Studying by yourself can be daunting, especially in medical school. You’ve probably seen Community – if not, you should. It’s — [Editor’s note: There was a huge bit about Community here but we decided to just cut it down to that first sentence.] The point is, study groups can be a double-edged sword: on one hand, your test scores may improve, but on the other hand, you might have more distractions. Striking the right balance is key to making a great study group. Here are some ways you can make the most of your study group:

Cap it at Six

The smaller your study group, the more you’ll get out of it. Ideally, you want to have about three to five members with six people max. Can you name any good bands with more than six people (Ladysmith Black Mambazo withstanding)? On top of that, someone will need to step up and be the leader/facilitator so your group sessions are always on task. Who’s going to be the Lennon/McCartney and keep your group focused on producing some good studying? Actually, bad example if you’re going with late period Beatles. If you’re having trouble facilitating a study group (or creating metaphors for it), AUA’s Education Department will be more than happy to help.

Set a Schedule – And Stick to It

Have you ever heard of a studying flash mob? Trick rhetorical question – study groups don’t pop up simultaneously. Since you’re dealing with multiple people with different routines and study habits, it’s best that you get a schedule out as early as possible. Decide on how long each session will last and what days work best for the group. That way you can plan your studying around study group meetings and, hopefully, get the reading done in advance. Of course, this schedule isn’t rigid. If a topic is particularly tough one week, it might be best to double up on the sessions. Or it could be that your Aunt Linda is in town. Yes, that Aunt Linda. I know, but you still have to see her. She’s family, right?

Structure Your Sessions

Most importantly, you need to use that study group time wisely. Two hours can disappear really quickly whether you’re productive or not, so you’ll want to structure these sessions to get the most out of them. Start the session off by figuring out what everyone wants to review from that week’s coursework. Keep it short – preferably under a half hour. You don’t want the session to devolve into a meta-session of questioning what to study that day. From there, divide up the topics that need to be covered and break off into pairs, tackling one topic per pair. Then re-form the group, share your thoughts on the topics you were assigned, and, huzzah, your study group has efficiently reviewed multiple topics and now understands what areas need greater focus. Note: this is only one way to structure sessions. When you get a better idea of your group dynamic, you’ll probably have a clearer idea of how to work best as a group. Unlike late period Beatles (yes, finally nailed that metaphor).

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