Many teachers will advise you to work with your classmates – in a word, to create a study group. But what do you do in a study group? Too many times, study groups can devolve into chit-chat and waste your time, instead of improving your knowledge. Here’s some ways to make a study group work for you.
1. Choose a Usable Meeting Space
Try to choose a space without distractions. It’s really easy to get distracted if you’re hungry and waiting for your food to arrive, or if there’s a loud television blasting the latest game at you. Restaurants and coffee shops may not be the best spots to hold a study group. Instead, try to find a place where you can focus – the library, a quiet space outside on campus, a study lounge in the dormitory, or even someone’s house.
Make sure the space has chairs, tables, and power outlets for things like laptops. A pencil sharpener and stapler might also be a good idea.
Decide beforehand if bringing food or beverages is going to be allowed or not. Some spaces, like libraries, may not let you bring anything in anyway, and if you do decide to allow food or drinks, make sure that you’re not creating distractions for the other people in your group by doing so.
Things to do during a study group
2. Clarify and Rewrite Your Notes
A study group is a great place to clarify concepts and fill in holes in your notes. Try this: have everyone bring a photocopy or printout of their notes, and pass around the photocopies so everyone gets a chance to see everyone else’s notes and fill in what they missed. This is also a great way to make sure you understood what you did write down – ask people to make notes on your photocopy about places where what you wrote down might have been incorrect.
After you’ve clarified and filled in the blanks in your notes, another great exercise to do together is to rewrite your notes in a new format. When you rewrite your notes, reorganize them so that they make sense to you. Maybe you can create a visual version of your notes (with graphs, charts, or a mindmap) or even go so far as to make a sketchnote of your notes. Or perhaps you’re more word-oriented, and turning your messy notes into an outline or Venn diagram would make more sense. Experiment with different ways of rewriting your notes – but do it after you’ve filled in the blanks and clarified the concepts.
3. Play Flash Card Games
You’ve probably spent some time making flash cards, but did you know you could also play games with them? Any time you interact with the material, you’re studying – and using flash cards is interacting with the material.
Flash cards usually have two sides – a topic or question side, and an answer side. This can matter in the games listed below.
Here are some card games you can play using flash cards.
Ah, the time-honored game of “David, do you have any…. aces?” Most of us know this game from when we were little kids – deal out seven cards from the deck to each player, and then try to guess who has the other queen, eight, or five cards in their hands. For each match you make with a card in your hand, you get two points – one per card.
Try a variation on this game to make you interact more with the material.
Each person keeps their own flash cards as their “deck” to draw from. Because flash cards have information on both sides, you will need to put up folded pieces of paper to “screen” your cards from the other players. Just take a piece of notebook paper, fold it in half short-ways (so that the 8″ ends line up and the 11 1/2″ sides get folded) and put it in front of you to hide your cards.
When it’s your turn, don’t ask a single person for their cards. Instead, ask the entire group for a card – but ask for it by the answer on the card you’re holding, not the topic. Everyone who figures out which card you mean puts theirs on the table in front of their screen, topic side down.
After five or ten seconds (use a timer for fairness), announce the topic you’re looking for. Anyone who figured out what the topic is before you announce it gets to keep their card and put it in their points pile. The ones who didn’t figure it out fast enough have to give their card to you, if they have it in their hands. The person with the highest score (or who reaches a pre-set score first) wins the game.
Flash Cards Against Humanity
Cards Against Humanity, and its more tame version, Apples to Apples, have two kinds of cards: a judge’s card, and the game cards. Players start with a hand of five game cards, and the judge then puts down a judge’s card with a topic that players must “match” their game cards to. In the original games, the judge gets to decide what the best match is, and the judge card is awarded to the player who wins. After a certain number of judge cards won, the player with that number wins the game.
In this variation on the game, the game cards and the judge cards all come from the same deck – your group’s pile of flash cards. Combine all of your flash cards together to make a deck, and shuffle them, topic side down. Set the number of cards you must win in order to win the game, and deal five cards to each player. (After a card is placed on the board, it is discarded, and players draw a card to replace it.)
The judge places a card, topic side up, on the table, and says what the goal of the match is: to make people laugh, or be serious, or be sarcastic, or give the worst match… The judge can also come up with other possibilities beyond these – they are just suggestions.
After the judge puts down their judge card, they must turn away or close their eyes, so they don’t know who played which card.
Each player then plays a card, answer side up, on the judge’s card.
After the judge decides the winner of the match (who keeps the judge card), discard all the cards that were played on it. Then, everyone has to say something about how that match made them look at the topics of both cards in a new way. Judgeship then passes to the left, and you play another round.
Three Random Categories
In this game, you’re not playing against each other, but it does give you a way to talk about and explain things in a new way. Choose a set of three categories (for example, “Outdoors,” “Indoors,” and “Both”) and each person sorts their flash cards into those three categories. Then talk about why you did. It will give you a new way to interact with the material, as well as get other people’s perspectives on why they might have sorted that card differently than you.
4. Quiz Each Other
Before you come to your study group’s meeting, have everyone make a ten- or twenty-question quiz based on the topics you’re studying. You can set rules around this: half of the questions have to be multiple-choice and the other half have to be true-false, for example. Try to make sure you’re writing the questions in the format your exams will be in. Then, when you get to the study group, trade quizzes with each other. Maybe just pass them to the right, where the person to your right gets the quiz you wrote, and the person to your left gives you the quiz they wrote. Take the quizzes, then give them back to the person who created them to get them graded, and discuss the missed answers as a group.
5. Teach Each Other
Have each person in the group choose one of the topics in your notes and teach a five-minute lesson on it. After the lesson, ask questions and clarify things you didn’t understand. You may be surprised by how much more you learn from a peer’s take on the information you’re studying!
Tying it Together
When you work in groups, you have new ways to interact with the study material. You learn more from other people’s perspectives, and you’re held accountable to actually get things done (so you don’t forget to study, for example). Using these ways to make a study group work – playing games that make you interact with the material in new ways, finding ways to quiz each other, teaching each other what you know, and even helping find missing information in your notes – can be the difference between passing and failing, or between a good grade and a great one.
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Four Ways to Make a Study Schedule Work For You