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Get the most out of your study group

Your study group can help you prepare for class and get ready for an exam 

Depending on your study programme and the purpose of the group, study groups can also be referred to as assignment groups, project groups, writing groups, etc. Sometimes the teacher will put the study groups together, and sometimes you will have to form the groups yourself, or ask if you can join an existing group. 

Being in a study group is an excellent way to strengthen your academic skills because it offers an informal setting for practising and applying the things you learn on your courses. And only by working actively with the academic material – e.g. by writing and talking to each other – will you really learn from it. Establishing a good collaboration in a study group and making it work can take time and effort, but it can have a major impact on your learning in the long term. 

Different ways to benefit from a study group 

There are many ways to use a study group, but collaboration often takes place between teaching sessions when the group discuss texts, do assignments or prepare presentations for class. Many students use their study group on an ongoing basis during the semester and more intensively during the exam period. For example, you can help each other in the group to read and understand academic content or to practice your oral presentations. Find tips on how to benefit from a study group when preparing for an exam

   

The good study group

On many degree programmes, group work is either compulsory or a major part of academic activities. So even if you are not a great fan of group work, it may be a necessary part of your degree programme. To make the most of working in groups, consider it an opportunity to learn something from people who don’t think and work exactly like you do. Also, group work can prepare you for the labour market, where you cannot decide for yourself who you want to work with. 

How to form successful study groups 

Below (in Danish), students and teachers pass on tips on how to benefit most from your study group. Learn more about why working in a study group is a good idea, and how best to form an effective study group. 

Reading texts in groups

Using study groups to work with texts and prepare for class

Many students use their study group to prepare for class by discussing the texts on the syllabus. How do you go about it? How can you work on a text together in your group? 

ACTIVITY

EXECUTION

Present main points

Briefly present the most important points of the text to each other in your group. Divide the texts between you, so that each of you is responsible for dealing in depth with one text. Each member of the group will then have to read some material very thoroughly but will not have to read other material so thoroughly. 

Divide the texts between you

Divide the texts between you and write notes or summaries in a shared document. Dividing the work between you will make the reading load more manageable for each member of the group, because you can read one or a few texts in depth and write notes or a summary of the text, while other texts can just be skimmed. At your study group meeting, present your notes to the other group members, and discuss the texts before the lecture. Sharing your notes and summaries will give each member of the group a comprehensive overview of texts studied in the course, and this may be useful when preparing for the exam. 

Keywords for the text

Write down four keywords for the text and compare them in your group. Discuss similarities and differences between your keywords, and explain your choices. This will enable you to categorise the text or the author, and it will make it easier to compare with other texts and authors. 

Questions about the text

Ask at least three questions for each text, and answer them in the group. You can either use the questions to discuss the text in your group, or you can use them to answer each other's questions in a shared document. This will help you clarify queries or highlight difficult issues in the material that you can then bring up in class or discuss in your group. 

The devil's advocate

Discuss the text in your group by dividing into two teams: a defence team and a devil's advocate team. The role of the devil's advocate team is to attack the text by asking critical questions about it and pointing out weaknesses. The defence team is to defend the text and highlight its points. After the discussion, the group can jointly try to assess the text and possibly arrive at an overall assessment of it. Consult Toulmin’s model of argumentation if you want to improve your argumentation techniques. 

Relevance of the text

Write five lines each about the text’s connection to the course or discipline. Write a few lines about the text before the study group meeting, and discuss how each of you understand the relevance of the text in relation to the course and the subject dealt with in the text. This can also form part of an exam assignment in which you relate the text to the topic you are writing about in the exam. 

Presentations in groups

There are specific aspects that you need to take into account when making an oral presentation in your group. 

  • Make one joint presentation instead of individual, consecutive presentations. This will strengthen the sense of coherence for the audience. 

  • Practise the presentation with and for each other. This is particularly important if you delegate responsibility for preparing different parts of the presentation, as practice will help to prevent overlaps and failure to address important points. 

  • Make sure everyone gets to say something. In long presentations, it can be a good idea to take turns talking so that each group member talks more than once. 

  • Consider and plan the transitions between your individual parts of the presentation, so that you always know exactly when it is your turn to talk. 

  • Use general advice on preparing and giving a presentation. 

Writing assignments in groups

Some prefer writing assignments alone, while others are best at writing with one or more writing partners, and there are pros and cons of both ways of working. You may also find sparring and support for your writing by forming or joining a writing group. 

Do you prefer to write alone or with others?

