.
Take a few minutes, if needed, at the start of the session to vent frustrations, stress, etc. But put a cap on this; complaining about your classes won’t help you learn the material better!
Start the session with a review of what you learned in the past week. You can delegate the big ideas to group members to individually present. Group members can compare notes from class and fill in any gaps that arise.
Posing questions to the group opens the door for a great discussion. Ideally let the person asking the question talk through their understanding of the topic as much as they can before asking someone else to explain it.
Brainstorm questions you might see on an exam. Try to answer them as a group or assign them as homework for the next session. Create higher order thinking questions that require you to apply skills, analyze a situation, and synthesize concepts. For essay exams, anticipate possible questions and together, create an outline for an essay.
Teaching a concept to your peers is a great way to ensure that you understand the material. Have group members demonstrate a skill or concept using a whiteboard (or piece of paper). Work together to draw a concept map, or write key points of topic; after you’re done, explain each key concept. Ask a member to explain a concept, allowing others to ask questions as you go.
As a group, create a concept map, teach each other, make an outline of the lectures, create a study guide for the upcoming exam, or use other active study strategies.
At the end of your session, take a few minutes to review the information that was presented. Quiz each other on basic recall facts, such as vocabulary, dates, and formulas. Test yourself on bigger picture concepts using recall to be sure you have a good mastery of the material. Think about how your session went and what you as a group want to change next time to improve.
It can be helpful to take inventory of everything you’ve worked on together, including your study agenda, questions, and plan for the next session. Consider keeping all of this information in a central location, such as Microsoft OneDrive or Google Drive. Just as you have designated a facilitator, you can choose a record keeper or have someone assume the role each week.
Is your study group not able or not always able to meet in person? Technology makes it possible to meet online or to add an online component to your study group:
Meeting online. Consider using digital tools such as Zoom or Microsoft Teams or Blackboard Collaborate to meet online.
Staying in touch. Platforms like Slack or Group.Me can support study groups whether they meet online or not. Use chat rooms to keep conversations going asynchronously in between meetings.
Shaw, D. M. (2011). Promoting professional student learning through study groups: A case study. College Teaching, 59, 85-92.
Developed and shared by The Learning Center, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.