For whatever reason, there can be an inordinate amount of pressure to join a study group in law school, particularly during the first year. While study groups seem to have risen up as a “necessary” element of law school success, their effectiveness can vary greatly based on the group itself, and the individual learning style of students. A study group will not translate to success for all students by any means. Like many other decisions in law school, the decision to join a study group is highly individual, and students should consider a number of things when deciding whether or not to join one.
Consider the Benefits of a Group
It will come as no surprise that when considering whether to join a study group, there will be both benefits and drawbacks to consider. Study groups can be very beneficial, particularly during the first year while you’re all still learning how to approach law school. Having a group to discuss new topics with can be a very helpful check on whether or not you’re getting what you’re supposed to be getting out of the reading, or out of class. Similarly, it can be helpful to have a group that can help you with a topic that you either missed or struggled with. If you’re studying with a few people, odds are someone will be able to help you out. Finally, there is the obvious benefit of making friends, and having a support circle early on.
…But also Consider the Drawbacks of a Group
With every benefit of a study group comes a drawback. While it can be helpful to have a group of people to work through things with, it can also be difficult to figure out who is approaching the material correctly, especially in the beginning when no one knows that they’re supposed to be doing. If the group latches onto the wrong approach or understanding, it can be harder to catch mistakes. In addition, study groups can also be great time-wasting activities. It can be all too easy to get off topic, yet still file the time you spent there under “studying.” Be mindful of these drawbacks if you choose to join a study group!
How Big is the Study Group?
The size of a study group can really impact the effectiveness. Too many people, and some people will inevitably be left out. Too few people, and you won’t get the benefits of hearing multiple opinions on a topic. In general, anything over five people is getting to be too big. While you want varying opinions, you don’t want so many opposing views that you can’t get anything done, and you don’t want anyone to be left out either. However, less than three people may be too small to get the true benefit of collaborative work. This may vary for each person or group, but be sure to keep this in mind when deciding whether this is right for you.
What does the Group do when they Meet?
This is a very important point to consider, as some things are a good use of group time, and some things are just a waste of time. Study groups can be great if you focus on things like going over answers to practice questions. When reviewing these, it is particularly useful to have multiple minds at work so that you can see what issues you may have missed, or learn how someone else dealt with an issue. It may even be helpful to discuss how to outline material early on in law school. However, meeting without some sort of plan to simply “review” information is probably not the best. In order to succeed in law school, you have to learn analysis skills, not simply memorization like many other subjects. Seriously consider whether the group spends time on things that will be helpful, or things that are likely a waste of time.
Do you Need Help with Accountability?
You should also consider your own study habits, particularly whether you are someone who needs external sources to hold you accountable for your work. A benefit of a well-organized study group can be that you are essentially forced to do work that you may normally procrastinate or avoid because the group has a plan to review a certain practice question or issue. If you do tend to procrastinate on your own, then it may be beneficial to find a small, well-organized group to join, to help motivate you to stay on top of your work.
What is your Learning Style?
Finally, you should of course consider your own learning style when deciding whether to join a study group. Generally, a study group will work better for someone who learns best through listening and discussing issues, and who processes information externally. If that sounds like you, a study group may be great. However, if you are someone who learns best by reading and thinking through information alone, then it would probably be in your best interests to avoid a study group.
While study groups can be great for some students, they can be harmful to others. When deciding whether or not to join a study group, pay close attention to see if a particular group will be a match for you!
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