Writing major assignments with 1-2 other students can be an advantage. You can help each other read through texts, discuss your choices and trade-offs and keep each other going. Consider the pros and cons below when considering whether to write alone or with others: 

PROS

CONS

Writing alone

1) Free to make decisions on the project and the writing process 

2) Easier to plan with regard to your leisure activities and student job, if relevant

1) Risk of feeling isolated and lonely during the writing process 

2) More susceptible to procrastination 

Writing with others

1) Obligated by the collaboration agreement and shared deadlines 

2) Always someone to discuss and exchange views with - on the product as well the process 

1) Dependent on making the collaboration work 

2) Need to make compromises along the way 

Use a writing partner

If you are writing together with one or more fellow students, it is a good idea to establish a framework for your collaboration. For example, consider the following aspects:

Agree with your writing partner:

  • When, how and how often you meet 

  • When you work separately and when you work together on the project 

  • What deadlines you have to meet 

  • What other daily activities and obligations you need to take into account. Job, family, leisure time, etc. 

  • How you want to use your supervisor 

  • How you will resolve any difficulties in your collaboration 

  • How you want to receive feedback from each other, and possibly from others. Which rules should apply? 

   

Use a writing group

In a writing group, each group member is working on their own project, but they are working in a collaborative community to support each other's writing process. It is up to you to decide whether you want to give each other regular feedback on your assignments, or whether you simply want to meet to encourage each other and make sure you are all on track for your individual or shared deadlines.

Advantages of having a writing group include that:

  • you commit yourself to regular deadlines and make sure your work is progressing. 

  • you have a group of discussion partners who are familiar with your assignment and your thoughts about it. 

  • you do not have to make compromises to accommodate other people's ideas on the direction of the assignment. 

  • you have someone to socialise with during breaks. 

The disadvantages include that it can be hard to stay focused during your writing group meetings. Always remember that the purpose of your meetings is to work seriously and professionally on your individual assignments. For example, save your social chats for the breaks. 

Who should be in your writing group? 

When forming a writing group, find someone:

  • Who shares the same interest. A good basis for forming a writing group is to find other students who are writing on topics related to your topic. You can then help each other explore issues and ideas, and strengthen each other’s projects by providing new input and perspectives. 

  • Who has the same work ethic. A writing group can simply be a community where you meet in the morning and work individually on your assignments, and only talk during breaks - a kind of "break community". This can be a help to get started in the morning and structure your day. 

  • Who you already know. Perhaps you already have a group you have worked with before. Maybe you can support each other during the assignment process. If you had good collaboration before, working together with the same group can be a safe and sensible choice. 

For inspiration on working in writing groups, see for example: Harboe, Thomas (2000): Skrivegrupper. Frederiksberg, Samfundslitteratur.

Online study groups

If you are not able to meet face-to-face in your study group, you can meet online. 

Various online tools are available for written collaboration. You may also set up your own online group room, for example in Zoom, where you can have online meetings, chat and share documents, and you can continue conversations online between study group meetings.

Online meetings while producing text

Some group work can benefit from discussions and talks while you are producing text. This will enable you to discuss questions, possibilities and challenges as you go along. The ‘share screen' function can be useful for this purpose.

TIPS ON ONLINE COLLABORATION IN YOUR STUDY GROUP 

1. Align expectations:

It is a good idea to agree from the start how you want to use online tools, and what you expect from each other.

  • What can we use the chat function for? Should we only chat about academic work, or is it okay to send a funny picture as well? 

  • When do we expect the others to respond? Should we have a time slot when we are "available" to chat, for example from 9 to 12 in the morning? Having a fixed agreement can help avoid frustrations. 

  • Inform each other if there are times when you are not available. 

  • Select a person to “chair” online meetings and to make sure you don’t get side-tracked. Just like in a normal meeting, it is important that someone is responsible for ensuring progression. Therefore, the person selected to chair the meeting should be allowed to sum up or close a discussion. 

2. Be patient

Learning to use a new tool takes time, so give yourselves and each other space to become familiar with the tools. A tool should be a help in your daily study activities, so the aim is to make sure you use it correctly so it does in fact help. 

3. Consider the number of people in a chat

If a lot of people are in the chat, it can easily become "noisy" and side-tracked. But at the same time, it has the advantage that the entire group can follow the discussions and that nobody misses important information or agreements. 


See also

Digital services

There are a number of free digital services that your group can benefit from. Here is a sample

  • Google Docs is particularly well-suited for writing and editing in the same document.
  • In Onedrive, you can share documents, articles and empirical data.
  • Use Evernote as a unified workspace to generate ideas, write together and share links.
  • Make a joint to-do list using Microsoft To Do.  
  • Doodle can be used to plan which days you can meet farther in the future.
  • Create a private group or thread on Facebook and bring the latest updates, links and comments.