College represents a world of change, whether you're a freshman in undergrad or starting your first semester of graduate school. It's a special period of new found independence, but you still call your parents when you hit a pothole and can't afford new tires. Along with standard culture shock comes an increase in academic difficulty, cortisol levels, blood sugar, and hypertension. Exams in college and the amount of studying required to do well on them can look very different from high school. Luckily, you no longer have to ask your parents if you can stay late at a friend's house to study with your buddies.
The first step to creating a study group is, of course, pizza. For my college friends and I, group studying didn't really exist without pizza. It became a tradition to have a couple slices (or a whole pie) before important exams, and it just so happened that important exams happened all the time. Looking back, our indulgence was not completely unfounded. Having something to look forward to while studying is just one of the many mental tricks you can play on yourself in order to actually get all of your work done. Group studying lends itself to a handful of these little tricks including tasty food, socialization, laughter, and a shared feeling that you're all screwed for the exam, which is almost a comforting feeling when you aren't alone with it (even when it's not true).
Group studying should not be the only way that you attempt to digest information. In fact, studying by yourself is likely more advantageous than studying in a group. However, there are many benefits to studying in a group that you just can't get from being by yourself. One benefit is that you have access to your peers thoughts as they look at the same information. Everyone is going to digest and rationalize information differently, and having someone else explain something to you can lead to a presentation style that is far easier for you to internalize. So if you find yourself reading a slide or paragraph over and over, just ask someone else to explain it to you. This also leads to moments when you are relied on to explain a complicated topic. In my opinion, nothing will better prepare you for an exam than being able to teach someone else the content. Once you have reached that level on any given topic, you can consider yourself prepared.
Another tool to utilize during group study is the "Bro, quiz me on ...." approach. Perhaps you aren't sure about whether you are adept enough in a topic to move onto the next powerpoint set. You can easily have someone quiz you on things off the top of their head and see how you do. Just like teaching someone else, coming up with quiz questions ends up being very useful for comprehension. It allows you to visualize what information is relevant and what questions are likely to come up on an exam. This exercise often results in you being exposed to questions that end up on the actual exam, which almost feels like accessing a cheat sheet.
Personally, I followed the 80/20 rule, meaning that 80% of my studying was done solo and 20% was done in a group. This was a tip that I often gave to students who came to me for tutoring (yes, I was that nerdy student tutor). The deep dive required for genuine understanding of complicated subjects is a depth much easier reached when you're alone. There are all kinds of tips for entering "the zone" which is ideal for performing these deep dives, and we'll cover those in another post. The point is, being in a group setting can add a hurdle to entering "the zone", so make sure to set aside time for self study. The 80/20 breakdown was something I discovered for myself as the most efficient use of my time, but feel free to try different combinations.
Group studying also plays the role of accountability. When you schedule a time with friends to study together, you've made a commitment. Now the guilt that comes with laying on the couch doing nothing is compounded by the feeling of bailing on a commitment. Just like when you were 7 years old and your parents wouldn't let you quit that sports team, you should avoid quitting on your friends now. This principle applies to a lot of things that you may find unpleasant but know are beneficial. Doing something with someone else to hold you accountable is a true life hack, so take advantage of it when it comes to things like working out or dieting.
Some of my fondest memories of graduate school are associated with group studying. Some truly ludicrous things can occur after a couple of hours of intense thought with your best friends, and I encourage you to let them happen. These are the things you'll remember. Looking back, studying with my friends was immensely helpful for enhancing my life both inside and outside the classroom, and I couldn't recommend it enough.