Study group ideas

As I mentioned in my New Year’s post, I’m running about seven U. of T. study groups this semester.  Each of these has multiple in-person meet-up sessions weekly; most communication within them occurs via Facebook. All of them are rapidly gaining members; I’ve over 200 in one, and considerably fewer in all of the others, but expect minimally forty or fifty people in most of them.

Some of the people within these groups have previously been tutored by me, or are seeking guidance; some of these people are strangers; I know some, and am aware that they are very highly motivated and qualified. Many of these groups are, not surprisingly, science study groups. Regrettably, through sitting in on several life science courses, I’ve noticed that some people present don’t try to actively interact with their material: they simply swallow, regurgitate, and do their best to sit tests well. I haven’t seen too many people answering peers’ questions, or aiding one another, or even learning related content in advance. It’s the “pre-med keener” phenomenon that a lot of people describe, and it is not something I like witnessing, as a person with bio-related experience and, possibly, med-relevant future plans. Whilst I’m certain this form of thought is not as widely spread as it appears, I’d like to encourage people to avoid some aspects of this mentality – those that make you think your grade and not your level of understanding is the only important thing.  At least within the confines of these groups, all of which I’m leading on my own, I’d like to promote interaction, understanding, and enjoyment.

Thus far, here are the ways in which – loosely – I intend to do this:


  • Getting people to introduce themselves via some amusing medium (e.g., a not-too-serious questionnaire)
  • Having people alternate in posting readings.  A friend suggested this, and I think having a different person summarize each chapter of a given text will be very useful.  This will, hopefully, encourage each person to flex his or her reading skills at least once; it will also ensure that if my presentation style doesn’t work for most of those present, we can find one that does.
  • Occasionally polling people for their opinions on the group, themselves, the course, and everything in between.  
  • Setting up presentation schedules:  Having a certain person present a certain lecture, for example.  Of course, no one will be forced to do this, but if anyone’s interested, the option will be made available.
  • Text-message-based question answering: I’ll provide my telephone number for quick course-related consultation; people who prefer texting can contact me via this medium.
  • Mailing list:  Some people don’t utilize Facebook.  I will use course mailing lists to contact them, and will thereafter text them weekly to inform them of upcoming study group events.


  • Scheduling in-person review events at least twice weekly at our university’s libraries
  • Routinely recording and posting lecture audio (for those classes in which the instructors allow such things)
  • Writing lecture notes for every lecture, but comparatively crazy ones.  I firmly believe in the validity of productive distractions, example-rich text, and learning through asking questions. I would aim to include all of this within each set of notes:
      • Interesting facts and examples: I’ve always found it easiest to internalize information that presented itself alongside captivated little facts.  How pleasant it is to learn about the origins of the Roaring Forties when one can simultaneously read about Diomedea exulans’ unbelievable journeys!
      • In-depth ecological or molecular explanations (for biology courses):  When I study molecular physiology, I often find myself beginning to drift towards the “Why?” questions ecology so readily answers.  Conversely, when I’m observing natural phenomena via ecology, I often find myself asking how certain interactions come about – by what molecular basis they are driven.  Making connections between molecular, ecological, and developmental situations can prove very useful to acquiring multifaceted understanding within bio.
      • Chapter summaries in question form:  I find that seeking to create and answer my own questions prior to a test drastically aids me in comprehending course material.  I will be summarizing readings in question form – in other words, I’ll create sets of questions encompassing the content of each chapter.  My fellow students can then read these, attempt to answer them, and compare their answers with mine (which will be provided).  This, I think, will encourage active review.
      • A whole lot of Latin and Greek:  I’ve always used etymology to explain concepts.  I find it’s a lot easier to know what Methanothermobacter does if you can break down its name.
      • Bad puns:  I tend to make dreadful content-related jokes; these usually disgust people sufficiently to foster memorization, haha.
      • Visual aids (e.g., mind maps, intricate diagrams):  Some people greatly enjoy these.
      • Inserting notes under corresponding lecture slides: I find that affixing notes to slides aids my tutoring students in understand what’s going on, so I will seek to apply this here, too.
  • Making unit summations in essay or paragraph form: Some people learn better by reading material in a format that just flows.  I’ll try to condense important concepts into brief short-answer responses.  These could also prove useful should anyone have to resort to heavy cramming (which is typically detail-light and core-concept-heavy)
  • Study tips (e.g., natural ways of staying awake, exam tips that have worked for me)
  • Offering free, personalized tutoring via Top Tutors.
  • Course Question of the Day: Recommended by a friend!  A daily question summarizing course content currently being explored.  Though I’d previously realized how effective this is, I never thought to implement it.
  • Notes from office hours and review meet-ups: If we as a group have some form of question at a review meet-up, I’ll later post my response to it, doing added research if necessary; if our professors discuss something useful during office hours, I will also summarize it via the group.
  • Explanations of multimedia presented in class: Sometimes, an interesting video is shown, but it progresses so rapidly that we can’t understand it.  I’ll try to narrate some media, or otherwise break it down.
  • Assignment, test, and lab solutions and explanations (again, only when permitted by professors): Often times, midterms, assignments, and labs come back to students without clarification.  I would like to try to explain confusing solutions, if I can.
  • Peer editing:  I’ve edited people’s work for many years, so I will offer this free – albeit not particularly useful – service to my classmates, too.


