Study group: Learn effectively in a study group

There's no need to revise alone at home when you can acquire new knowledge with others in a study group. These groups are perfect for students who are studying the same subject and have to revise the same material.

by Sinah Vonderweiden

Study group working on a computer © DAAD/Sinah Vonderweiden
Study group working on a computer . © DAAD/Sinah Vonderweiden

Discussing questions together in a group allows you to reflect on and deepen your understanding of what you've already learned in class. This can help you fill the gaps in your own knowledge and help other students fill theirs.

Everyone benefits – Cross-checking what you know

There are many advantages to studying together in a small group. For one thing, it encourages good study habits. The members usually meet on a regular basis – which means it's harder to avoid the unavoidable, in other words, to procrastinate. And usually it's more fun revising together – and much more motivating!

Every member brings something positive to the group as a whole. Not only do you benefit from the knowledge of the others, but you can also check whether you've understood the material of the lecture by explaining it to them. It's generally easier to ask questions in a small group of friends. If you're afraid of raising your hand and asking your professor a question in front of hundreds of students, then a study group is an ideal alternative. For new students in particular, study groups are an opportunity to meet people and make new friends.

Students working on a computer © DAAD/Sinah Vonderweiden
Students working on a computer . © DAAD/Sinah Vonderweiden

Where do I find a suitable study group?

It's not always easy finding a study group, because many students get together outside the university. The simplest way is to ask your classmates during a seminar or lecture about their study groups. There's also a "Schwarzes Brett", or central notice board, at many universities where you'll find information about various study groups. And if you don't find anything there, you can speak with your departmental student council (Fachschaftsrat). The student representatives can get in contact with all the students in your department and help you find a study group.

Many universities also operate online study portals where you can find forums or newsgroups for study groups in various subjects. You might also want to inquire at your lecturer's administrative office about whom you should speak with.

How do I start my own group?

Finding a study group can sometimes be difficult, especially if you've just enrolled as a new student. It is important to find students who are approximately as far along in their studies as you are – in your semester at best. You can also start your own study group. All you have to do is post a notice on the "Schwarzes Brett". A lot of students communicate online; by posting in forums and groups on your university's website, on Facebook or other social networks, you'll definitely find others who are also interested in joining a new study group. Another way of finding study partners is by simply "spreading the word", telling your student representatives and fellow classmates about your new group.

Group of students working on computers © DAAD/Sinah Vonderweiden
Group of students working on computers . © DAAD/Sinah Vonderweiden

The magazine "Via medici" for medical students offers the following advice: "Learning experts and professors alike recommend small study groups with no more than four people. However, study groups should supplement, not replace home learning." If you do find someone interested in forming a group, you should discuss in advance whether you both have the same learning goals! If too many of you want to concentrate on too many different areas, it can make everyone dissatisfied. Ideally, everyone in the group should have about the same level of knowledge so that you can share and learn from one another on an equal basis. If one member isn't familiar with the fundamentals and everyone else is further ahead, it could make everyone frustrated in the end.

If you're planning on starting a group, keep the following points in mind:

  • Find a place you can work undisturbed, for example, an empty room at the university or at someone's flat.
  • Arrange dates for future meetings together so that everyone can regularly participate.
  • Tea, coffee and snacks keep the energy level up, if you've got a lot of studying ahead of you.
  • Once you've found people for your study group, exchange mobile numbers and e-mail addresses. This way everyone can quickly contact each other, if a meeting needs to be cancelled or postponed.
  • You can also choose a spokesperson, who is in charge of the organisational matters.
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