You have an important exam tomorrow and you’re worried you didn’t study enough. You may wonder — should you open up your notes and textbook for some last-minute reading or call up a few students in a similar situation for a group study session?
But the answer depends on a few factors.
First, let’s take a look at both the self and group studying styles to get a sense of their benefits and drawbacks.
Self-study is what most often comes to mind when you think of studying. It generally involves sitting in a quiet room and poring over notes and learning materials. This studying style is tried and true for a reason — it comes with distinct advantages.
Self-study allows you to read and reread material without interruptions. This can be helpful when learning complex topics.
Sometimes in a group study session, other students may dwell on topics you have thoroughly studied or they’ll blast past a concept you’ve been struggling with. Self-study allows you to take responsibility for your own learning and focus on the topics you need more time with.
While research comparing group and self-study is still underway, it appears that students who practice group studying in addition to some self-study have improved test scores and they're less likely to drop out of school.
If you can keep your study group on track, you may be able to learn more together than you would alone. You may also feel more motivated while studying with a group, meaning you’ll be able to study for longer periods.
Another benefit is that fellow classmates may have a better understanding of concepts that you struggle with — allowing you to fill in some of the gaps in your knowledge. Other students are sometimes able to explain concepts in ways that click for you — especially for concepts where an instructor’s explanations did not help.
Teaching concepts to others may actually help you better grasp the concepts yourself. Consider using a group study session to take advantage of this fact.
There’s a time and a place for having group and self-study sessions. Take the following into consideration when creating your study plan.
You may find that you have better academic results when studying by yourself or with a group. However, certain topics can lend themselves better to one studying style over the other.
When memorizing long lists of words, for example, it may help to have someone else quiz you in addition to having your own flashcards.
If you’re interested in studying with a group, make sure that the people you study with are at a similar level with the learning material. This will allow you to be on the same page about what topics to cover.
Groups of two or even three may be less distracted and unproductive than groups of five or more. Just make sure that the people you study with are equally dedicated to doing well in school.
Both studying by yourself or with a group have their advantages and disadvantages. Sometimes the content will make the choice an easy one. Otherwise, you should choose a study mode based on your individual situation and by considering what has worked for you in the past.