No matter what type of learner you are, studying by yourself can be productive and fun, but let’s face it – sometimes it can also be difficult and frustrating. If there’s a concept you just can’t wrap your head around, or a practice test that you’re not sure how to attack, sometimes you won’t have all the answers, and that’s OK.
Studying with friends is a great way to overcome these difficulties. There’s a certain sense of solidarity that you get in a group, particularly when everyone’s working towards the same outcome. At EduExperts, we’re big fans of learning together – that’s why we offer group lessons at all our centres.
However, studying with your friends can also get a bad rep for being unproductive. When there’s no structure to your sessions, it can be easy to spend most of your time chatting, and even feel like you’ve come away from the session more behind than when you started! So, how do you take advantage of studying with your mates and use your time wisely? Here are six of our top tips for getting the most out of your group study sessions.
Find the right mix of people you can learn from and teach.
First and foremost, it’s important to make sure that you’re with the right group of people. If you’re a motivated student, you’ll want to make sure that you’re spending your time studying with other people with similar goals to you. Sometimes, the people you choose to study with aren’t necessarily the people you eat lunch with every day at school.
One of the best things about studying with friends is that you can get value out of both learning from others, and teaching others. It’s pretty clear why learning from others is effective. However, what a lot of people don’t realise is that teaching other people concepts is equally effective (if you’re interested in why, you might enjoy our article on the Feynman technique). When you teach others, you’re forced to explain something in a way that makes sense to others, which helps to clarify the information in your own head. So, when you’re picking a group of people to study with, try and find people who will all be able to learn, but equally – people who will all be able to teach.
Agree on what you’ll be covering ahead of time.
A common mistake when studying with friends is to not have a plan around what you’ll be covering. When you look at the course material for an entire subject, it can sometimes be a bit overwhelming – but when you break it down into separate modules, it becomes much easier to attack piece-by-piece. Having a plan for what content you’ll be covering makes it easier to stay focused, and it gives you a good goal for your session (rather than just ‘covering as much as we can’, which will usually result in not getting very far).
When you’re clear on what you’re going to be studying, you’ll also be able to review the content ahead of time to make sure you understand the basics. That way, you’ll know where your areas of weakness are, and won’t be wasting everyone’s group time getting up to speed with the more fundamental parts of the material.
Time-box your study, and take regular breaks.
Most people find that they can’t be productive for more than three or four hours at a time when spent on a single topic. It’s important to avoid booking group study sessions for longer than you can be productive for. Three or four hours at the library is plenty of time, when it’s used well!
It’s also important to ensure that you’re taking regular breaks. In a four-hour session, for example, you might want to allocate time for three 5- or 10-minute breaks, and one longer 20-minute break. Set a rule that you don’t discuss anything study-related during your breaks; this will help to keep your mind fresh and on track once you get back to work. It’s also a great opportunity to spend some quality time with your friends!
Allocate silent question time.
Just because you’re with your friends, you don’t need to spend every moment of your session talking! Sometimes, the best approach is to add in some ‘silent question time’ for everyone to test their skills on practice questions – particularly if you haven’t been able to do this in advance of the session.
Make sure everyone is on board with how you’re approaching this. A good method is agreeing how you’ll structure your time in advance, so everyone knows what they’re signing up for. You might even want to have one member of the group who’s responsible for timekeeping, so they can let everyone know when it’s time to start working by yourselves, and when it’s time to go over answers together. You’ll start turning your group into a well-oiled study machine!
Make a list of things you need help with.
Sometimes, even with everyone’s heads put together, you won’t have the answer to a particular question. That’s OK! What you should avoid in this case, though, is spending everyone’s time trying to come up with an answer. Often, this can take much longer than it’s worth, and you won’t necessarily know if you’ve even reached the right answer.
Instead, nominate someone to make a list of things you all don’t understand. Then, book time with your teacher or tutor to ask these specific questions. This makes it much easier to cover an entire topic or module in a single group study session.
By the time your session ends, you can set yourself the goal of putting everything in one of two ‘buckets’: the things I understand bucket, or the things I need to ask about bucket. This is a much more satisfying way to approach study than simply letting gaps in your knowledge slide!
Balance it out with studying by yourself.
It needs to be said: studying with friends is incredibly helpful when the time is used well, but it shouldn’t be used as a complete substitute for your own study time!
No matter how often you catch up with your friends for a study session, you should still ensure that you’re spending a good chunk of your time doing your own revision. Use your own time to learn, explore, and memorise information; and use your time with friends to plug the gaps in your knowledge. Your grades will thank us for it!
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