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How to Study in a Group and Actually Focus

  • Sean 

Are you struggling to stay focused while studying in a group? In this article, I will explain exactly how to improve group focus and make the most of your group study sessions.

The key to staying on track while studying in a group comes down to the fundamentals of group work.

You need to choose your groupmates wisely and keep the group size between 2-5 people. You also need your sessions to be well organized with a clear time, location, and a plan of what will be done during the session itself. During the session define clear goals, use a timetable, and take regular breaks. Following these fundamental principles of group study work should yield the best results.

However, there is a lot more that goes into each of these fundamental components when it comes to staying on track. Let’s go through these step-by-step.

First, we need to determine the size of our group.

How big Should your Study Group be?

The size of your group is going to depend on what your group aims to do during their sessions. If your group is just aiming to study together for accountability your group should be around 2-5 people. However, if you plan on working together on a topic keep the group size to just a maximum of 3 people.

If you are working together on a topic It’s generally going to be better to keep your study groups on the smaller side because each person should be able to teach and explain what they are working on and get the help of their group mates.

If there are too many people each groupmate doesn’t have much time or attention from the rest of the group. You could always lengthen study sessions to help with this but the sessions could get quite long.

If there are too many people this just isn’t going to be an effective strategy because there isn’t enough time for each person to get the benefits of working together.

How to Choose Study Group Members

Here are a few of the qualities you should be looking for in your study group mates.

  • Ability to focus and work hard: This is the most important quality to look for. If you don’t think they can focus in a group you shouldn’t study with them. Even 1 person who is very distracting can totally derail a study session.
  • Similar education background: Ideally this means that they are working on the same stuff as you, but just having a similar major or knowledge background is also very effective.
  • Willing to help: if you are working together on a topic they need to be willing to put effort into helping the other groupmates apart from themselves. It is a group activity after all.
  • Have a compatible schedule: If their schedule is not compatible they won’t be able to come to the group sessions.

How to Organize a Study Group

organizing a study group correctly is crucial to having focused study sessions. There are a few options when it comes to organization.

Pick a Good location

Location is crucial when it comes to a focused study group. This biggest decision will be whether your sessions are online or in person. But above all, find a place to study that is quiet, comfortable, and free from distractions.

Online study group

There are a lot of options when it comes to studying online with other people.

  • Discord or Zoom: Using a service like Discord or Zoom means that you can still select and study with a small group of people and maintain accountability.
  • Study with me online services: You can also join services like studystream, studytogether, or studyverse and study with many other students. The only issue here is that you can’t choose who you study with and have the same level of accountability as with a personal group.
  • Study with me streams and videos: These are a great option for many of the same reasons as the other services. The difference here is that study with me content is focused on the particular content creator. I think this helps to create some focus around a particular person that holds you accountable.

In-person study group

When it comes to studying in person there are a few solid options.

  • University study spaces: Universities often have rooms used for collaboration and group work that you can use (often in the library). These are probably the best option because they are designed exactly for this. They often have whiteboards etc as well.
  • Cafes: These are a good location but you will have to make sure you can find enough seating. On top of this, the time you can spend will probably be lower compared to other locations. I have a complete guide to getting the most out of cafe studying if you are interested.
  • A groupmates house: This is a very nice location to be in, but it can also be very distracting if you are not careful. If you want to know how to stay focused here I have an article on my strategy for staying focused at home.

Pick a time

When picking a time for a group study session it’s important that it’s compatible with everyone’s schedule and that it can be repeated every week.

This time needs to be repeatable week to week. This way you can leverage the benefits of studying in groups over the long term.

Plan out the study session

So how do you stay on track during the actual group study session?

Set goals

No matter what you choose to do during a group study session, is important that you set clear and defined goals. Ideally, you have a whiteboard or piece of paper where these are written down so that everyone can see them.

Use a timetable

If you want to take it a step further, It’s even better to actually plan out the session using a timetable. You don’t need to be super strict on the schedule but having some structure rather than none can be extremely helpful. How this schedule looks will depend on what you plan on doing in your session but an example might look like this.

Example group study schedule: Teaching each other the material

Goal: Teach each other the material for 40 minutes

20 min: Joe teaching chapter 1

5: min Q&A

20 min: John teaching chapter 2

5 min: Q&A

Take breaks

Also, make sure in your schedule planning to include regular breaks. Try to leave the study space during these breaks. This means you can still have fun with your group but your study sessions stay on track because distraction is contained during the non-studying time.

Study Session Learning Techniques

Photo from Vanderbilt University Center for Teaching

Now that you have selected your groupmates and organized a time/location you just have to figure out what you are going to do during your sessions.

Teach each other using the Feynman Technique

Teaching each other is the most effective way to use a study group. This allows you to use higher-level learning techniques that are more effective than what most other students typically use.

This can be explained by looking at Bloom’s taxonomy (a system for knowledge mastery). This is a big topic so I will be brief.

Essentially, the higher the level of your learning happens on the pyramid (see image above) the better and more complex your retention and understanding will be. Teaching information with a Q&A can be classified according to this in layers 2-4, depending on the questions being asked.

Independently work together

Lastly, you can also use a study group as a way to create some motivation to get studying via accountability.

Each person can say to the group what they plan on doing for a work session (better yet, write it down) and then everyone works independently.

After the session, everyone can report on their progress. This gives some pressure to focus since you have to discuss your progress at the end.

Even if you don’t explicitly use an accountability strategy like described above you can still get motivation by just being in a room full of people being productive.