The 5 W’s to an Effective Study Group

Hey! I am Candace and I facilitate study groups for math! I hold meetings a few times a week and have found the value in group study. I have seen students’ performance flourish after attending regular meetings. A particular student was able to use the study group to save her grade. At the start of the semester, she attended class regularly and rarely missed it. A couple of weeks in, her attendance dropped. Although she resumed her regular attendance, the time she had missed started to affect her understanding of the current material. She caught up to the pace of the class by attending study sessions. When she got back on track, she chose to regularly attend a weekly study group. Through her experience, she had realized that joining the study group had given her an advantage. This student not only passed the class but passed with flying colors. After missing two weeks of class, she ended with an A.

When I was talking with the student, she admitted that she was hesitant to attend the study group for a variety of reasons. It is natural to be timid when considering whether to join a study group. After all, it is unfamiliar. I have been there too. Not only do I lead a study group, I also attend study groups offered for my own courses. For me, joining my first study group was intimidating. I wasn’t quite sure what to expect, and it was far out of my comfort zone. Annette White shared this idea regarding comfort zones: “Each time you try something for the first time you will grow--a little piece of the fear of the unknown is removed and replaced with a sense of empowerment.” It is important to acknowledge your hesitation, but it is equally important to note the ways stepping out of your comfort zone can be of benefit. Study groups can be extremely helpful at any point in the semester, but you may get the most out of them if you start at the beginning. Here are a few ways to, hopefully, make creating a study group slightly easier.


Let’s first talk about who you are looking to create a study group with. Within the first couple of weeks of the semester, you can get a pretty good idea of a few candidates. You should look for those who are attentive in class, have minimal absences, and actively participate, whether it be asking or answering questions. Surrounding yourself with other strong students will encourage you to match their strengths. Some characteristics you may want to consider when selecting your group members are reliability, preparedness, and shared desires--whether that may be achieving a good grade or thoroughly understanding the course material. To create an organized study group, all group members need to be able to rely on each other to be punctual and prepared. Study groups need anywhere from 3-6 members to supply plenty of collaboration while remaining productive. Each group member should be held accountable for their responsibilities. To give members enough time to prepare, these responsibilities should be explicitly laid out prior to the meeting. Let’s talk about those responsibilities.


The responsibilities of each member may look a bit different depending on the organization of your meeting. There are various ways to organize a future study group session. Some examples include comparing notes, creating quiz questions, reviewing for the upcoming test, and leading discussions. The session outline may look different for each class you have. For example, a study group held for a math class would utilize practice problems to review material rather than a group discussion which would best fit a sociology class. If you are holding a study session for a science class, responsibilities may include assigning a member to provide the group with 3 practice problems, having two individuals go over vocabulary presented in a specific chapter of the textbook, and having another member create a quick quiz on the chapter. 

One thing that I have done when leading my study group is asking the students to come prepared with two upcoming test review questions. We organize the list of questions by unit and place them on a PowerPoint presentation. For the remainder of the session, we go through each question individually to ensure students have the chance to ask questions. This layout works because students know what to expect before the session begins. In your study group, the key is to create an agenda to help eliminate confusion. Try to stick to some form of organization, whether the session focuses on a certain unit or multiple units. Outline the agenda for the session that is easy to follow. The sessions should run smoothly if everyone comes prepared. Divide responsibilities evenly across the group so that everyone has something to contribute to the next meeting.


It is important to consider when you are having your next meeting. Consistency is key. Structure will make it so your group sessions can be much more productive. Each session should be scheduled ahead of time. Try to keep the meetings on the same day(s) and time(s). Giving the session more of a permanent time on the schedule through the semester allows students to schedule other events around your meeting. It is easier for group members to commit to attending if you have a recurring day and time for your meetings. These meetings should have a designated start time as well as an end time. It is important to start on time as well as end on time. Previously setting a time slot will give clear expectations. 

The most effective study sessions are held between 1 and 3 hours with intermittent breaks. If the study session goes longer than 3 hours, members tend to lose focus. If the study session is shorter than an hour, not enough information gets covered, and the meeting may seem rushed.


Now that you have selected your group members and have set a schedule, you need a place to meet. It is best to meet in a public space, not only for safety but also to ensure minimal distractions that may come with meeting somewhere personal. Meet in a clean, tidy environment with enough space for everyone’s materials. Your group will yield the best results when people feel comfortable in the study space. Finally, look for a location where you can enjoy the quiet but where you are also allowed to conduct group discussions. While many places do not have rules against speaking loudly, be considerate of those around you.

Weber State’s campuses have excellent options. Both Ogden and Davis campuses have many places available for students to study. In fact, the Stewart Library on the Ogden campus, as well as the Stewart Center on the Davis campus have study rooms you can reserve for up to 2 hours. 

Meeting in person is not always an option. This is where online platforms come into play. I am most familiar with Zoom, seeing as though that is where my entire experience of leading study groups has taken place, but I do know that there are a few others available. However, meeting online does come with its own challenges. If you have taken any virtual courses, my guess is that you know what I am talking about. Before you begin your study session, it would be helpful to agree on virtual expectations. Some of these expectations may revolve around camera use, participation, and punctuality. 


Finally, you may want to know why you would want to create a study group in the first place. Study groups are helpful when you feel like you are losing motivation. Surrounding yourself with students who are in the same position can give you back that motivation to finish out the semester successfully. Study sessions help you to familiarize yourself with the course material outside of class time. Discussions that take place in the meetings assist in auditory repetition, improving memory retention. 

You also may feel more comfortable asking questions in a study group than when you are in a lecture. Everyone has different strengths and understands certain topics better than others. A study group combines those strengths to benefit each member of the group. You can review and build on your notes while also learning new study habits. Study groups provide you with a support system to further your understanding.

Now it may take some trial and error to work out all the kinks, but creating a study group will benefit both you and your classmates. If going out and creating your own study group is a bit too far out of your comfort zone, there are other options. Numerous classes offer group study sessions led by a Learning Assistant or SI Leader and through Learning Communities and Supplemental Instruction. Check out what classes are offered this semester that include these programs. When choosing your classes for next semester, you might even want to seek out those sections with a built-in study group. Whether you choose to construct your own study group or join the class’ study sessions, actively participating in a meeting outside of regular class time will help you make the most of the semester.


Loveless, B. (n.d.). Using study groups. Education Corner.
Pryanikova, A. (2007, April 18). How to form an effective study group. Lawsagna.
The University of Toledo. (n.d.). Study groups: strategies & tips for successful collaboration.

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