Tips for Starting a Successful Study Group

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When you practice and teach others course material, it is easier to remember the information and recall it at a later time.

You’ve likely heard that study groups are a good idea, but why? Do you know what will help them to be productive and not just another outlet of your precious minutes?

The Learning Pyramid

It starts with something called the learning pyramid, which offers a rough idea of how much info you retain using different methods.

  • With lecture alone, you retain the least
  • Demonstration still has you retaining less than half the material
  • Practice and teaching others gives you another significant bump to remember the most

In 2015, UBC Science students told us that having more study groups was the number one thing that they wanted in order to do better in their courses.

Did you also know that students who spend time on course material throughout the whole term are more likely to do better in future courses? Why?

  • There’s more time to process the info and commit it to long-term memory
  • Courses continue to build on this foundation of knowledge
  • The more you know now, the less you have the review in the future when adding new info
  • Students who study 2-3 weeks right before final exams are more likely to forget what they’ve learned after the exam

Steps to Establish a Shiny New Study Group

Point them to the pyramid if it helps them to understand how this might be helpful. An effective study group is 3 - 4 members (no more than 5).

Ask your instructor if it would be possible for them to send out an email to connect interested students or set up a Facebook group for your class and invite others to join.

At your first meet-up, try (really hard) to meet with everyone, all at once, and in person.

Start by asking everyone to write down their goal for being a part of a study group.

For example, people may write things like:

  • Discuss course material with other people to increase my understanding
  • Get an A in the course
  • Figure out how to study in university (vs. high school)

Ask everyone to share their motivation for being there. Allow folks to ask questions of each other to better understand everyone’s motivation.

Get everyone to write down:
  • How many meet-ups they would like to have during the term (e.g. 1/week, 2/week)
  • Meet-up times that would work for their schedule (e.g. Thursdays 12 – 1 pm, Wednesdays, 7 – 8 pm) and how long you’d like to meet
  • How they’d like to communicate with this group (e.g. Facebook message, Facebook group, text, email, Google Drive) outside of meet-up times

As a group, review your answers and decide on final answers for each prompt.

There are a few more steps to ensure that you’re all on the same page… Yes, it might feel awkward, but talk about:
  • How meet-ups will be arranged (e.g. is someone in charge of scheduling them?)
  • Where meet-ups will happen
  • Making a serious commitment to each other show up and do the required preparation in advance
    • Discuss what should happen if someone is not meeting this expectation. For example, if someone is not completing their tasks in advance, the first time it happens, the group will remind that person of the commitment to the group. If it happens a second time, the person will no longer be a member of the study group.
  • Determine a system to divide the 2 – 3 lectures/week among the group members. Each subgroup (or lecture summarizers) then summarizes key concepts and creates a one page summary in advance of the study group meet-up.

When Actually Hosting the Study Group...

When the study group meets up, the lecture summarizers (see step 5 above) can teach/present the concepts to the group and facilitate a review/discussion to help everyone to understand the material.
If there are problem sets to review, have members work through them individually either in the meet-up or on their own time afterwards; bring back questions or areas members are getting stuck for discussion at the next meet-up.
Make sure that there are opportunities for everyone to speak and ask questions at each meet-up. If there are a mix of folks who are louder and quieter, ensure that your meeting structure includes a time for the group to check in with each individual and ask if they have any thoughts/questions.


Now that you’ve got a great start to your study group, find a place to meet up – we’ve got some suggestions!