How to Create a Study Group

Since you began law school, you have probably heard dozens of people recommend studying with a group.  Well, those people are right; listen to them!  However, that may be easier said than done.  How should a student create a study group?  Many students have no idea how to begin.  Keep reading for some advice about creating a study group. 

First, have any groups already been created for you?  Often during orientation or on the first day of class, administrators or professors place students into groups.  If this happened to you, you’re practically done; your study group already formed.  Talk with the group, determine who is interested, and then make a plan. 

You may think this is a very haphazard way to create something as important as a study group, but it isn’t that risky.  Most students in law school had to be smart, hard workers to make it that far.  The odds against getting an ignorant slacker are in your favor.  Also, if you do have someone who doesn’t want to put for the effort, he or she will usually decline the initial invitation or drop out after a couple meetings. 

If you weren’t lucky enough to have a study group handed to you, don’t worry; creating your own won’t be that difficult.  First, you may not want to start by populating your group with your friends.  You like your friends.  You get along with your friends.  You don’t mind spending time with your friends.  All of that is true, but all of that could be a problem.  One of the main complaints students have about study groups is that they never get any work done.  Before many groups can discuss what constitutes a valid contract, the conversation has devolved into a discussion of who punched whom on the latest episode of Real Housewives of Whatever County.

Your study group is like a business partnership.  You are there to accomplish a specific task, and the better you focus on that task, the more helpful the time with the group will be.  Sure, you can have a good time with your study group, and if none of you has trouble focusing, studying with your friends can be great, but if you can think of any reason why a friend group wouldn’t work, don’t hesitate to look elsewhere.

So whether you need a whole team of total strangers for your group or you and your buddy are looking for a couple folks to round it out, the next step is to watch and listen while you are in class.  Which students always seem to be prepared?  Depending on your personality, you may want to avoid the “gunners,” but finding students who are clearly as serious as you are about learning the law is important.  If you can tell that a student hasn’t prepared for class, you can probably feel safe betting he or she won’t prepare for your study group.  If a student never knows an answer, never has his book, and often doesn’t even come to class, you probably want to choose someone else.  However, that doesn’t mean you only need the absolute smartest people in your group.

Some students think they should only have the very brightest people in a study group, but a more varied group will likely be more beneficial.  When students are studying, they likely have two settings: either they understand or they are confused.  If a student is confused, he or she will need a group member to help clarify the confusion.  If a student understands, he or she could be the one to clarify for others.  Often, the best way to prove you really know something is to try to explain it to someone who doesn’t understand.  By varying the ability level of the members of your study group, you increase the likelihood that you will get to play both roles at different times, which will help ensure that you understand the material by the end of the semester.

Once you have your group, or while you are finalizing membership, you should agree to a set of rules.  What will your goals be?  What must each member prepare for each meeting?  What will the format of your sessions be?  If a group member cannot abide by the rules, he or she should probably leave the group.  If a student isn’t contributing, the rest of the group will quickly become frustrated with that student reaping any benefits.  (Watch for a future post explaining how to “break-up” with a study group.)

Study groups can be a very important and beneficial part of the law-school learning process.  Many students have had bad, or at least mediocre, experiences with study groups in the past.  However, if you follow the simple steps above, you will be able to form an efficient study group, and you will quickly see how helpful it can be.  If you have any questions about how to form a study group, what to do once you have one, or anything else, please don’t hesitate to come by the Academic Success Department.  We’re ready to help!