I talk a lot about studying effectively and getting the most from your study sessions (no surprise since we’re the biggest site on the subject) but we’ve not really looked at studying alone vs in a studying group before.

The thing is – there’s not really a set answer to which one is better. They both have advantages and disadvantages in general not to mention personal preference comes into it. Some people will be motivated to study harder when their peers are around keeping them on track (it’s certainly harder to get away with switching on Netflix when others are watching) others are more likely to get distracted with their friends sitting next to them.

This can also vary over time, moods and (of course) study groups. So how do you know whether you should study with a studying group or solo?

studying group

A student at Pen State summed up the general pros and cons pretty well:

Pro’s for Studying in Groups: A problem that many students face is procrastination. Living away from home and being in college, you have so much time on your hands and it is up to you on what you do with it. I know many students have procrastinated until the last minute before an exam and being in a study group just might be the answer to your solution. Studying in a group requires responsibility and you have to meet up at a specific time to study for a specific amount of hours.  Also, while working with other students and studying the same material gives you the opportunity to ask questions if you become confused on a certain segment of the textbook. You can also learn from others and pick up your peers study techniques that work for them.

I’ve seen a lot of people write off study groups without really seeing the benefits from them. Yes, there’s a potential for distraction but if your group is an effective one you actually have the accountability factor which will lead to fewer distractions.

If I’m studying from home and I get tired my bed is always calling. It would be so easy to just switch on the TV and close my eyes for a minute… When I’m sitting in a library with classmates and my head starts to drop – I can expect an elbow to the ribs waking me up.

Pro’s for Studying Alone: A problem that many students face when it comes to study groups is distraction. Meeting up with your friends to study can quickly go from studying Economics and trying to understand the Law of  Demand, to a discussion about fantasy football rankings. Studying solo allows you to minimize distractions around you. You can focus on the information that you need more practice on, instead of reviewing material you might already know but have to clarify for a friend who doesn’t. Lastly, you can go at your own pace and take breaks when you desire.

Unsurprisingly it’s not always a case of the grass is always greener. Getting into your flow studying alone without distractions is about as productive as you’re always going to be – the problem is studying alone doesn’t always give you that.

(Source)

Now, regardless of whether you study solo or in a group – you need to make sure your studying technique is effective – or you’re just wasting time. Getting this right means better results in less time.

What you get done is far more important than how long you study for. If you’re efficient with your studying techniques you can get more done in 2 hours than in 20. So before anything else take an hour or two to improve your studying ability and you’ll avoid wasting a lot of time. Better studying results in less work? Too good to pass up.

One of the easiest ways to do this is brushing up on your memory and improving your ability to learn faster. You know who’s a master at this kind of thing? Chess players. I’m not suggesting you go and learn chess at the level of a grandmaster (unless you have a spare decade) but, luckily, a grandmaster has an audiobook ‘Unlimited Memory’ — which you can download for free with Amazon’s Audible.

It’s about 2.5 hours long but, since it’s an audiobook, you can listen when you go to bed or something. I guarantee it’ll change the way you study and even if you cancel Amazon lets you keep the entire audiobook. You can download it here.

I wish there was a simple answer here to whether or not you should bother studying with a group. It would make my own studying a lot more effective and my job here a lot easier. The real answer is – it depends.

I would suggest trying it and being honest with yourself. Be clear with the group about what you expect and have a proper studying plan in place.

There was some great advice posted here looking at some disadvantages to studying groups as well which are worth considering and generally overlooked.

  • Useful only when studying for the first time – Group study is relevant when we are studying a subject for first time reading i.e. we are not taking any coaching or attending any lectures. When there is no teacher, it is best to group study, but only for the first time reading. When exams are near, you need to start self studying. However, for paper solving, one may consider group study useful.
  • It sounds a great idea until implemented – Studying with a group always sounds like a great idea, until it actually happens. Beforehand, you imagine yourself and a group of buddies coming together, maybe eating a few snacks and then miraculously knowing all the material by the time you guys are done with your session. This idea always sounds reasonable, but never really goes according to plan.
  • The disadvantage – Sometimes, studying with other people can be a disadvantage. Not everyone has the same exact agenda, even when together for the same general reason. Not only that, but when you study with a group, it’s sometimes with people who you are friendly with, which may not always be the best environment to study in.
  • Cannot focus on your weaker sections – If a group has to study for a test, everyone may be there for the same test, but some will have to focus on certain sections more than others. If you study with a group, the section you may need to give a little extra attention to may not be the same for everyone else. With a group, you will have to work at the group’s pace rather than your own pace.
  • If one down, all down – This is the case for many. When a group of friends gets together, it’s hard to just study. Someone can bring up one small event that happened that day and the next thing you know, you’re completely off subject. Or if the group takes a break, they all get distracted and then you realize that quick break turned into a few hours.

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