Tips for Starting a Successful Study Group

July 21, 2016

Birds-eye view of students sitting a table on their laptops.

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

You’ve likely heard that study groups are a good idea, but do you know why they are? There are a few keys to making study groups productive and efficient (and not just another outlet of your precious minutes).


The Learning Pyramid

First, familiarize yourself with the learning pyramid, a diagram indicating how much information you can retain using different methods.

  • Lecture alone leads to the least retention
  • Demonstration still has you retaining less than half of the material
  • Practice by Doing and Teach Others help you retain the most knowledge and enable you to apply it to tests, assignments, and group discussions

Students who engage frequently with course material throughout the term are more likely to do better in future courses. Here's why:

  • There’s more time to process information and commit it to long-term memory
  • Courses continue to build on this foundation of knowledge
  • The more you know now, the less you'll have to review in the future
  • Students who study 1–3 weeks right before final exams are more likely to forget, shortly after the exam, what they’ve learned

UBC Science students have told us that study groups are the number one thing that helped them do better in their courses. Here’s how you can make the most out of study time while taking advantage of the online platforms you’re already used to.

Steps to Establish a New Study Group

1. Find students or classmates

Point them to the learning pyramid to help them understand how it might be helpful. An effective study group consists of 3 or 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. Alternatively, set up a group on social media for your classmates to join. Many courses also offer discussion boards, whether on Canvas or Piazza. You can message any classmate you think might be interested as well!

2. Meet everyone

If you’re meeting in person, schedule a time that works for all of you. If you’re considering sticking to online meet-ups, decide on an app or platform that will work best for everyone, whether that's Discord, Facebook, or Microsoft Teams (which UBC students can access for free!). Set up your first call and make sure to turn your video on—you'll want to see everyone's face!

3. Identify goals as a group

Create an agenda for your first meeting to keep things on track. As a group, consider:

  • Your goals and motivations for being in a study group
  • Your learning preferences

4. Figure out the logistics

Get everyone to write down:

  • Preferred frequencies of meet-ups during the term (e.g. once per week, twice per week)
  • Meet-up times that would work schedule-wise (e.g. Tuesdays 12–1 pm, Wednesay 7–8 pm)—consider using Doodle to identify possible times
  • Preferred modes of communication outside of meet-up times (e.g. Messenger, Microsoft Teams, or text)

Review your responses together and finalize what works best for the group.

5. Make sure everyone is on the same page

Though possibly awkward, make sure to discuss:

  • How meet-ups will be arranged (e.g. is someone in charge of scheduling them?) 
  • Expectations such as attendance and preparations
  • Possible actions to take should someone be unable to meet the expectations (e.g. a reminder is given to a member who does not come prepared, then, should it happen again, they are no longer a member)
  • Systems for evenly dividing the weekly lectures among group members so everyone gets to contribute—each subgroup (aka lecture summarizers) summarizes key concepts and creates a one-page summary in advance of the subsequent meet-up

When Hosting the Study Group...

1. Teach and facilitate discussions

Lecture summarizers can teach the concepts to the group and facilitate discussions to help everyone review the material.

2. Tackle assessment materials

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. If you’re really stuck, bring the problem to office hours as a group.

3. Make sure everyone is heard

Provide opportunities for everyone to speak and ask questions at each meet-up. If there are folks who are louder and those who are quieter, ensure that your meeting structure includes a time for the group to check in individually. This way, everyone has the space to offer thoughts or questions.

4. Be sensitive toward anyone having a tough time

Learning at university might feel challenging. Check in with your group to see if anyone needs additional support and, if so, help share resources we have at and beyond UBC.

5. Be kind

Whether meeting in person or online, communicate politely and make sure that everyone feels included. Use people’s preferred names (being mindful of spelling and pronunciation) and avoid assuming what pronouns they use. When communicating digitally, always remember there is a person behind the words you read on screen. Also, talk over video when you can—seeing faces goes a long way toward keeping everyone engaged and connected.

Now that you know how to organize study groups, it’s time to form one and get a leg up in those courses!

Partially adapted from National Training Laboratories. Bethel, Maine & Keep Learning UBC


What's all the fuss about study groups?

  • Study Tips

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UBC Science acknowledges that the UBC Point Grey campus is situated on the traditional, ancestral, and unceded territory of the xʷməθkʷəy̓əm.

Learn more: Musqueam First Nation

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