Advice for Successful Students: Study Groups

Group study is effective for a number of different purposes. These include: exam preparation, clarification of course materials, sharing of information and learning strategies, completing homework assignments and more. I find study groups to be very valuable and am hoping that they have been or will be for you as well. Below are some of the benefits I see resulting from studying with others, as well as a few suggestions for forming and conducting an effective study group.


Benefits of group study

  • When there is a group counting on you, you are more likely to get the job done,
  • Group study encourages you to explain things out loud which increases confidence and comprehension of the material.
  • As Aristotle wrote – “Teaching is the highest form of understanding.”
  • Your interest in the subject and motivation for learning can be increased with group study.
  • Group study saves time because large assignments can often be broken down into more manageable tasks, which are distributed between group members.
    • In other words, “Divide and conquer!”
  • Your group members will bring up ideas, interpretations, and study strategies you’d never thought of.
    • i.e., various views = good anticipation of test questions.
  • If you don’t understand something, you automatically have people to ask about it.
  • Cooperative learning with others, when done properly, teaches individual responsibility for your learning and forces you to challenge your less effective study behaviours.


That’s great! But…how do I form a study group?

  • Option 1: Approach classmates who you think would be good members for a study group – you don’t need to, though sometimes it’s best not to limit yourself to friends.
  • Option 2: You could leave a note on the blackboard/overhead asking that interested students contact you.
  • Option 3: You could pass around a sign-up sheet in class or post one outside your class door or in your residence hall.
  • Option 4: You could leave a message online, such as on Canvas or the SFU group on Facebook.
  • Option 5: Some combination of the above or any other way that comes to mind.
  • Find a regular meeting place and time, preferably a distraction-free environment.
    • i.e. Not the pub!


We have come together, now how do we conduct our study group?

  • You might want to pick a daily moderator to keep the group on track – someone responsible for making sure the members of the study group study. Without proper precautions, study groups can become “gripe’ groups or social groups.
  • Set an agenda for your meeting – What is it that you want to accomplish during each session? How long will your meeting last?
  • Decide as a group how you will make sure that all group members contribute equally to the group.
  • Possible option: Determine what needs to be done and divide the work equally among group members according to topic, chapter, problems, etc.
  • Make sure that quieter, shyer members get a turn. Consider having some activities where each member takes a turn speaking.
  • Decide how information will be exchanged among group members: photocopies, chalkboard, orally, etc.
  • More specifically, during your meeting you may want to:
    • Leave time during each session for brainstorming possible exam questions. Then at the next meeting, you could discuss the answers.
    • Compare lecture/lab notes to ensure that each member has recorded the key concepts. If there was anything which confused all or most group members, have a representative from the group speak to a TA or professor for clarification.
    • Work on any questions found at the end of a chapter in your text, book or lab manual or make up your own questions and quiz each other.
    • End each session with an assignment for each group member.


A few other things to keep in mind - You collaborative learner you!

  • Before forming a study group, check with your professor as to whether group study is acceptable for that particular class.
  • Group study is not a substitute for learning the material yourself.
  • Group study should be mutually beneficial for all members of your group – you must come prepared!
  • A study group can be small (yourself and one other person) or larger, but do limit the size of your group (I suggest 6-8 members max).
  • Of course I have to be cheesy and end with…Have fun and happy studying!

Thanks to Jordan Robinson, 3rd year SFU student and Learning & Writing Peer Educator, who wrote this handout, March, 2009.