Firstly, you need to find people on your course who are also interested in joining a study group. You could consider speaking to people in your seminar group or lab class; this is often an effective method as it can lead to a snowball effect whereby people know others who have expressed interest in similar methods of study. Alternatively, you could try putting up a poster on your department notice board, or contact your course administrator about sending out an email to gauge interest.
Bigger isn't always better. Whilst a large group (8+) offers more perspectives and can potentially cover material more quickly, in reality, it can be difficult to schedule regular meetings with a group of this size. Furthermore, it can be hard to ensure that everyone has the opportunity to input and ask questions. A group of around 4-6 is likely to be more manageable; this is enough people to generate stimulating discourse, whilst still being relatively easy to manage in terms of organisation and availability.
It is important to have a clear idea about where you want to study and what equipment, such as a computer, you might need. If possible, it is good to try and meet in the same place each session to avoid confusion. Once you've decided on a location you should book it to avoid disappointment.
You should also think about how often you want your study group to meet. Will once a week be enough? This will obviously vary from group to group depending on the availability and preferences of members but all members should be in agreement about the frequency of meetings. Likewise, timing is important. It can be helpful to schedule a regular timeslot to minimise confusion and ensure that all members can attend the study group for every session.
Depending on the preference of the group your study group might follow the content of lectures in order, or each week a different student could decide on a topic (or a particular aspect of a lecture) and let everyone in the group know ahead of the session what it will be about. Neither approach is necessarily better, but the key thing to ensure is that everyone in the study group is informed ahead of time what the study session will be about. This can be where remote working becomes particularly useful for planning and organising sessions ahead of time, to make sure everyone gets the most out of each study session.
It is important that each member of the study group commits to: completing tasks that are assigned to them, completing the preparatory work for every session, and attending each session with a positive attitude and a willingness to contribute and learn.
Meeting your group for the first time
This is important to ensure that every member of the group understands what they are required to do before, during and after sessions. Each study group is free to come up with its own rules, but the following list can be a handy guide:
Depending on how you draw together your study group, you might not know the members very well. Take some time to allow members to introduce themselves. Get to know people's names, background, academic discipline, and specific strengths. It can also be useful to try out some of these activities to start getting to know your peers and to create a fun learning environment!
Simple but often forgotten! It's important to be able to let people know if you aren't going to be able to attend a session.
This is more of a suggestion for something to do after the session. Having a coffee with your group is a great way to continue getting to know each other (without taking too much time away from studying!) and is a fantastic excuse to have a piece of cake!
You should have a clear idea about what you want to achieve in each study session. Having clear goals helps to keep your study group focused and accountable.
It's very easy to go off topic, especially once your study group knows each other better, and become distracted talking about social activities and life beyond university. This isn't inherently bad… BUT, it will take you much longer to cover material and may lead to something being missed. To help reduce the chance of becoming distracted, it can be nice to have a social activity planned for after each study session; this allows you to keep meetings for university work, rather than socialising, and acts as a reward at the end of each session for all your hard work!
It is important that all group members have equal opportunity to contribute to discussion and group work. To help prevent this you may like to establish some time limits on talking or make use of an item such as a 'talking stick'. This helps to ensure that everyone has the opportunity to contribute without interruption and helps to build effective communication and a culture of respect between group members. Remember, it's ok to disagree, but this needs to be done in a polite and constructive way; criticise ideas, not people. If you do find yourself in situation where there is conflict between group members it can be useful to take a break and allow tension to diffuse. When you come back together, try and identify why the conflict occurred and how similar situations could be avoided in the future. Ultimately, team working isn't always easy and often requires negotiation and compromise.
It's easy for a study group to become a negative forum where students share their experiences about the demands of university life. Whilst this can be cathartic, it isn't beneficial to your studying and will mean that your group doesn't accomplish as much as it could. Instead, leave the negativity out of the room and use the study group as an enjoyable, productive space that can help you to achieve the best possible outcomes for your learning.
This activity helps students to think individually about reading, or the answer to a question, and then share their ideas with a peer. It requires active engagement with a reading or question and helps to build communication skills.
This is a time efficient way of tackling large volumes of information. This strategy works how it sounds; the study group breaks off into pairs that are each responsible for answering key questions about a particular part of a topic/lecture. Each pair then feeds back this key information to the wider study group, and may even provide the group with a resource or handout.
This is a good strategy for reading that encourages learners to reflect upon their prior knowledge, and consider what they want to achieve from reading.
1. Firstly, after you have selected your reading, list everything you already know about the topic. This may include key concepts, terms, quotations or any background information that you can remember.
2. Next, generate a list of questions that you want answered from the reading. It might be useful to briefly skim the article for headings/sub-headings to help guide your questions.
3. Finally, as you complete your reading answer the questions you have asked! Make a note of anything you found surprising, confusing or what to know even more about as this can help stimulate discussion.
Making posters or infographics can be a great way to break up the monotony of readings walls of texts and creating pages and pages of notes. Making a visual resource to represent your notes/reading is a great opportunity to get creative and find new ways to represent your learning - maybe you could create a comic strip, or top trumps - the choice is yours!