  • Bio-, physics-, literature-, linguistics-, or cognitive science-related news and ideas (e.g., the progress of assorted biotech groups, information in certain journals).  Introducing contemporary connections to the material we examine can foster interest.
  • Summations of debates that routinely occur in some of these fields (e.g., assorted issues in mental health care, the compassion-ration debate in medicine, major theories in Shakespeare studies).  Dealing with higher-level, highly thought-provoking content may encourage people to really take in other facets of the field.
  • Information about conferences and events: All too frequently, people miss out on captivating discussion and idea-sharing because they aren’t informed.  I run several other informational initiatives.
  • Inviting people with previous experience to discuss opportunities with the group, and aid in course assessment preparation: I’ve the good fortune of knowing many senior students and researchers; perhaps having some of them discuss their work or present their thoughts about last year’s midterm examination could benefit current students.
  • MCAT, LSAT, and GRE training sessions, for those relevantly aimed: I’ve sat the LSAT, and will soon having finished the other two.  Older friends could also provide assistance.
  • Leading career-related discussions: Perhaps encouraging people to jointly explore a career a month or something to that effect, and having successful individuals come in to discuss their progress.
  • Introducing students to research and shadowing, and aiding them in working towards placements.  As a relatively young student who has gotten the opportunity to function in both of these situations, I would like to help others figure out how to claim and succeed within placements.
  • Interesting problem sets that relate to course content (e.g., Olympiad linguistics puzzles for LIN100): For those who want excess challenges.

That’s all I can think of, for the moment.  I’m uncertain as to how effective most of these attempts will be, but I want to try my best to foster enthusiastic, useful group learning.  Doing so will be quite the project, and I’m not sure how successful I will be in promoting what I’ve described above, but I’m more than minutely excited for the moment.

What would you seek to include in the structure of a university study group?

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One Response to Study group ideas

  1. Vishaka says:

    This really sounds great and I definitely support all of your ideas about how to make this group studying effective. I think that, prior to exams or tests, we should have some intense study sessions for the tests. Of course, these weekly group sessions are helpful and will prepare us well for the test but I find that a lot of people start to panic and don’t know how to study effectively during the week before the test. Maybe we should try to come up with some kind of test – studying strategy (such as having a sort of rapid-fire question session or something) and implement that in one of our study sessions closer to the time of the test! 🙂
    I’m pretty sure you’ve already thought of that but I just thought I should mention it 🙂

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