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Study groups: are they just a waste of time?

Students of all courses can benefit from a study group

Study groups can be a great way to learn, collaborate, share notes, revise, cram for exams, solve problems and improve team-working skills, which is good practice for the workplace.

However, a poorly run study group can be a waste of time, which is why it's important to follow a few simple rules.

Try to make sure your group is made up of people who are as enthusiastic as you are, who turn up to lectures and who take notes. Limit the size of the group to between four and six people and set ground rules early.

Make sure you all agree on the structure. For example, when and where you meet, and the agenda should be decided in advance. Choose one person each time to lead the group (this is a great way to learn the skill of chairing a meeting).

You might choose a tough problem to work through – one where group knowledge will help solve it faster – or you could discuss possible exam questions to benefit from the group's shared knowledge. Use the study group to test each other by asking people to explain key concepts in their own words.

Students of all courses can benefit from a study group, but it's especially useful for subjects with complex theories, like engineering or government administration, as well as subjects where discussing different approaches can really enhance your knowledge base, like youth work or hospitality.

Make sure everybody comes prepared with notes, textbooks and ideas at the ready, and work hard to ensure everybody gets to contribute. It's easy for one person to dominate group activities, so have a rule that everybody has to contribute at least once during the session.

People have different learning styles and might need time to process their thoughts before discussing them, so it's a good idea to reserve time for working in pairs as well as five minutes of solo work. Playing to everyone's strengths will help ensure that each student benefits in the long run.

Finally, if you find there's an imbalance in the group – for example, if you're the one always sharing your notes or teaching the others, or if you find that the group doesn't get much done – don't drag your feet about leaving it. Your time is precious, after all.

If you're looking to join or start a study group, your TAFE NSW lecturers may be able to put you in touch with other like-minded students. Similarly, the student association at your campus may be able to help.