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Study groups can be an important part of academic success.  Study groups are an opportunity to really dive into the material through discussion with peers.  Additionally, study groups help with procrastination and can help you develop new study skills.

The Five W’s of Study Groups

Why form a study group?

  1. Accountability: You’ll be more prepared and stay focused if you know your group is counting on you.
  2. Active Studying: You’re more likely to use active, evidence-based study strategies during group study and therefore learn more effectively.
  3. Support: Have a question? Need help? Your group will be there when you need it.
  4. Community: You and your group are all working toward a common goal, and for most students, it is more enjoyable than studying alone.

Who should I study with?

Study groups are most effective when kept small (2-5 members) to allow enough time for everyone to ask and answer questions. Choose peers who are committed and will come to each session prepared and ready to work.

It is often useful to designate someone to facilitate the group. This person will be in charge of scheduling, tracking group progress, and helping the group stay focused. This could be one set person or you could designate a “leader of the week.”

When should we meet?

Your study group should aim to meet once weekly. While meeting right before an exam is a good idea, meeting regularly throughout the semester will yield the greatest results.

Once the “who” is decided, find a mutually agreeable time where everyone can attend and then agree upon the length of the session (60-90 mins). Consider times when everyone is likely to be focused.  If you’re going to socialize, consider adding that to the schedule.

Where should we meet?

Look for a space that allows discussion but isn’t too noisy. Ideally, this space will have whiteboards and outlets for your laptops. Look for seating that isn’t too comfy so you’ll stay focused and ready to use the whiteboard.

The library website offers great suggestions, including the Kenan Science Library and Davis Library Research Hub.

What do I need to do to start a study group?

Here’s a checklist of things to get your study group up and running:

  • Find two or three people to join you. Ask peers you’ve observed in class that you think might be a good match or ask your professor for help. You can also post a message on your Sakai message board.
  • Find a time everyone can meet and agree on a regular meeting schedule. Try using a scheduler like When2Meet or Doodle.
  • Find a place to meet. Since some study rooms require reservations, having a set time can really be useful.
  • Set ground rules to help your group session run smoothly.  Suggestions:  welcome all questions, everyone takes turn asking and answering questions, no phones or social media, show up prepared, no judgment of anyone’s skill level, no competition.
  • Appoint a permanent facilitator or a “leader of the week” to be the timekeeper and help the group stay on task.
  • Make sure everyone knows what they need to do before meeting.

What does a study group session look like?

Be prepared! The best study group sessions happen when everyone is prepared.  Work with your group members to decide what you want to cover in your next session.  Consider using email or Google Docs to keep track and delegate, and remember to choose content that is relevant and up-to-date.  Pick specific homework problems to review with one another and decide who is presenting each problem.  Be careful not to focus on too many application problems, but instead make a point of discussing more conceptual questions.

Structure. Decide with your group how you want the session to proceed, and most importantly, set SMART goals for your session (see this video).  Adding structure will ensure that you stay on task and cover all the material.  Here are a few suggestions:

  • Start the session with a review of what you learned in the past week. You can delegate the big ideas to group members to individually present.  Group members can compare notes from class and fill in any gaps that arise.
  • Take turns teaching or presenting homework problems.  Teaching a concept to your peers is a great way to ensure that you understand the material.
  • Bring in questions that you have or have generated.  Posing them to the group opens the door for a great discussion!
  • Use active study strategies. As a group, create a concept map, teach each other, make an outline of the lectures, or create a study guide for the upcoming exam.
  • Brainstorm questions you might see on an exam.

Other study tips: evaluate which concepts are being tested in the question; mix up how the material is being presented to include seeing, hearing, and doing; avoid doing multiple problems of the same type consecutively (your exam doesn’t present them that way); write out how you’re solving a problem.

Review. At the end of your session, take a few minutes to review all the information that was presented.  Test yourself with the concepts using recall to be sure you have a good mastery of the material.  Think about how your session went and what you as a group want to change next time to improve.


Shaw, D. M. (2011). Promoting professional student learning through study groups: A case study. College Teaching, 59, 85-92.

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