As you start to settle in at university, I hope you are making friends and having a good time. There is so much you can gain from university but if you aren’t on top of the academic work, you can start to get worried about how you are going to perform in exams and assessments. And that gnawing feeling that you really should be working on something can really ruin your enjoyment. So here is my tip: get together with other people to study. There are three sections to this short blog:
Why would you get together with other students to study? The learning is dealt with by the lecturers isn’t it?
Well, yes it
is to a certain extent. But when I talk to students who have done better than their entry grades would suggest they would, they usually say that the secret of their success was they found a small group to study with. The reason this is so helpful is that during your studies you will find many occasions when you can’t work out what to do, or start to feel that there is too much to do.
Or perhaps that the work is beyond you. Or (and this was a BIG one for me!) that you feel stupid because you don’t understand things. When you have three other people studying the same material in these circumstances you will find that at least one of them will understand what is needed. And if you find a situation when none of you understand, then you can arrange to ask. Perhaps you will find that something hasn’t been explained very well or perhaps the lecturer has made a mistake. Either way, having a group of people to work with and share worries, thoughts and issues is a great way of reducing stress levels. Putting it bluntly, students who study together do better in their degrees.
Who should you study with?
The first consideration is to find people who are studying the same things as you. These days this won’t necessarily mean they are all on the same degree programme but they really do have to be studying the same modules as you. This is the basic requirement. And then there is the question of what their motivation is. Be careful not to include people who are just interested in having someone else do their work for them. So try to sound people out to see if they are motivated the same way as you. So a little caution at the start might be really important later.
There are risks in setting up or joining a group. People might be distracting and spend the time chatting, checking social media or playing computer games. If you are the person setting up the study group, set out the rules and stick to them. I suggest the following:
- We always arrive on time and stay the time we said
- We concentrate on the work and also allow specific time to enjoy ourselves
- Everyone does the work they say they will – no excuses
- If someone breaks the rules, they must leave the group
I know this sounds draconian – and a little like the rules of fight club! – but trust me, it really is necessary. When I work with teams in the work
place, they very often go through a process called Team Chartering. This means that the rules of the team are agreed and adhered to rigidly come what may. But in order for this to happen, everyone must agree the rules in the first place. Keep the rules
simple, clear and stick to them.
A further tip is to make sure you don’t go for too large a group. About four to six is ideal. If you have more than this, then arranging meetings becomes too complicated. The best way of making sure everyone comes is having a specific time every week – perhaps for 2 hours after a specific lecture. Many universities have areas for groupwork so use these or of course you can meet elsewhere. But having your meetings on campus helps people focus. Don’t mistake your study meetings for social events. By all means meet to cook together or go out socialising. But that is separate from work.
How should you study together?
Successful study groups take a number of different approaches. For exam revision, one approach is to divide up the material between you and then each takes turns in teaching it to the others. Perhaps you will take on the task of identifying the key theories in a particular field and handing out notes to the others. You could create quizzes where one person sets questions and the others answer together. You can also discuss the theories rather than just answer them. There are good psychological reasons why this is a good idea because the more different ways we think about a thing, the stronger the memory trace. So having learned a theory, by then recalling it and then discussing it with the study group, you understand it more and the memory trace is stronger. This makes it easier to recall under exam conditions. (I will write a blog about revision later in the year.)
Other ways the study group might work together is by reading each other’s assignments and marking it. You might want to just offer feedback but you could even see if you can work out the assessment criteria and how it might score. You can actively use the motivating factor of peer pressure. For example, you could say to the group that you will have downloaded the papers for the assignment and read them by the next time the group meets. The group wont force you to do this but there is something very powerful about committing to something out loud and then making yourself confess as to whether you have actually done it or not. Do make sure you don’t commit to too much though – be realistic.
The main benefit to a study group is taking away the panic that often happens at University. With others around you on the same course, you can see how they too are feeling the same things as you and this can really help. Not least because very often students (especially British ones) will downplay significantly how much work they are really doing. Don’t be taken in by this. If a student says they aren’t doing any work, either they are going to fail or they are lying. And my experience is probably the latter!
But a word of warning. Be careful not to work on assignments together. By all means have your friends critique your work or read it through to spot mistakes, but you MUST do work set as individual assignments on your own. The plagiarism software will pick up what we call Collusion so don’t do that. But by all means follow the steps in this blog and you will fine life is so much easier. I personally struggled with a particular module – philosophy – at university. I got together with another student and we papered the walls of my room with lining paper and wrote all the theories we needed up on them. We then taught the theories to each other. In fact my friend was really good at the subject but he wanted to make sure he got a first. I just wanted to pass. But still we both benefited from this study time and he did indeed get a first and I achieved my aim of passing.
So that’s the why, who and how of study groups. Please do get in touch with your experience. It would be great to share ideas here. Please do use the comments section below.
Finally, just to point out that this sort of advice is given in greater detail with check lists and more examples in the book I wrote on this subject. I too struggled to find out what I was supposed to do at university and only really stumbled across the way of succeeding just before my finals. My co-author was one of my students and he graduated with a good first. He had study groups for all his modules and became close friends with his study partners.
We both want to help students get the best out of university. And not only from their studies. You can buy it in all sorts of places but here’s one https://www.amazon.co.uk/Study-Skills-Business-Management-University-ebook/dp/B00I8PNL28/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1473612982&sr=8-1&keywords=orthodoxou