Study Groups: A Key to Surviving Grad School

During my first semester as a full-time MBA student last fall, it took me just a few short weeks to realize that study groups were going to be my key to survival.  Many of your professors will tell you this - they often comment that if they notice a student is struggling in their class, the first question they'll ask is "are you working with a study group?" I'm here to tell you: listen to those professors.  They know a thing or two!

There are a number of reasons why study groups are helpful.  Because we're all different, we all benefit from study groups for slightly different reasons.  Here are my favorite things about study groups - do any of them resonate with you?

1.  Study groups hold me accountable.

I'm the same way with working out - if I've made a date to go to yoga with a friend, I'm far more likely to follow through.  Study groups are an extremely effective way for me to mitigate my tendency towards procrastination.  

2.  Study groups keep me sane.

Knowing that I've "booked" the time to work on an assigment or prep for a test helps me to relax a bit and not stress about it constantly.  And once a study group meeting gets underway, I find I am able to tackle the material more easily without getting overwhelmed (or getting up to go wash dishes, or check my email, or look for a sweater I haven't seen in six months, or employing any other avoidance tactic).  There's something about working on tough assignments together with others that makes me feel more focused and more confident.

3.  Teaching others can be a great way to learn.

In many study groups I've been in (especially those for quantitative classes), we take turns teaching each other how to work through problems.  Oftentimes, we book a study room, bring a set of white board markers and work problems out on the board just like our professors do in class.  If you can teach a topic to your classmates, then you truly understand it.

4.  Study groups engage different senses to deepen your learning

As an auditory learner myself, study groups offer a great way to "think out loud," and hear the thought process behind a concept or an equation, which helps the material stick.  Study groups offer benefits for visual learners as well, and by bringing together people with different learning styles, study groups really deepen your understanding of the course concepts.

5.  You can benefit from hearing other people's questions and ways of looking at the material

Sometimes, your classmates will think of questions that would never occur to you - you can learn a lot by listening to other people's questions and learning about the challenges that trip them up.  Everyone in your study group will bring a different point of view to the discussion, which will enrich your learning and give you the edge during an exam or an in-class case discussion.

Overall, study groups are a great tool for both quantitative and qualitative courses here in the School of Management at Simmons.  I've used them to work through homework assigments and prep for quizzes and exams in quantitative courses.  I've also used them to prep for case discussions in qualitative courses (see here for more information on the case method, a learning tool used at most business schools, including Simmons).  

As I head into my final semester at Simmons and begin to prepare for graduation and transitioning into  the next stage of my professional life, I find myself realizing I'm going to miss study groups.  It sounds crazy, I know - I should just be excited for all of this hard work to be over! But study groups have not only been crucial to my learning, but also to forming friendships that will last a lifetime.  I've laughed to  the point of tears in study groups, shared meals in study groups, and taken (short!) breaks to talk about life and career challenges with my classmates.  These study sessions have enriched my life in more ways than I could have imagined.  So go ahead - grab your whiteboard markers, book a study room or schedule a google hangout, and get to work!