Make Sure Your Study Group Actually Studies
Although productive study groups score substantially higher grades than students who study alone, most study groups fail before they even start. Industrial psychologists suggest, “Group members do not have to like one another; they just have to collaborate well. It’s about production, not pals.”
Group members must share commitment to great academic performance. The ideal study group has four members, each of whom contributes special expertise, all of whom show-up ready to produce and excel. Researchers have documented some inexplicable magic in four-member groups, but they concede dedicated partnerships and some triads perform well too. Researchers unanimously agree groups with more than four members grow unruly, unmanageable and unproductive; they also emphasize groups that complement each other intellectually outperform groups that are built on social connections. One sociologist insists, “Keep the group focused on the mission. Sure it would be nice if your study group coalesced into a happy little family, but it’s a lot more important that you team-up to score good grades.”
Good alone. Better together.
Each member should have a clear role in the group, and the whole group should share the idea that “it’s us against all the rest of the class.” Megan Keitel, former southern California all-academic softball star, draws the analogy between good study groups and championship teams: “Each member plays her position with all her might and all members agree to cover one another’s backs.” Keitel also stresses, “Every good team has a strong captain, a player who can bring out the best in all her teammates.” Over the last thirty years, reliable research has shown…
- Someone absolutely must lead.
Everyone loves democracy, except that it is the least efficient, least productive way to manage a working group. If the group is your idea and you feel confident that you can keep members focused and productive, then declare yourself the manager and take charge. If a member challenges your leadership, deal with the challenge, demanding, “Do you want to lead? Are you ready to lead?” If yes, relinquish command to the challenger; if no, then move on. Refuse to get bogged-down in a power-struggle.
- Everyone absolutely must contribute.
The group leader must take responsibility for guaranteeing each member’s contribution, and the leader should feel comfortable enforcing accountability. If different members say they will outline different chapters, they either deliver or they depart. The group measures loyalty by productivity. No explanations. No excuses.
- Fierce, focused fights clarify facts.
“Godfather Rules” prevail in the group: “It’s not personal. It’s business.” Especially if you are preparing for an essay test, spirited debate will help members clarify their facts and positions. The more evidence a member can introduce in support of a position, the more all members can organize their thoughts and arguments. The minute an academic debate deteriorates into a playground scrap, it’s over.
- Practice what you must perform.
If you can work from copies of old tests or examples of successful projects, you will study more efficiently and effectively. If your instructor will test details, it makes no sense to drill the abstractions. If the test will focus on “objective” questions—true/false and multiple choice, it makes no sense to outline paragraphs. If you do not have course materials to guide your study, use highlights in your notes and bold print in your textbook to compose your own test questions.
- Dare to discipline the group.
Balance love and care for your group members with concern for your performance, but show your respect for the principles of cognitive psychology. You can sustain your focus on a single task for no more than 90 minutes; after 90 minutes, your brain crashes just like an overloaded computer freezes. If the group goes off-task in a 90-minute session, snap them back on-task. When the magic hour-and-a-half expires, take a break or set the next meeting time.
A study group can be a useful tool; just make sure that you do get some studying done, instead of just having fun.
Kathleen Turner is a college student and freelance blogger, who takes part in several study groups for her courses. If you need additional study help, she recommends checking out http://www.hometuitionagency.com.sg, an agency that offers tutoring to students.