a mix of 5 med school study group participants in front of text saying Group studying: Effective or just familiar

Group Studying: Effective or Just Familiar?

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If Study Groups Don’t Work for You – That’s Okay!

Group studying is among the top study strategies given to struggling students. But they don’t work for everyone. This multi-part series examines the types of people in study groups, why students might join one, and ways to know if it’s just not working for you. 

Is Group Studying Not Working for You? 

When someone who is struggling says, “I need a study group,” I think they often try to say they need to change how they are studying. But they don’t have the vocabulary and tools to make the necessary changes. 

That might mean a variety of things: 

  • Maybe study groups worked in the past, so students think they will work now. Keep in mind, just because study groups worked previously in a different (and likely less demanding) academic environment does not mean they will work now. 
  • Maybe they want to make learning interactive and dynamic. Perhaps people use study groups to actualize interactive learning methods like retrieval practice and feedback, finding structure, or addressing objectives. My recommendation is to learn to operationalize study methods that allow you to do this independently instead of relying on other people. 
  • Maybe they want to be social because they study constantly and feel isolated, so this is the only way they see human faces. This is a real phenomenon! Many struggling medical students will study themselves to the bone, never seeing the light of day and never taking a break. So the study group becomes an opportunity to see and interact with real flesh-and-blood people with the excuse that it is for studying. But in reality, it is a way to assuage feelings of guilt for not always studying. This is sub-optimal, to put it mildly, and can be replaced by learning an array of highly effective study methods that can be used autonomously. Then students can see real people in a way that is more rewarding and focused. 
  • Maybe they want retrieval practice. Retrieval practice (self-testing) is the holy grail of study skills, whether we know it or not. So, it’s possible students seek out study groups because that is the only way we think we can experience it. This is a fallacy, of course, and any student can engage in retrieval practice on their own.
  • Maybe they want to be taught. Maybe they want to be that SILENT SPONGE or even an INTERACTOR, but the nature of the group does not allow it, or maybe it isn’t how they need to learn at this level. Perhaps they are starting at a different place knowledge-wise, or the group approaches the material with a bottom-up perspective, and you need it top-down. It could be that there are too many Chaos Agents. Maybe the Ringleader is not addressing the material in the way that they need. Again, the key is learning how to be a master of your learning. 
  • Maybe they don’t have any other ideas: Some people are in study groups because they don’t have any other ideas about learning and studying and maximizing their time. For example, they might say, “At least if the group starts at 4:00, I will start studying at 4:00,” using them as an external locus of control for time management. Maybe they think, “At least it is better than reading and reviewing my notes” because they don’t have better study tools. This shines a light on one of my most painful but accurate observations: No one teaches smart med students how to study, especially in med school. 

These issues and more can be resolved by learning a wide array of study methods. These can be learned in our STATMed Class or elsewhere. But it makes a ton of sense to me to learn a diverse and flexible set of discrete skills to optimize autonomous, individual learning in med school and beyond. Then, if you want to team up with a partner or group, you can have that option but are not beholden to that. 

Are you spending countless hours in a study group without results? With the STATMed Class, we provide a wide range of tools and strategies so that every time you sit down to study, you’ll know exactly what to do to get the most bang for your buck.

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