How to Run a Successful Study Group

Study groups are a popular way to learn in college. Get-It-Done Guy has a few simple practices to help your study group be much more effective.

Stever Robbins
5-minute read
Episode #239

It’s back to school time and Get-It-Done Guy podcast listener Amanda posted a question on my Facebook page and via email:

“How do I run a successful study group?”

A study group meets around a shared goal. It’s like a team in business, only the purpose is a bit different, and you don’t have a psychotic boss demanding impossible things in an unrealistic time frame…just a psychotic professor, demanding you understand impossible things in an unrealistic time frame.

Here are 9 tips to manage a successful study group:

Tip #1: Start With the Goal

Start with your goal. Make sure everyone in the group agrees on why you’re there. For example, a good goal would be to learn the material. Some people may be showing up just to fulfill a requirement, or to have an impressive class on their transcript, or because their parents always wanted them to be a doctor, or a lawyer.

If you all have similar goals to your group-mates, great! You’ll be able to help each other reach them. If you all have wildly different goals, you’re probably doomed and should abandon school to start an anarchist collective. If most of you agree on goals, but one person is out-of-step with the rest, you may want to trade members with another group. If that’s not possible, there are simple brainwashing techniques that will bring your lost little lamb back to the flock.

Tip #2: Choose Your Members For the Long Term

It’s extremely crass to choose your friends on the basis of who you think will someday have the most money, power, and connections. But they’re not your friends yet, so it’s fine to choose your study group that way. This is called “planning for retirement.”

They never tell you that the people in your study group will probably still be your friends 20 years from now. But it’s true. Choose your friends wisely and they can help you succeed in a lot more than Introduction to N-Space Manifolds in Almost-Complete Hamiltonian Geometries 101.

Tip #3: Balance Your Strengths

Different people are good at different things. My pal Bernice has a photographic memory when it comes to classifications. Show her an essential oil, crystal, or Tarot card, and she’ll not only remember it forever, but also be able to describe the entire history that led to its discovery and development. When we’re studying anatomy, or bookkeeping, or genealogy—any subject that requires memorizing and organizing large amounts of information—she becomes our expert, because she’s got it mastered before the rest of us have opened page one.


About the Author

Stever Robbins

Stever Robbins was the host of the podcast Get-it-Done Guy from 2007 to 2019. He is a graduate of W. Edward Deming’s Total Quality Management training program and a Certified Master Trainer Elite of NLP. He holds an MBA from the Harvard Business School and a BS in Computer Sciences from MIT.