Study groups abound in college, but they’re not always the most efficient way to learn. They can easily devolve into pure social events—or weaker group members can hold everyone else back. This isn’t to say, however, that there aren’t ways to make them work. In the event you have to be in one (or choose to), here are the best ways to study in a group setting.
Theoretically, being around other people who are quietly working can help you tap into the benefits of “body doubling,” making you more accountable and productive. Unfortunately, that only works if they don’t turn into straight-up social gatherings where the studying falls by the wayside—which is what often happens.
Avoid such a pitfall by going in with a plan to use group-based study strategies, like these:
- Use the jigsaw method to quickly work through large chunks of text. Assign everyone in the group a portion of the material to study on their own, then take turns teaching each other your section. Using this technique, you don’t have to read the whole chapter, but end up understanding it anyway.
- Similarly, try the Feynman method, which involves working on your comprehension and retention by teaching a topic, as simply as possible, to someone else. Have everyone take turns “teaching” the concept they’re working on, then open the floor to discussion so participants can ask questions that further the teacher’s critical thinking and understanding of the material.
- Since spaced repetition is among the best ways to promote active recall—that is, the purposeful retrieval of information from your brain, which forces it into the long-term memory—try doing flashcards together. You can do (and should be doing) flashcards on your own, but having another person hold the card and talk through the answers with you will keep the study session structured and facilitate discussion that can help you grasp the concepts even more.
While you’re likely peppered with invitations to study with others, there are times you should say no. First of all, it’s generally better to study in silence. Even if the people around you are discussing schoolwork, that’s still noisy distraction that can easily turn into regular old conversation. If you need to buckle down on a topic, it’s probably better to do so on your own.
Conversely, if you already understand a topic, working with people who don’t grasp it can be frustrating and slow you down. It can create friction and breed resentment of “freeloaders,” which doesn’t help you accomplish much. A chain is only as strong as its weakest link, so if you spend a whole study session working on a concept that’s below the level of complexity you need, you’re just wasting time.
Only study in a group when you are confident you need help and the other members are willing to stay on task and use a group-based review system to give it to you, and when you also want to help them. Otherwise, you’re better off just hosting a party without the pretense of “studying.”