Study Groups

bird's eye view of a study group table with several laptops and snacks

Study groups can be an excellent way to bolster or reinforce your understanding of course material. Being part of a group engages you with the course material in a deeper way and allows you to set up mini deadlines and build accountability into your week. Study groups are a place where you can ask questions, practice participation, and get to know your classmates in a smaller setting. Many students like being part of a study group because it helps them to review previous material on a regular basis, making sure they are preparing in advance for midterms and final exams. At Harvard you can participate in study groups from your first year through graduation. Some courses have study groups built in. For others, you may need to create your own group or find a group through a student organization, or you can contact the ARC and we till try to help you.

Interested in creating your own study group? Here are some things to keep in mind:

How to find students for a study group.

Some courses provide a structure for joining a study group, while others will expect you to coordinate your own. There are lots of ways you can find students to study with:

  • Ask your course instructor or TF to distribute an email to course participants.

  • Reach out to classmates in a smaller breakout room (via the chat or verbally).

  • Use Canvas by making your own post to a discussion page or asking your course instructor or TF to consider using the "Student Groups" tool on Canvas.

  • Go to office hours or other support structures for your course, and reach out directly to students you see there.

  • Many student organizations facilitate study group connections, so check in with an organization that you already engage with.

What ground rules should your study group establish?

Dedicate some portion of your first meeting to making sure everyone in the group is on the same page. Make sure you are clear on:

  • Where you will meet (Zoom, Slack, etc.).

  • How often and how long you will meet.

  • Expectations around participation.

  • Processes around admitting new members.

  • Whether you will have "roles" during the sessions (leader, organizer, note-taker).

What kind of work can you do in your study group?

Decide as a group what activities you will do to best meet your study goals for each session. Before setting these goals, please make sure to read your course's collaboration policy, which will indicate what kinds of work can and cannot be completed collaboratively. Here are some ideas for activities you can likely do:

  • Complete practice tests.

  • Go over practice tests.

  • Review course lectures and reading materials.

  • Tackle questions and problems group participants encountered while engaging with course lectures, reading materials, and problem sets.

  • Explain concepts to one another to ensure mastery of material.

  • Take turns teaching course materials to one another.

How to make sure everyone benefits.

Consider how to create a safe, collaborative environment for your study group. Studying involves vulnerability: if participants cannot admit when they don't understand something, the group cannot serve its primary goal of increasing understanding. Here are some things you, as a group, might consider establishing to ensure all participants benefit from your meetings:

  • No single person should dominate study sessions (try using a timer or taking turns in different roles to prevent this).

  • Take the time to learn everyone's preferred names and pronouns.

  • Show awareness of others’ time zones.

  • Show generosity toward those who may have to study in noisy, interrupted environments.

  • Treat all questions with dignity and seriousness. Respect all levels of understanding and familiarity with course materials.

Note: you might set a norm around how long you will spend reviewing any particular area of confusion. If a person in your group is still having trouble after that time has passed, this is a great moment to take advantage of the ARC's Peer Tutoring program. Your study group doesn’t need to do everything!

What are the benefits of joining a study group?

  • Being in a group with a common goal supports and encourages focus on the work at hand.

  • Knowing that you are accountable to others helps you get past procrastination.

  • Taking advantage of everyone’s unique strengths helps mitigate weaknesses.

  • Having the opportunity to explain concepts in your own words helps solidify your understanding of those concepts.

  • Listening to concepts explained multiple ways increases the odds of learning them deeply.

  • Monitoring how your explanations of concepts land with your listeners improves your communication skills. 

  • Participating in a study group develops confidence in speaking and sharing ideas in other group settings. 

  • You will become a stronger learner, teacher, and listener!

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