TIPS: Study Skills and Strategies
How to Study in a Group
Why Participate in a Study Group?
It's true that you can and will study alone—a lot. This is the way you find out what you know and don't know, what you understand, how you will write an idea from a classroom discussion or a textbook into your own words, and where and when you most like to study … it's all good. But you can and should also work with your peers; studies have shown that collaborative learning matters. Professor Richard Light, a professor at the Graduate School of Education at Harvard, interviewed and documented the study habits of Harvard students. He found that they spent 12 hours each week in class and another 30 hours a week studying. He discovered that "the method used by students to study" predicts whether or not "engagement and learning" will occur. He discovered that "those students who study outside of class in small groups of four to six students, even just once a week, benefit enormously." Professor Light says that the meetings should revolve around "discussions of the homework," which will make you "far more engaged and better prepared for class, learning significantly more." (http://athome.harvard.edu/programs/light/test/light-printview.asp).
Preparation for each meeting
As you form your group, arrange for a first meeting to share concerns and to decide how the group works. You are all invested in this project for the duration of the term, so it's best if you all feel equally involved in its setup. Having said this, though, we can suggest that it might be wise to pick an "administrator" who will evenly divide up the work. If homework for each class consists of a set of problems or questions, you should all work all the way through each set each time (otherwise, you won't know what you don't know!). But you can divide them (if there are four students, each receives ¼) and assign them to individual students for extra scrutiny and effort. Or if each class is usually focused on a reading assignment, you should all read the work(s) as assigned, but certain people can be selected to answer sets of questions at the end of the chapter or, if there are no review questions, each person can be given a few pages to focus on and be prepared to explain that section.
What You Should Be Doing as You Meet
Listening to one another is crucial! You can proceed in one of two ways: you might want to throw out questions to the specialists for each segment of the work, having each person answer as needed. Or, you could have each person present his or her section of the work and then take questions at the end of the talk. In either case, you will want to save time for an overview to sum up the importance of this reading or assignment. What questions will you want to ask the professor? What strikes you as most valuable about this particular assignment? Is there a way to describe its point or thesis? Why do you think this work is necessary to the rest of the course?