Oh man, another assignment just came your way, and it’s a group project—your professor’s relentless this semester! And, of course, you want to do well—this means choosing the right team. Whether you’re a first-timer to study groups or a seasoned veteran, here are my personal recommendations on forming (and keeping) an effective study group.
First of all…
Never underestimate how important it is to be a part of a properly functioning study group. According to a recent study, de-motivating college environments increase the amount of student dropouts. Being in the wrong group can be catastrophic, and with enough bad experiences, it could potentially lead you to saying bye-bye to college life for good.
Additionally, a dysfunctional study group could result in you questioning your own abilities, making the assignment seem much worse than it actually is. And, if you’re unable to get through this one group assignment, how will you handle all the others?
As you may know, study groups are always formed at the beginning of a new assignment, semester, year, or class. While study groups are sometimes formed by the professor, many times, the choice is left up to the students. This makes it difficult, especially when you may not know the other members in your class. But, you can form (and keep) the study group that’s right for you. Here are eight tips that may help:
Align your goals and expectations
It’s important to find classmates who have similar goals and expectations towards the upcoming assignment. Then, make sure your group’s aligned on individual responsibilities and expectations to ensure you’re all on the same page.
Form the right group size
When it comes to group size, three to five students is optimal. However, working in pairs has it’s own special dynamic, but we’ll save that discussion for another time. Just note: opting for fewer than three group members requires more individual work. If you’re into that, great; if not, you’re in for an unwelcomed reality check!
On the other hand, more than five group members could be problematic, especially since it’s hard to align expectations when more students are involved. Not only that, with more members, there’ll be all kinds of opinions. While opinions are good, too many could sidetrack you from getting your assignment completed on schedule. The old adage holds true—opinions are like a&%holes, everyone has one!
Assign each group member a role
Talking through each group member’s role is equally important. A good rule-of-thumb is to align personalities with tasks. For example, if you have a really creative person in your group, place them in charge of visuals (e.g., illustrations, PowerPoint layout, etc.). If another student is more data-driven, assign them statistically-related tasks (e.g., charts, graphs, etc.). And, if you have a wizard with words, ask them to outline and edit the final copy of the written assignment.
Create a sense of ownership
Ownership is important, so ensure students are given tasks they like, feel competent in, and can own. This also means finding out how each group member works best. Some may prefer to work on a task as a group, while others would rather be given a task, complete it individually, and discuss it together at a later time. Knowing how each group member works best keeps you on track and reduces stress and frustration down the road.
Structure your group meetings
If your group’s task is to complete an assignment (which is usually the case), ideally, you should meet for one to three hours, max. Meetings less than an hour tends to be stressful and meaningless, as you won’t have the necessary time to even get started. On the other hand, meeting for more than three hours tends to be inefficient, especially since your focus and productivity plummet. You could try drinking loads of coffee, but you’d probably need to inject it to continue! Before deciding on a time frame, figure out how your group functions best together.
Prior preparation is often more important than the actual group meeting. Most group work is completed individually, from home. Then, the group meets up and engages in a feedback session. If you’re well-prepared, other group members will take note, and follow your lead. Talk about leading by example—this impact creates the intended group dynamic.
However, if you come unprepared, you’ll most likely waste an entire group session, and leave with unhappy and disappointed group members. Put yourself in their shoes—if one of your group members showed up unprepared, wouldn’t you be annoyed? To keep everyone happy and on board, align your group’s expectations. It basically all boils down to this. And, if you need a little jumpstart to get ready, check out how Lix can help. From keeping all your textbooks in one place to providing the tools needed to stay organized, Lix not only helps you prepare for your group meetings, but gets you ready for any assignment or exam that comes your way.
Create the right vibe for your group
Choosing the right study environment is more important than you may think. And, it’s not just the environment—color is a powerful influence, affecting your mood and physiological reactions. In fact, certain colors have been associated with increased blood pressure, increased metabolism, and eyestrain.
Consider which environment (and room color) you’re most productive in. Could it be in the comfort of your own home (white walls), the public library (encased in mahogany bookshelves), a bustling coffee shop (indeterminate wall color), or on your train ride home from class (window view)? It differs from person to person, so be sure to ask the other group members which environment they’re most productive in. Then, find a suitable spot for your entire group and stick to it. By doing this, you’ll create positive associations, which could lead to increased group productivity and output. Or, as psychologists call it—”getting and staying in the zone.”
Choose a group moderator
Having a moderator is extremely valuable, and should not be overlooked. Either choose one person to moderate for the entirety of the assignment, or change roles over time. The main tasks for moderators are to structure the process and keep the group on schedule. Some students like this role more than others, but it could be a good idea to let every group member moderate at some point over the course of the assignment. This gives each student a sense of ownership and responsibility.
When you, yourself, are chosen as a moderator, be aware of how you communicate to the group, and make sure you try your best to adjust your way of communicating with each student, since a one-size-fits-all approach might not work. Consider that each member of your group will have a different communication style—some like constructive criticism, others can’t handle negative critique.
Getting to know how each group member communicates with benefit you when sharing feedback with them and visa versa. This may be hard, especially if there are members in your group you don’t know, but it doesn’t take too long to see how people interact and work best together. So, be observant.
We’ve all been there. At some point, it may feel like forming a great study group, and keeping it functioning at its best is no easy task, and it isn’t! But, since you’re going to be spending a lot of time doing it, you might as well make it as enjoyable as you can. There are lots of different ways to make it more fun—bring some treats to the meet-ups, do some fun activities together, put some music on (and dance around a bit), etc. All of these things help in creating that desired study vibe.
Hopefully, after reading this article, you feel well-equipped to assemble your next, (and awesome) study group, or improve the one you have. If you have any ideas for fun and relevant study group activities, please share them in the comments below.