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Hive Mind or Waste of Time? How to Get the Most Out of College Study Groups

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Remember all those group projects you worked on back in high school? You know, the ones that usually took three times as long as they were supposed to because of all the joking around, goofing off, and other zany high-jinks?

Well, if that’s your only experience in group scholarship, you might understandably be turned off by the idea of college study groups. With a class schedule that’s packed to the brim and tougher material than you’ve ever encountered before, you probably have no interest in something that’s just going to be a waste of your precious time.

But it might serve you well to take another look at the idea of college study groups before you reject them out of hand. Generally speaking, college study groups are much more focused and effective than their high-school counterparts. For certain types of students who are grappling with challenging college coursework, the right study group can be a lifesaver. Here are a few guidelines to help you figure out whether study groups are right for you.

Are you an extrovert? If you love to be around other people and work best when you have a group to bounce your ideas off of, you might be a perfect candidate for study group participation. On the other hand, if you’re painfully shy and have trouble speaking up around strangers, you might want to stick to the solo-studying route.

Are you easily distracted? If you have trouble concentrating, a study group can be either a blessing or a curse. If you are paired with equally distractible partners, your geometry study group can quickly devolve into a two-hour-long debate over the best episodes of Battlestar Galactica. However, if you have at least a couple of exacting taskmasters in your group who help keep things on track, you might actually have better luck focusing on your studies in a group than you would alone in your dorm room.

Is the material factual or theoretical? If your class deals in cold, hard figures and facts, a group setting might be especially beneficial. Group members can quiz each other and share memorization tips. On the other hand, if the class deals with something abstract, like philosophy or postmodern literature, it may be tougher to get the most out of the group setting, unless you can talk through difficult concepts together.

Does the group have a good mix of experts and novices? A study group full of struggling students probably isn’t going to get as much done as one that includes a mix of both brainiacs and average joes. No matter which group you fall into, make sure you encourage everyone to try to pull their own weight in the group. Remember, a study group is not the same thing as a tutoring session!

Do you get along well with the other members of the group? If there are a few people in the group that you just can’t stand, it might be better for you to study on your own. You don’t have to be BFFs with every last member, but if you can’t even look at someone in the group without wanting to strangle them, you probably won’t be able to get much out of the session, anyway.

Are you a study group enthusiast or a solo scholar? From your point of view, what are the pros and cons of group study sessions? Give us your insights in the comments.


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