How to Build a Great Study Group

Plus, it's a tool you can use for the rest of your education
April 29, 2020

How are you faring at keeping up with your schoolwork and squeezing in regular test prep (even though you don’t know when or if you’ll be able to take a standardized test)?

What I hear is that most of you are settling into a rhythm, but the quality of the experience varies a lot. Maybe you don’t have great internet or maybe your favorite subject doesn’t translate well to remote learning or maybe you’re missing having the opportunity to just drop in on a teacher during a break and ask your question. Some of you are also starting to freak out about the upcoming at-home AP tests.

These obstacles are real and not really anything you’ve prepared for. That being said, you are not powerless! You have skills and resources that you can use to overcome these obstacles and frankly, developing these skills and learning how to use these resources will have a huge payoff for you when you get to college. 

One thing that you could do that will help you with your schoolwork and test prep is to form a study group. Study groups are very effective at enhancing learning. Here are just a few of the benefits of having a study group:

  • You’ll learn from each other. You may be able to understand how someone in your study group explains a concept better than you did when you read it or heard it from your teacher. You can ask all the questions you want and if you have to explain a concept to someone else, you’ll understand it better.
  • You’ll have the benefit of different perspectives and insights. The other members of your group might uncover themes or theories that you don’t. They may have experience or knowledge that is eye-opening to you.
  • You’ll improve your notes. Comparing your notes to other people’s in your study group can help you see where you might have missed something key or misunderstood your teacher.
  • You’ll get your homework done faster and better. Working through a tough problem set together is much more efficient than tackling it on your own and getting stuck when you come to the part you don’t understand. 
  • You’ll motivate, support, and inspire each other. Everyone can use an encouraging or compassionate word when it’s tough. And when you’re feeling on top of your game, nothing is more satisfying than helping someone else. 

Here are a few guidelines for getting one started.

The perfect size for the group is 3-5 people. You can choose your friends, but you might consider mixing it up a little and choosing people who you know will take the study group seriously and have different skills or perspectives than you. Ultimately it is important that everyone contributes and that the group stays focused on studying, not just hanging out.

Use your first meeting to agree to set a goal and protocols for the group. For example, you might have a goal to study Physics together or to prepare for the upcoming AP US History test. Your protocols might be that you will meet on Tuesdays and Thursdays for an hour and that you will rotate who leads the group for each meeting. Or your protocols might be that you will meet the night before a problem set is due for a couple of hours and walk through every problem together.

Since you can’t meet in person right now, you’ll need to decide what online platform you are going to use. It will help if it is a video-conferencing platform, with screen sharing and chat capabilities. But if you can’t video-conference, old-fashioned phone calling will work. If you can’t screen share, use Google Docs, Sheets, and Slides so you can collaborate in real time together. If you can’t chat, text.

Go forth and form your study group today. It’s a great is a strategy for academic success that you can use for the rest of your education.

Anna Ivey is one of the founders of Inline. An experienced admissions consultant and a frequently cited media expert on the topic of college admissions, she is also co-author of the college admissions bible How to Prepare a Standout College Application. Learn more about Anna's background here.

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