How to Form a Study Group in College

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How to Form a Study Group in College
portrait of Genevieve Carlton, Ph.D.
By Genevieve Carlton, Ph.D.

Published on April 26, 2021

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In graduate school, I developed a reputation for talking too much when friends invited me to their study groups. I couldn't help it — studying was less interesting than chatting with my friends.

But eventually, I discovered a study group format that worked for me. After I started my first job as an assistant professor, I had to turn my dissertation into a book while also writing lectures and grading exams. Without the accountability of a study group, I knew I'd slack on my academic research. Thus, WALDSO was born.

Without the accountability of a study group, I knew I’d slack on my academic research.

Dubbed the Work Accountability Long-Distance Shaming Organization, WALDSO was a weekly meetup between myself and two close friends who were finishing their dissertations. Every week, we'd meet online for an hour to discuss our progress and set goals for the following week. And then we'd socialize.

It wasn't a traditional study group — rather, it was more like an accountability and goal-setting group. But it worked: I submitted a book proposal on schedule and set myself on the path to tenure.

Study groups can make or break your academic career. But what are the benefits of forming a study group, and how can you find one that fits your style?

What Are the Benefits of Forming a Study Group?

No matter your major, college students need to study. Whether you're prepping for a chemistry midterm or a history final, you'll spend hours studying in college. Many students benefit from the structure and accountability of a study group.

Key Advantages of Study Groups

You're more likely to stay on top of your studying Groups often study faster You'll get support from fellow students You can gain a deeper understanding of the material You'll have more fun than you would studying alone

If you're struggling to understand a lesson, you can lean on your classmates. Study group members may also work faster together than alone. Discussing material as a group keeps learners from falling into a trap: Instead of glazing your eyes over your notes and calling it good, a study group forces you to engage with the material on a deeper level.

But traditional study groups aren't for everyone. Some people prefer reviewing material alone. For study groups to work, they have to offer a good fit for your needs and learning style.

Identifying the Right Kind of Study Group for You

A successful study group must match your study style and help you achieve your goals. If you diligently attend a study group but find that it doesn't help you in class, you may be in the wrong group. So how can you increase your chances of finding the right study group?

The process starts by asking yourself a few questions: What do you want to get out of the study group? How often do you want to meet? And how do you want to study together? Once you understand your needs and your study style, you can set up a group that will work for you.

Study Styles

Do you absorb course material best when you discuss it with someone else? Or do you need complete silence when you study? Knowing your study style makes it easier to find the right study group.

Your study style might not match well with those of your peers. If you're easily distracted or chatty, a long study session in which classmates read quietly at a cafe might not work. Similarly, if you need structure to stay focused, a free-form study group could flop.

Online Study Groups

Study groups don't have to meet in person, especially during COVID-19. Whether you attend classes on campus or online, your study group can meet virtually. Thanks to technology, today's study groups can get together via video calls and chatrooms.

Online study groups work best for shorter meetings designed to review content and ask questions. They also work well for accountability groups in which you report on your individual progress. Additionally, an online study group greatly expands your study partner possibilities.

How to Form a Study Group

Once you understand your needs and study style, you're ready to form a study group. The first step isn't asking people to join — it's deciding how large your group will be. Some study groups thrive with just two members, while others benefit from a larger group.

Start with your friends and classmates. Be as specific as possible when setting up your study group. How often will you meet and where? What goals will your group have? What ground rules will you all follow? Setting up your group with a purpose increases the chances of reaching your goals, whether that's scoring a higher grade on your final or mastering challenging concepts.

Tips for Running a Study Group

Understand your needs and study style Reach out to select classmates Set ground rules and group goals Create an agenda for meetings Put someone in charge of each session

Once you've found study partners, discuss what your meetings will look like. It's a good idea to create an agenda or a rough schedule to ensure you stay on track.

If you're prepping for an exam, use the professor's review sheet to structure your studying. If you're brushing up on several chapters from a textbook, assign one to each member to present to the others. Planning out your study sessions limits the chance you'll become a social group rather than a study group.

The Value of Study Groups in College

Study groups are a great way to stay on track and reach your goals, and they can take many forms, from active review sessions to accountability check-ins. My study group helped me publish a book; it also kept me connected to friends after I moved out of state. Without that study group, I would have struggled to meet my research deadlines.

Avoid the common pitfalls of study groups — off-topic conversations, unfocused meetings — by considering your goals and the study environment you're most likely to thrive in. On top of good grades, your study group can help build bonds that last long after college graduation.


Feature Image: Klaus Vedfelt / DigitalVision / Getty Images

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