October 3, 2007 3:41 PM
Gone are the days of one midterm, one final exam, and one grade. Suddenly, classes can have 2-3 midterms in addition to the group presentations, weekly writing assignments, problem sets, as well as elusive and increasingly rare opportunities for extra-credit – everyone’s favorite type of assignment! For most classes, my favorite method is harnessing the power of many: study groups. Interested? Read on…
In my mind, study groups can be fabulously appropriate for many situations. In my humble opinion, I think group work best tackles problem sets and preparation for tests. Sadly, not all professors share my view. Some professors prefer you only consult your peers for particular aspects for class. Each of your professors may have a different policy, so be sure to tell them you’re considering putting together a study group, ask them what they recommend, and let them know who you will be studying with. This can prevent potentially uncomfortable situations down the road.
Who should I ask? How many people? I ask the students whom come to class, whom take notes (short or long), and seem to be friendly. If you don’t feel comfortable asking people directly, you can write a notice on the chalkboard before class with an anonymous email account like firstname.lastname@example.org, so you don’t pass out your personal information to the whole class. I recommend organizing a group of 4-6 people, but expect some people to flake. So, you might want to ask a few more.
What if the class is curved and we will be competing with amongst each other? Working together will increase everybody’s grade. Personally, I’ve consistently graded 15-30% better when studying in groups versus by studying alone. I’ve also noticed that a strong unspoken tendency to not form a study group if there aren't friends in the class or if the class grades are curved (adjusted to fit a normal curve with a mean of a C). This is when study groups can be most beneficial! The majority of students in your class are probably not in study groups. Everyone in a study group would have an advantage in comparison to the alternative of studying alone. The more you share, the more your study partners will share and everyone will benefit.
Everyone should contribute! Be sure all members of the group are comfortable with sharing their knowledge and helping everyone learn in a co-operative spirit. Organizing a study group doesn’t mean other people will do your work for you! I recommend organizing meetings after everyone has worked through a problem set, so the group can focus on questions people encountered instead of collectively working through the material for the first time. Similarly, when studying for tests, having everyone come to the study group with completed practice problems or summaries of important readings allows for a much for efficient study group.
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