How to Make the Most of Your Study Group

January 10, 2017
Boris Dvorkin

Learn how to maximize your study group for college exams.

A study group can be your best friend when it comes to SAT/ACT success.

Perhaps you’ve made a New Year’s resolution to put in the work needed to skyrocket your SAT or ACT score—and perhaps you’re afraid deep down that your resolution will be toast before January’s half through. Between AP classes, homework, sports, drama, music, and whatever other extracurriculars you’ve got going on, it seems impossible to find the time—or, more importantly, the motivation—to practice for the SAT or ACT.

Don’t despair! One way to make it easier to keep yourself on track is to study with friends. Not every study group is created equal, though, so here are four simple tips to make sure yours gets off the ground and actually helps you hit a higher SAT or ACT score.

Study group tip #1: set a recurring time

When your study group forms, everybody needs to get together and figure out what time and day the study group will happen every week. For the study group to work, it needs to actually meet, and that means that you (and the people you’re studying with!) need to schedule life around the study group, not vice versa.

If you’re just meeting ad hoc every week, with one person sending out an email being like “hey when does everybody want to meet this week,” it won’t be long before everybody’s calendar turns into a madhouse and people start to bail. Everybody in the group needs to commit to the idea that the study group occupies a fixed slot in the calendar every week and that other incoming activities need to be scheduled around it.

Study group tip #2: make a weekly study schedule

The very first thing you should do at your weekly study group is have everybody whip out a calendar and set up an ACT/SAT study schedule for the upcoming week. Making a study schedule is easy and takes just a minute:

  1. Put in your fixed commitments (school, work, hobbies, etc).
  2. Get a sense of how much free time you have that week and slot in amount of ACT/SAT study blocks that seems doable.
  3. Avoid blocks of less than 30 minutes or more than 3 hours. One to two hour blocks are ideal.
  4. If possible, give yourself one full day of break each week from studying of any kind.

If everybody in the study group makes a study schedule at the same time—and if you all hold each other accountable for your schedules in subsequent weeks—then you can all squeeze more motivation out of yourselves and get more work done for the ACT/SAT even when the study group is not in session.

Study group tip #3: ask for help (even if you think you could figure it out yourself)

At the study group, it’s likely that most people will be working on their own things. However, do not hesitate to interrupt your friends and ask them for help on a tricky problem, even if you’re pretty sure you could get it from the back of the book on your own. Giving your friends an opportunity to explain things to you has several benefits:

  1. You’ve probably heard your teachers say something along the lines of, “You don’t really understand something until you can teach it to someone else.” It’s true. When you ask a friend to explain something to you, you’re actually doing her a favor: by explaining the problem to you, your friend increases her own mastery of the test.
  2. It’s easier and faster to learn something from a friend than from a book.
  3. Giving your friends an opportunity to teach you, to show off their mastery, boosts their confidence and motivation to keep studying.
  4. Asking people for help encourages them to ask you for help in the future when they need it, so that everybody can share in the benefits of teaching and being taught.

Study group tip #4: don’t be afraid to go (a little) off topic

Study groups don’t do any good when they turn into hour-long gossip sessions. That doesn’t mean you need to go into 100% test mode for the entire time you’re there. Your brain needs breaks to avoid burnout and to do some background processing. Mastering a test requires connecting a lot of dots, and some of those dots don’t get connected unless your brain turns “off” for a bit.

These are your friends, after all, so it’s inevitable that you’ll spend some time chatting. Do it in the middle of the study session as a break, though, rather than all at the beginning or the end, and it will help everybody stay on track and ultimately get a higher score.

For more group instruction, take advantage of big savings on SAT/ACT prep throughout the New Year.

Boris Dvorkin Boris scored in the 99th percentile on the PSAT, was a National Merit finalist, and went on to earn two degrees from Case Western Reserve University. As a two-time Kaplan Teacher of the Year, Boris has helped many students achieve their goals and is known for his sense of humor in the classroom. When Boris isn’t helping students tackle tests, he loves playing strategy board games.

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