Course-Specific Study Groups: Guidelines for Running Effective, Efficient Groups

Students learn best when they are actively and interactively engaged. Small student-led groups foster active learning that promotes the acquisition and creative application of knowledge and skills, which is crucial for solving Princeton exam-level problems.

In this time of major disruption and significant changes to how you are taught and how you will learn, study groups will be more important than ever. Not only is virtual instruction likely to be less engaging for students, motivating oneself may be more challenging. Working collaboratively in study groups provides a unique opportunity to reinforce and deepen in-class learning while also providing structure, support, and accountability. McGraw tutoring and learning consultations can complement and enhance your study groups.

Benefits of Study Groups:

  • Increases motivation and engagement
  • Members can encourage and support one another
  • Learners gain a sense of ownership of the learning process
  • Reinforces and deepens conceptual understanding and problem-solving expertise
  • Students actively “build” knowledge which leads to greater understanding than simply “receiving” knowledge because they’re more active and fully engaged in these activities than in more passive reading or note taking
  • Provide opportunities to learn from others’ points of view, and to recognize that there can be more than one way to approach a problem
  • Encourages reflection on articulation of your knowledge making it more conscious, accessible, transferable, and long-lasting
  • Learners give and receive feedback in an ungraded environment

Shared Expectations of Students in Effective Study Groups:

Some students have reservations about joining study groups based upon concerns about efficiency and equity. Being explicit from the outset about expectations, including how much work is done in advance, roles, time commitments, etc. can address both concerns.

  • Consistent attendance to the extent possible
  • Keeping up with course reading/assignments
  • Active, collaborative engagement with the group, including raising questions, acknowledging confusion, and perhaps taking on a specific role (See below)
  • Being prepared to reflect on your learning and problem-solving processes and share them with others
  • Regular, timely, complete communication with group members.

How to Run Effective Study Groups:

Agree on expectations and procedures. Will your study group have a leader or other roles? The following are some roles that you can use to organize work in the study group so that they run smoothly and equitably. These are only suggestions, you can pick and choose which will work for your study group.

  • Exchange schedules to find a meeting time when group members can get all online, are able to work ‘aloud’ in their space, and are alert
  • Distribute to the entire group contact information or create a group chat, etc.
  • Try to establish a regular schedule with clear start and end times—soon after class sessions if possible
  • Consider multiple (say twice per week) sessions rather than one long session in which efficiency is lost
  • Commit to reviewing, studying, etc. course materials in advance to maximize efficiency
  • Start with a review of class notes including: big concepts/tools, clarifying confusions, filling iConsider different members taking responsibility for mastery of different chunks of content
  • Consider different members taking responsibility for mastery of different chunks of content
  • Consider taking on different roles in the group (rotating or regular), such as these which organize work to make groups run smoothly and equitably:
    • Organizer: the organizer would take responsibility for scheduling the time, place, and future meetings.
    • Moderator: the moderator would be responsible for keeping people on track. This person my receive emails for group member about confusing topics, terms, or concepts to create a schedule or outline of things that must be covered in the meeting.
    • Notetaker: the notetaker would be responsible for taking notes during discussion about terms, concepts, and answers to questions. However, all group members should also be responsible for taking their own notes. The function of the notetaker is providing an in-depth view of what was discussed during the study group.
    • Members: the members of the study group are responsible for preparing question, reviewing the material before the study group, and asking for clarification. The members must show commitment to the study group by reviewing the material event if they don’t understand the material.
  • Consider collaboratively creating group study tools: summaries, outlines, mind maps, annotated problem solutions, ‘cheat sheets,’ lists of potential exam questions, etc.
  • If problems arise, clarify expectations, change them as necessary, and be willing to experiment