Study Groups

Study groups can be an effective study approach. Planning study group sessions with purpose and intention can set your group up for success.

Use these tips for starting a successful study group, planning activities, and troubleshooting issues that may arise.

First, form your group

Ask if anyone is interested in joining a study group by posting a message using Canvas, or another class collaboration tool. Ask your instructor if they are willing to post a class announcement. Many people feel awkward asking to start a study group and they will appreciate you for getting things started.

Three to five people typically works best for a successful study group. If more people want to join, it might be best to create another group.

Next, identify your group's purpose & expectations

Study groups can accomplish different purposes. Some groups meet weekly to review class material while other groups are formed to review for specific exams. Consider using the initial meeting to define the group's purpose and expectations.  Intentional planning can help set the group up for success. 

Before meeting, review the class information to identify your instructor's expectations regarding appropriate group study vs. individual work. Also, review the University's online learning expectations. If you have questions, talk with your instructor.

Then, schedule your study sessions

Use your U of M Google calendar to schedule study sessions. To make finding meeting times easy, ask group members to keep their calendars updated with class, work, and other obligations.

Check to see if a peer tutor is available for your course. The group may benefit from coordinating meeting times with a peer tutor!

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When setting expectations, consider these questions....

What is the online meeting format? Zoom

How do group members communicate outside of meetings? If someone will be late or can’t attend a session, how does that person notify the group?

What happens when the group gets off topic? Consider identifying a group moderator and rotating the responsibility each week.

How does each person prepare for the study session? Are topics divided among group members to prepare study guides or practice questions? Is it ok to show up and bring whatever work you have to share?

How do sessions end? Consider reviewing the session by talking about what worked well and what might improve for the next meeting. Confirm the next meeting time, topic, and preparation. 

See these keys to group learning...

Come prepared to study.

Take turns talking. Let each person finish their thought without being interupted. Talking through an idea is an important part of learning. 

Put concepts in your own words. Looking up from your notes and using your own words can be a more effective learning technique than verbatim repetition.

Ask respectful questions as a way to practice applying the material. The more readily you can explain your answers to each other, the greater your depth of understanding.

Make your group a safe space for asking questions, discussing ideas, and building confidence by using positive non-verbal communication, offering supportive comments & acknowleging each others contributions!

Suggested Study Group Activities

As you plan for your study sessions, consider these activities to help make the most of your time together.

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Review & Clarify Information

Take turns summarizing the study topic from your text and lecture notes. After each section, talk about what you understand and clarify what is unclear. Build off what other group members contribute. This type of study activity helps to foster a strong initial understanding of the concepts.

Compare Notes

Ask everyone to share their notes. Compare and contrast the notes to identify missing, or incorrect items. This is also a good way to see how other people take notes - you might find a technique to improve your own note taking skills.

Teach Each Other

Divide the topics among members and take turns presenting to the group. Summarize the concepts in your own words. Use a whiteboard to draw diagrams or mind-maps. After presenting, ask if anyone has questions or can add to the diagram or mind-map.

Do an Outline or Mind-Map Together

Work together to create an outline, mind map, comparison grid, timeline, or process diagram from the learning materials. Information recall improves when placed in relationship to other pieces of information. Have one person draw from memory, then have others add what they know to the drawing. Finally, as a group revisit the class materials to add or correct information.

Identify Key Ideas and Important Vocabulary

Ask each person to take a few minutes to identify the most important ideas in the learning materials. Then, compare your lists and talk about the different ideas you’ve identified.

Use a whiteboard to compile a list of the week's key terms. Clarify the definitions of each word and identify a few examples or applications. Use the list to make flashcards to provide another study aid option.

Do and talk process

Take turns showing others how to do different problems. At the end of each problem, talk about how it differs or is similar to other examples. Identify key areas where mistakes could be made. 

Quiz Each Other

Take turns asking questions from the class material. Have the group put away all study information to see if answers can be recalled from memory.

Mix up questions from different chapters to test yourself in a realistic way. Identify the concepts you know well and what still needs work. Use this information to appropriately budget your study time.

Split your group into two and have each group create a set of test questions. Once both groups have finished, exchange tests. Take the unfamiliar test, and then discuss your answers.  

Are things in your study group not quite working?

If you are questioning whether you should keep going to a study group, consider the following to troubleshoot and move forward effectively.

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One or two people are participating more than everyone else...

What if there’s an imbalance in the group? One or two individuals are participating more than everyone else.

If you are participating more than everyone else, try to hold back. If it’s not your turn to answer, either practice in your head or write down your approach, but wait to discuss it.

If someone else is participating more than everyone else, suggest that the group takes turns answering a problem so everyone gets a chance practice.

My group members are stuck on a concept, but I'm ready to move on...

What happens when you are ready to move on to a different topic but the group is stuck on a concept or material?

The group benefits from your continued participation. Teaching others is a great way to solidify information in our own minds, but be careful not to dominate the group discussion. 

What if my group seems to know a lot more than me?

The group benefits from your continued participation. Asking good questions and sharing how you think about problems helps others consider information from different points of view. Continue to speak up and participate!

My group keeps getting distracted...

What do I do when the group keeps getting distracted or is unproductive?

Speak up with a gentle reminder for the group to get back to the planned study topic. If getting off topic is a regularly occurring issue, acknowledge the pattern that group is spending a lot of time off topic. Next, respectfully remind everyone that you want to make sure we cover plan topics before the session ends.

People in my group repeatedly come unprepared...

What if people are coming to the session unprepared?

One of the reasons people hesitate to join a study group is because they do not want to do all the work. Setting up expectations when the group is formed is critical. Some people find it helpful to write out group expectations.

Ensure each person understands what they need to prepare for the next meeting. If the group initially discussed expectations, it might be a good idea to have the group revisit the initial framework. 

End each meeting with a review to talk about what is working and what could be better.