Get a great study group in 3 easy steps

When you have the right people together, study groups can be a great way to really learn your stuff.

students studying together Photo: Jordan Zarvie
This article was updated from a previous version published in 2019.

Study groups are a great way to learn from others and share ideas, and work with other people instead of locking yourself in your room or a corner of a coffee shop for weeks at a time. But they can also be frustrating and distracting for many people. I talked to Jessica, Dal's Studying for Success coordinator, to get some pro tips on how to make and keep a great study group. Here's what she recommends.


Step 1: Find your perfect study squad

Find people with the same academic goals as you. It might be tempting to work with your best friend, but if you know they’ll spend the whole study session talking about the Netflix show they watched last night, they might not be the best group member. Work with people who will motivate you and who want to work together towards a specific goal. It’s a good idea to form groups early, so you know that you can work well with the other members and adjust things if they aren’t working.

Size matters! Big groups can be hard to manage. It’s hard to find a time that works for 10 different people, and even harder for everyone to contribute equally to your discussions, which can be a potential source of conflict. It can also be hard to stay on topic. An ideal group size can range from 3–5 members. This way, you’ll have different ideas and opinions about a topic and everyone will have a voice.


Step 2: Be prepared for each study session

Be prepared! There is (almost) nothing worse than sitting in a group discussion and having no idea what anyone is talking about. Treat your study group like a review session—a chance to ask questions or go over a concept that might be a bit confusing. It’s not your group’s job to teach you the entire course (and vice versa). We suggest making a list of specific questions you want to ask during the session based on the course material.

Have a game plan. It’s not realistic to cram your entire biology syllabus into a single study session. Just like studying individually, you need to break the material into small chunks or sections. Instead of planning to just “study for biology”, make a plan to go over lecture 1 for an hour and then lecture 2 during the next hour. Make sure you plan to take breaks during your study session as well. We don’t recommend sitting in the same place for more than 2 hours. Take 15-minute breaks to go for a walk, clear your head or have a snack.


Step 3: Be present

Avoid distractions. It’s tempting to work at your favourite coffee shop or your dorm room, but it can be hard to stay focused when you’re surrounded by distractions. Choose a study spot that puts you in an academic mindset: avoid places with TVs, loud music and fridges at all costs!

Unplug! As a rule, nobody should be checking their phones during a study session—even if you're doing it via Zoom or Teams on your laptop. It’s distracting, and it takes you about 5-10 minutes to fully refocus yourself every time you check your notifications. Put phones on do not disturb or airplane mode to mute all noises and leave it in your bag. If you don’t need laptops, leave them at home! Study off of printed notes or your textbook. Instagram will still be waiting for you when you’re finished your work.

Don’t waste time! Remember, your study group is there to help you study. It’s not a time to socialize or gossip. Many conflicts are caused by group members not contributing anything or wasting time by chatting about other things. Stick to the goals and plans you made for your session and come prepared.


There’s no magic recipe for studying, and study groups are no exception. You still need to work hard and be responsible for your own learning! Not everyone learns best in a study group, so make sure you’re trying different study strategies to find the one that works best for you.

Looking for more tips on studying and group work? Check out the Studying for Success program in Halifax and Truro.