March 3, 2014

You Can't Spell Studying w/o "Dying": Study Groups as Healthy Option

Once upon a time, Dean Frosh was a college student struggling in her Calculus course. Her father sat down with her and asked what he could do to help. Dean Frosh, in a rather teenagerly way, replied, “You’ve never taken Calculus. How can you help?” Mr. Frosh, a very patient man, said, “So what? Explain it to me. What don’t you understand?” So, Dean Frosh sighed and began to explain the problem she was having and little by little, she started to see what she had been missing. “You’re welcome,” said Mr. Frosh with a knowing, fatherly smile. And since that moment, Dean Frosh has championed the theory that teaching a concept is one of the best ways to understand and apply it.

And you know one of the best ways to teach and be taught concepts for your classes? By forming a Study Group! Now, before you stop reading and click over to the “Which Beyonce Are You?” quiz, hear me out. I know the usually excuses:

1.       I don’t know anyone.
2.       How will other students help me learn?
3.       I’m more focused by myself.
4.       I don’t have time for study groups.

Study groups can be critical to your success, so you owe it to yourself to give them a try (or two)! Here are the good reasons that outweigh your excuses:

1.       I don’t know anyone.
Meeting more students in your classes helps long term so you know people who can clarify your questions about assignments or help with notes if you are absent.

2.       How will other students help me learn?
Your professor and your TA do NOT remember what it was like not to understand calculus; they are still great resources, but sometimes peers are better at helping each other understand.

It’s easier to learn concepts when you explain them and talk them through with others.

3.       I’m more focused by myself.
You can’t procrastinate because others are counting on you to show up and work: accountability!

Don’t mistake social conversations for academic discussion! While the former lacks focus, the latter will give you other students’ perspectives on course content and how to understand material.

4.       I don’t have time for study groups. This excuse is Dean Frosh’s favorite because if you have to study anyway (and you do!), then study groups fit perfectly into your weekly plan.
It’s good to know you’re not the only one struggling AND it’s a great feeling to realize you truly understand a concept and can help others understand it, too.

All of that said, let’s agree that not all study groups are created equal. It’s important to preserve the purpose and mission of this scholarly gathering. Here are some tips on how to form and manage a successful study group:

·         Plan for a group of 3-6 for best results.
·         Identify others in your class (not just your friends) who seem interested in the material and motivated to succeed. Aim to have less than 50% of the group be friends.
·         Set a time to meet in a place where you can talk freely but also concentrate and set a time limit (we’ll meet on Friday from 2-3 pm in the comfy chairs right outside the Red Lion cafĂ© at RSC).
·         Decide in advance what topics you’ll cover and be specific about materials (we’ll focus on chapter 4 and review the quiz from last week, so bring it with you).
·         Nominate a moderator for each session to keep the group focused and on task.
·         Focus on CONCEPTS in the class and not just problem review. Many students who struggle do fine on quizzes and homework, but not well on exams. In general, the difference is the exams require that you apply concepts, not just regurgitate information. And you can’t apply the concept unless you really KNOW it.
·         Take turns asking questions and explaining. Have some fun with it. Quiz each other, even develop a Jeopardy style game prior to exams. Require that all members participate by asking questions and explaining concepts; no one gets to just sit back with his feet up. Beware the hanger-on, it’s contagious!
·         Ask the professor or TA for supplemental problems or online resources to use in your group.

So, start talking to other students and get the ball rolling. Keep in mind, too, that some courses utilize special recitation or study group sessions, and the Rutgers Learning Centers organize some study groups through the Learning Assistant Program. Get more tips on how to Form a Study Group.

And once you’ve established your group and set your first appointment, you’ve earned it: reward yourself by discovering which classic author is your soulmate.