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How to Study Effectively – Part 3

Work in Groups (where allowed)

This is a topic that I have to be very careful about, because whether or not you can use this tool depends on your specific circumstances.  As a chemical engineering student at BYU, we were encouraged often to work in groups, while some of my non-engineering classes, such as “History of Creativity” required that all work be done solo.  So before you actually start to make a group, verify with the course instructor or with the course instructions that this will be possible!

The next thing to consider about this topic is what it means to work in a group.   When I say “Work in a group”, I don’t mean utilize the questionable practices of “sharing” or “dividing work”, or having one member do the work and the others copy.  Let me be very clear that these methods of doing homework are CHEATING!  Not only do they circumvent your learning, they endanger your position as a student, and they actually harm your education, rather than building it.  The point of working in a group is to have other minds to help think through and evaluate the work, while still doing the actual work yourself.   So as I discuss this tactic for how to study, please keep in mind that I’m advocating legal and effective use of group study.  This means that you do ALL of the work, on your own, but you use the combined thinking power of the brains to help figure out what’s going on.

Let me give you an example of how you could effectively work in a group.   In my days as a chemical engineer, where group working was encouraged, I remember a day when we had a particularly difficult problem in my heat transfer class.   This problem was to determine the heat transferred from a hot stream of water to the air, as well as to figure out how much water evaporated into the air while the water was flowing through a room (i.e. to determine the heat and humidity of a room based upon a hot stream of water flowing through it).  I had no clue how to do the problem.  It was based upon the principles we learned that day, true, but how to actually use those principles to do the work was beyond me.   Apparently it was beyond everyone else as well.   So, about four to five of us left the classroom and immediately began working on the problem together.

What we did first is to talk through the problem.  Someone read the problem and then we each identified the parts of the problem and the steps we thought would need to be taken.   After we agreed on an approach, we each tried the approach individually, based on what we had learned.  Once we had come to a conclusion on our own, we then compared our approaches and answers.  We each shared the answer we had obtained, and figured out that we made some numerical errors and thus each had a different answer.  After we got that fixed, we realized that our answer made no sense (it said that water from the dry room traveled into the water, which is NOT what would happen), and so we had to try again.   After repeating this process four to five times, we finally came up with an answer that we thought was reasonable, and we moved on to the next problem.   At the end of the study session, several things had happened:  First, we had built friendships with the other group members, and had learned how to reason together with a group of people to find a reasonable solution.  Second, we had EACH learned how to do the work, and had done the problem on our own.   Third, we had finished the work early (right after it was assigned) so that we all had time to think about and make sure we felt good about the homework solutions.  Finally, we really learned and remembered the things that we studied because we worked through all the potential outcomes together as a group, and then calculated them based on what we learned that day.   This multiple reinforcement method of studying in a group is one of the best ways to learn.  While studying with groups, if you are ever tempted to skimp out on the work, remember that during tests and quizzes, you will be on your own.  If you haven’t learned the material yourself while in the group, you will be left on your own during tests, and will likely do poorly, getting bad grades or even failing.   So above all else, when working together and studying as a group, PLEASE DO ALL THE WORK YOURSELF!  Not only is doing otherwise cheating, it will hurt rather than help your studying efforts.

Tips to keep in mind when setting up and executing group study:

1) Manage the size of the group.  A group that is too small may not have enough diverse intellectual power to be a benefit to you, while a group that is too large will be awkward and difficult to keep on track.

2)  Make sure that the group members are diverse.  Having too many people with similar backgrounds may mean that your thinking may get stale, or be too one-tracked to benefit from multiple creative thought processes.

3)  Talk through the problems before you actually start to work on them.  Many hours of work can be saved by making sure you understand how to approach the problem before you begin.

4)  If you have questions about an approach that the group has identified, don’t be afraid to ask.  Not only will you get lost in the problem if you don’t know what’s going on, you likely won’t learn what you need to from the day’s lesson.

5)  Whenever possible, organize the group and talk through the problem AS SOON AS YOU CAN AFTER CLASS!  Not only will the material be fresh on your mind, but you will have time to think about and consider what you’ve done to make sure it’s right.

6)  Finally, and most importantly, resist the urge to CHEAT, or to glide through on the group effort.  Learn as a group; don’t just let the group figure out the work and then copy the effort.   I cannot emphasize enough how harmful this will be to your education.  Just don’t do it, because you (or the people you work for later) will certainly regret it!

Next Part – Don’t be afraid to ask for help


May 27, 2012, 4:09 am

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