Recipe for a successful group study session

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Recipe for a successful group study session

Group study sessions. It seems too good to be true – hanging out with your friends, motivating each other, sharing resources…it’s like killing half a dozen birds with one stone.

Except if you’ve ever tried to organise a group study session, you might realise that it doesn’t always go down the way you expect. You start by spending far too long talking about what to study, then make a mess of your snacks that you have to clean up, and then that classmate who’s always late shows up and spends ten minutes apologising for being late, and finally you realise you’ve lost your copy of the physics syllabus. Before you know it, you’ve spent 4 hours preparing to study together but haven’t actually started.

Or…you can avoid that scenario with a little preparation and planning. So, without further ado, here are some tips to get you ready for a productive and stress-free group study session:

Be COVID-safe

Just a quick reminder to be informed and aware of physical distancing and gathering rules when organising your group study sessions. Remember that you can also do this remotely via voice or video calls.

Keep it small

As fun as it sounds to invite a dozen friends to a study session, larger groups can often be counter-productive. Sure, you might achieve a greater mix of skills and strengths, but you’ll soon find that this is vastly outweighed by the complexity of trying to cater to so many people’s needs. Smaller groups are significantly more conducive to fruitful discussion that allows active participation from everyone.

To keep it productive, limit yourself to groups of no more than 4-5. If you have a large group, spend the first five minutes (ONLY five minutes – set a timer) figuring out how to divide yourselves into smaller groups based on your goals for the session.

Make an agenda

You’d be surprised how easy it is to spend half an hour deciding what to study. Before the session, decide what your goals are for that time. It’s important to be specific. ‘Study some chemistry’ is not a helpful goal to set – you might end up complaining about all the ion tests you have to memorise rather than actually revising. A better goal would be ‘Revise flame and precipitation tests from Module 8 and complete 20 minutes’ worth of past paper questions’.

Don’t be afraid to talk

Communication is key. Remember, your classmates are not mind-readers!

Be assertive, be respectful and be vocal about what’s working and what isn’t. If you think the group needs to stop talking about Minecraft and start talking about circle geometry, then say so. If you’re puzzling over a difficult integration, and the shy maths genius in the group isn’t speaking up, address a question to him/her. And if you glance at the clock and see that it’s past midnight, speak up and call it a night.

Don’t be afraid not to talk

A group study session doesn’t have to be 100% group discussion. In fact, it can be quite helpful to spend some time quietly working together. There’s something about having another person studying with you that inspires (or guilts) you into being productive. Between my own trial exams and HSC, a good friend of mine would come over and we’d sit at the dining table together to do past papers. Despite hardly exchanging a single word all day, these study sessions were extremely productive, because we were keeping each other accountable and creating an environment where we could each focus on our work without distraction.

Make a post-session to-do list

During the study session, have a notebook and pen in hand to write down anything you need to do afterwards. For example, if someone mentions Pascal’s triangle and you’d forgotten that it existed, write it down so you remember to revise it later. Or if you discover that your classmates are still confused after you’ve tried to explain Le Chatelier’s Principle, note it down to revise and re-explain at a later time.

Now for some exercises to try. You can incorporate some of these into your agenda for the study session or use them to break up periods of intense concentration.

Find the dot point

Each participant should have a copy of the syllabus at hand. Grab a past paper and pick a random question. Read it out and have each person race to find the syllabus outcome(s) that the question is testing. Then answer the question.

The is a useful exercise because it fosters a closer appreciation of the syllabus content, which will not only make you more aware of what you’re supposed to know, but also guide you to answer questions in the most efficient and relevant fashion.

The minute talk

If you can’t explain something in a clear and simple manner, then you do not understand it fully. Trying to teach something can seriously strengthen your understanding and shed light on things that you think you know but could probably understand better.

Set a timer for one minute and have someone else pick a syllabus outcome or concept. For one minute and one minute only, attempt to explain that concept to your peers. Then repeat with the next person.

Silent half-hours

Set a timer for half an hour. In that half-hour, no one is to speak (or text, or type, or sign, or tap in Morse code). Use that time of total and utter silence to focus on doing practice questions or revising notes.

This is particularly helpful if your group is becoming unfocused or rowdy. It’s a bit like the equivalent of Sleeping Lions in kindergarten, except more productive.

Peer marking

Choose a past paper where you have access to the sample answers and marking criteria. Answer one question at a time, then swap answers. Use the marking criteria to mark each other’s answers.
This will teach you to think like the marker. This is important for learning to write concise and targeted answers, and to use the relevant vocabulary that will demonstrate a thorough knowledge and understanding of the material.

So there you have it – a list of tips and exercises so that you can cook up the most successful group study session in the history of the HSC.

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