Group study is an excellent way to learn material and prepare for exams. What is it exactly that makes group study an effective tool for learning?
A study was performed by an associate professor of education at Washington University. The professor, Keith Sawyer, PhD, diagramed every interaction and movement of study groups as they prepared for exams, down to the “ums” and “yeahs.” Sawyer found that the most significant action performed during the group was looking up and looking down. When the students looked down they were reading through notes. As they began to internalize the material, they also began to look up at one another. Over and over again as material went from notes read on a page to concepts being discussed and internalized, students went from looking down to looking up. When you study alone, it is not likely that you will look down, read your notes, and then look up and restate the material in your own terms. Simply reading through notes is a common method of individual study, but doesn’t require engagement with the material.
In groups you have the opportunity to explain material to colleagues. Helping a friend who is having a more difficult time understanding specific concepts will help you have a firm grasp of the material yourself. Likewise, peers can help you grasp concepts you are struggling with.
Listening and speaking is another form of engaging with the material. As you interact with the material in a variety of ways ( reading, hearing, speaking ) you will be more likely to internalize important concepts. Most students will not speak the material or listen to it while studying alone.
All of your peers have also attended lectures, read the material and taken notes. If there is something you missed, it is probable that someone else recorded it. As peers come together to share material, you are all more likely to cover all of the necessary topics.
What To Avoid
Groups are advantageous in a variety of ways, but be wise about your group study time. Choose groups that are able to stay focused and on topic. Also choose groups where each member comes prepared and has something to offer. Of course individual study is often necessary, but group study can augment your learning. Find a group you enjoy and work well with and see if it improves your exam scores.
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