How to Form a Study Group

Do study groups help or hinder?

A film or television portrayal will often show study groups munching on pizza, sipping on soda, sitting on comfortable couches in a dorm, brainstorming notes on several whiteboards and discussing highly educational topics until the early hours of the morning. Doesn’t sound too bad does it? Unfortunately, the reality is far from this portrayal. However, this doesn’t mean that revising as part of a group doesn’t come with some perks and advantages, it just paints a different picture than the one described above. Learning how to form a study group and keep it productive is an important study skill.

Study groups are a great way to supplement your individual study. Being involved in a study group provides you with the opportunity to get feedback on how well you know the material, as well as reinforcing what you have learned. In addition, a good study group gives you practice at working as part of a team, a skill that you will need in the world outside of school.

Studying Alone Vs Studying With a Group
You may already have a personal preference when it comes to these two study options. The table below highlights some key aspects of each.


Studying Alone

Studying With a Group

When you study alone you have more flexibility. You can study whenever you want and if any last minute events or appointments come up, you can adjust your schedule however you want.

Social distractions are less prevalent when you study solo – there is no one to get off task and gossip with.

You have a greater control of your environment when it is just you. Everything from the location to the lighting, to study breaks can all be exactly how you like them.

Temptations and procrastination can sometimes be more prevalent when you are alone – there is no one to keep you off your phone an on task!

 When you work with a group you often create a set schedule with set topics. This leads to less procrastination and increased productivity.

Expectations, guidelines and goals are set when you work as a group and you have others to help make sure they are achieved.

A valuable support system is established to help you focus on goals and results.

Working with a group allows you to become exposed to the ideas and knowledge of others. You can easily be immersed in meaningful conversations that have a positive impact on your learning. You will learn to see things form someone else’s point of view, therefore expanding your own.

More information can be covered – you know the saying, ‘two heads are better than one’.

There is the risk of the ‘study session’ turning into a ‘gossip session’. This will result in minimal learning and studying being achieved.

If the group cannot cohesively work together, the study group will be ineffective in its outcomes.


As you can see, there are pros and cons on both sides of the table. It is recommended to try and study using a combination of alone and group time. You may find that some topics are better revised solo, such as math, and others (the ones that are often more discussion and opinion-based) benefit from group sessions. So how exactly do you form a group that will help guide you to academic success, not lead social butterfly?

What Makes an Effective Study Group?
You may not be happy to hear it, but a study group is not just a group of your friends studying together. In fact, it should be a carefully selected group with one goal in mind – academic success. The group needs to be made up of like-minded people who are all prepared to contribute to the session and can commit to regular sessions. The group must set rules and guidelines, which are highlighted in further detail in this article.

How to Form a Beneficial Study Group
As you have already discovered, a group study session isn’t a case of sending a group text to your friends telling them to bring their books to your house tomorrow afternoon. It is a carefully planned group, working to a carefully planned schedule. Here are some tips on how to go about forming a study group that will become worth your while.

Choose Participants Carefully
Pay attention in class and think about who contributes information. A study group isn’t a tutoring session, everyone must contribute. Try and select people based on different strengths, there is no point having a group of experts on the role of Germany in World War II, and no one familiar with Churchill. Finally, members must be willing to commit to the group for the duration of the agreed time. Depending on what you are studying (or what you are studying for), your study group may only be short term commitment. On the other hand, you may be looking for people who are willing to join you for an entire semester.

The most ideal number of study group participants is between four and eight. Stick between these numbers and you will find a group that isn’t too social or two small to be ineffective.

Set Clear Expectations and Guidelines
This can include topics to follow and also general behavior. Each member should be reliable, focused during the session, bring any prepared work or notes as agreed, and contribute in a valuable way. These guidelines need to be set clearly, and early on. If members feel that they cannot meet the given expectations, then they have the opportunity to not join the group. Their reasoning may be as simple as they are to busy with other projects at the moment. It may seem harsh, but if a group member cannot keep up with expectations, you may need to let them go – although by setting the guidelines early, hopefully you wont need to do this.

 Use an Appropriate Meeting Spot

It is best to study with a group in an environment that has minimal distractions. A formal space such as a library is ideal. Try an avoid personal living rooms, they can create an air of relaxation that is not conducive to studying. There are also more distractions and the possibility of the session slipping into a social gathering. Where possible, keep this meeting spot the same for each session – it will help develop a routine and people won’t have the excuse of not turning up because they didn’t know where to meet.

Schedule Regular Sessions

Arrange for the group to meet at the same time and place each week, or fortnight. This has several benefits. Regular routine can create positive behaviors and habits, and by scheduling the same time each week allows for members to add it into their own busy timetables without causing disruptions. If any ‘homework’ or preparing needs to be done, a regular schedule helps ensures that members will allow enough time for this.

Set Homework

What exactly you set, or ask each member to prepare in advance will depend on the nature of the topic you are studying as well as your goals. It may be beneficial to delegate topics to each member for them to prepare and learn in detail. They will then teach this content to the rest of the group. This method allows each member to only focus on one topic and become and master of it. Asking each member to create their own study guide or notes to share with the others is also useful. Each person’s perspective is different, and what one person sees as important may go unnoticed by someone else. By working this way you will be exposed to content you may not have considered when working on your own.

Assign Positions Within the Group

In order to make the sessions more formal, and therefore run more effectively, delegate positions of responsibility within the group. Choose someone to lead the group. This person will ensure that sessions are kept on track and can be responsible for choosing topics to study and revise. A timekeeper can take charge of the session schedule and make sure it is stuck do, this rules out the possibility of spending too much time on one topic and neglecting others. Other roles can include organizing the study space, providing snacks, communicating prepared assignments and so on.


It may take some time for you and your group to figure out what works best for you. Adding some evaluation time is useful for developing the best study session. This evaluation does not need to be at the end of every session (although it can be), every so often will work fine. Each member should be able to contribute regarding what works well, as well as making possible suggestions for improvement.

If you are still pondering whether is is worthwhile to study as a group, then this article should have answered your question. The simple answer is that study groups are highly effective and beneficial. However, they do take time to perfect and must be carefully created and executed. You now have the knowledge on how to do this, all you have to do is select your group members and increase your learning.

This is a description of a formal study group, which is very organized and focused.  You can also form an informal group.  This may not be a focused and perhaps not as productive, but still can have value.

Staying on Track
At some point, every study group will start to veer off track. The following tips will help get the group refocused and prevent it from becoming a social group:

Set a schedule. Decide ahead of time when the study session will end. Schedule time for breaks, too. This makes it clear how much time is available to cover the material.

When students in the group begin venturing off track with their discussions, simply ask them if that material is on the test.

Don’t allow group members to constantly come unprepared. Often, establishing preparation as a rule when forming the group will be enough. If not, explain that the group is not a tutoring session and for the individual will not be welcome to continue attending if they cannot contribute.

Remember that the study group meets to study the material. Complaints about professors, teachers and classes should be saved for scheduled breaks.

A well-formed and focused study group can be a valuable too for learning. The interaction and support from the group will help you stay motivated, and group feedback will help you discover your strong points and weak areas. In addition, study groups can make your learning experience a more enjoyable one.

Get the Book Students are Talking About!

Get Organized – Study Less – Get Better Marks!
… without endless hours of cramming
… without the need for tutoring
… and without sacrificing the things that matter to you!

How to Study Handbook


Written by: Brian Stocker MA, Complete Test Preparation Inc.
Modified: November 1st, 2018 November 1st, 2018
Published: July 9th, 2009

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