If you’ve been finding it difficult to stay connected to your studies and have missed getting to know your classmates, then study groups are a great way to boost motivation and gain new friends along the way. Study groups are a safe and cooperative space for you to stay on track, increase your learning and decrease feelings of isolation while studying online.

Step 1: Create your group

There are a few different methods to finding study partners. You might be allocated to a study group, asked to form your own groups, or even seek out students independently. No matter your method, finding students on the same wavelength will ensure success. Think of some questions to ask potential group members like “what would you like to get out of a study group?” and “how many times per week would you like to meet?” to help get you started.

Step 2: Break the ice

Once you’ve formed your group, the next step is to introduce yourselves. This can be a little bit tricky, particularly in a virtual environment, but there is always a way to break the ice. You could start by asking everyone to say their name, degree and what their interests are. Alternatively, you could ask broad questions like “which skill or talent do you wish you had?” or “where would you like to travel and why?” How about the game Two Truths and a Lie. Give each team member a couple of minutes to come up with two truths and a lie about themselves. Once everyone is ready, choose a pair to go first. One person delivers their two truths and a lie and the second person needs to guess which was the lie. The second person then delivers their two truths and a lie and the first person guesses the lie. Repeat until everyone has had a turn. .

Step 3: Set goals

Successful students are experts not only at setting clear objectives, but also at creating time-based schedules to meet their goals. For this, we recommend that your group sets SMART goals. This means that your goals are specific, measureable, attainable, realistic, and timely. You should record your goals in a shared Google Doc or similar simultaneous collaboration tool. Check out these LinkedIn tutorials to get started in Google Docs.

Don’t be tempted to get together and state that your goal is to “revise the unit.” Instead, set a more specific goal that is measurable. For example, the goal of “write a set of summaries for each week.” This goal is measurable because you can track how many weekly summaries you have written, it is attainable and realistic because you have the skillset as students to summarise learning content, and you have the hard deadline of end-of-semester assessment and exams.  As a team, you could aim to complete and discuss one summary per week.  By summarising and discussing the content outside the classroom, each of you in a study group will become efficient learners.

Step 4: Set up virtual study sprints

Did you know it is a lot easier to maintain motivation to study when you are surrounded by students with similar goals? Perhaps you have seen students studying in groups at the Library or in cafes in silence and wondered if that could also work for you. Chances are it could – particularly while studying online, for you to feel connected to your cohort while also getting ahead in your studies. During a study sprint, you’re motivated to keep going because you can look up and see others working hard.

First, organise a time with your group to all study together on Zoom or similar video conferencing tool. Next, use a time management tool like the Pomodoro method to organise your session. The Pomodoro method uses a simple timer to countdown 25 minutes of study with a 5 minute break at the end of each interval. Most groups like to study in this way for 1-2 hours and we recommend taking a longer break after 2 hours to stretch your legs, have something to eat, and just relax.

When implementing this method online, it is important to nominate a team member as a facilitator. The facilitator is in charge of setting the timer and letting everyone know when time is up. Everyone should mute their microphones, but keep their video on to boost morale and increase the feeling of togetherness despite being in different physical locations. The facilitator should change each week to share the load evenly among group members. 

Step 5: Prioritise recovery

Even though you may feel like you can keep going after a two hour study sprint or lively discussion, remember that most people can only achieve deep focus for three to four hours per day if they’re well-rested, healthy and with low stress levels. Therefore, make sure to prioritise breaks during your study sprints and throughout your day. You may choose to incorporate movement breaks like a walk or yoga or to simply sit and engage in a leisure activity. Remember, our brain needs time to recover from tough mental workouts in order to make long-term connections between concepts.

Step 6: Get talking

Explaining concepts you have learned to others is an underused, but highly effective way of cementing your knowledge by changing the way you engage with the material. Moving from passive activities like reading or listening to active activities like speaking and listening has significant benefits for your study.

Nominate a team member each week to facilitate a discussion topic in your group. The facilitator is responsible for creating an agenda each week to circulate to the group, leading discussion (including ensuring everyone gets a turn to speak), and creating a summary. Facilitators should rotate each week to share responsibility.

Step 7: Assess your progress as a group

Once your group has had a few study sessions together, it is a really good idea to schedule a short session in order to reflect on your progress. During this session, you should ask each other how they are progressing toward their goals, what they have found challenging, and what needs to change to ensure that their goal is met by the deadline.

You may find that you need to tweak elements of your study sessions together in order to get back on track toward your goal. This may be increasing or decreasing frequency of sessions or perhaps communicating outside of study sessions using text-based chat to check in on each other every other day between meetings. Being able to self-assess progress is one of the core characteristics of a successful student so make sure that you are incorporating this practice in your study routine.

If you are able to incorporate these seven steps in your study groups, you will be on track for success in no time!  If you are using Microsoft Teams for your study group, check out this library guide designed to help you get the most out of your experience. 

While we want your group to be collaborative, we want to point out that you do need to be careful to avoid collusion. Collusion is when you work together on an assessment that is designed to be an individual effort or unevenly share group assignments.

If you have queries about your own work, your best port of call is your tutor, lecturer, librarian or learning skills adviser. If you are unsure what collusion looks like and want to find out more, we recommend completing the Library’s Academic Integrity tutorial. 


Author Jessica O’Leary is a Learning Skills Adviser at the Law Library.