5 Tips for Productive Study Groups

If you’ve followed me for long, you know practice tests are kind of my thing. And as much as I believe they’re one of the most effective study methods out there for PA students, I recommend utilizing multiple study methods during PA school. This includes study groups.

Study groups allow you to learn from each other and fill in personal knowledge gaps. They allow you to cover more material than one person can do alone. And a lot of research out there shows that studying in groups helps students learn more effectively.

One researcher found that certain dynamics of study groups contribute to learning in a way that studying alone might not. For example, his team identified the act of looking down to read your notes and thinking about what the instructor said, followed by looking up and explaining it in your own words to classmates, helps to learn the material on a deeper level. Eventually, study groups progress from looking down and reading notes to a free-flowing conversation about the material, demonstrating they have grasped the material.

Another study confirmed most students feel they learn more or different things when they study in a group compared to studying alone. This study also identified that it’s important to be working as a group, not in a group. Meaning, there needs to be a common effort, the utilization of the group’s competence, and the presence of problem solving and reflection.

I was one of those people who thought “I don’t study well in groups.” But PA school was the most challenging academic undertaking I had ever experienced. So I was willing to try anything that might be helpful.

After giving it a try, I can say I never left a study group wishing I hadn’t gone. Solo study remained my primary method of learning and retention, but I ALWAYS left group study sessions more prepared and confident in my knowledge than when I came. The key for me was finding the right people to study with and making the most of our study session.

So how do you make the most of a study group?

Here’s a few tips.

Keep your group small

Most experts recommend 4-6 people. Too many, and it can become an unfocused social event. Too few and you lose some of the benefits of a group study.

Hold your members accountable

Study groups should be a give and take. You learn from your classmates, but be prepared to contribute. It’s an environment where you deepen your understanding of the material, not show up expecting to learn everything from scratch. If someone consistently comes unprepared, lags behind in the discussion, or doesn’t contribute, it may be time to say goodbye.

Make the meetings regular

Regular meetings tend to be more consistent and productive. This could be meeting once a week, or perhaps you meet consistently 3 days before a big exam. But knowing you can rely consistently on a study group can be very helpful.

Create an agenda

Or at least a checklist of things you want to review. This helps you stay on track and know ahead of time what you can expect to cover. For those super Type-A groups, you can even assign each member different material to present to the group, make a study guide, or write practice questions. Put someone in charge of making sure the group stays on tasks and all material is covered.

Have fun with it

Yes, everyone needs to be focused. No, it’s not a social hour. But you can have fun with it. I studied with a small group of girls who all loved cooking (and let’s be honest, eating). Every once in a while we’d meet at one person’s house and cook a fun meal together, then study over dinner. Make quizzes or games to break up the monotony of reading through notes. As long as there’s a plan to stay productive, take the liberty to make the study environment your own.

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