After two months of starting your classes, you may now have moved from the excitement stage to the stage of overwhelmed-with-reading-and-assignments. Some of you may have handled the situation very well, but for some others, foreign language and unfamiliarity with the education system can become quite a challenge to cope with.
In the past year, I have learned that setting up study groups can alleviate our pressure and help us understand the materials better. In this post, I am going to share some tips from my experience and LSE Teaching and Learning Centre on how to make the most of the study groups.
1. Form a small but efficient group
Four to five people in the group are enough; the bigger the group is, the more ineffective your study group will be. You can ask people from your seminar or tutorial group to join the group. In selecting your study mates, try to look for classmates who come not from the same region as yours because the similarity of your worldviews might confirm your blindspot in analyzing particular research questions.
2. Develop a routine
I had study groups for all of my classes. During the term time, we assigned each one of us to summarize and give critics to the readings. Before the seminar started, we met to discuss the reading and the lecture in that week. If you happen to have a free rider in your team that never contributes in writing summaries or critics to the reading, never feel hesitate to give a reminder. Once you tolerate the free-riding to take place, the rest of the teammate will not take your routine seriously. Developing a routine will help you during the exam time or when you write an essay because you will have covered the entire syllabus. Plus, you understand the contention points brought by your peers.
3. Seek for devil’s advocates
When you put hours to write an essay or dissertation, you become overly attached to your argument and every word in it. As the ramification, you no longer have fresh eyes to criticize your piece. Thus, your study groups can be of a great help in giving you second opinions on the structure of your essays and the logic of your argument.
4. Use study groups for mock exams
In the UK system, some universities put June-July as the exam term. This means you will have exams for courses in Michaelmas and Lent terms. Depending on your lecturers, you may still have to face the sit-in exams. For some people who just returned to school after some years of professional experience, this sit-in exam model can be very frustrating. Not to mention, the back-to-back exams within the month adds more pressure on you.
Do not hold the grudge to yourself, but turn it into something productive. You and your peers can sift through past exam paper, which is usually available at the library or online. Then, you can dedicate one full day for everyone to sit together in an empty classroom and set the alarm for working on the question. The aim for this rehearsal is to warm you up with the intense situation during exams and to gauge how far you comprehend the topics, including how far you can finish your argument in one hour. After the mock exam, you can pass on the answers to other persons who will review, rectify or add more ideas on your answers. You can also comment on the writing style and the structure of the essay. For those of you who get used to typing on a computer for making notes, this rehearsal is also a timely opportunity for you to test how legible your handwriting is. Do not underestimate the negative implication of its illegibility towards your mark.
5. Do the team bonding
Put the serious session aside, your team can be highly productive if you know each other well outside of the classroom. So, by all means, find time out to hang out together – either just taking a lunch break at the park or go to see a movie.