6.5 – Studying in Groups


Studying in Groups

Let's talk about studying in groups. Law school, you often hear a lot of talk about study groups. Are study groups a good idea or a bad idea? I think they can be quite helpful, but you have to be extremely careful about how you use them and who you study with. I also think that the fewer people that are involved in a study group, the better. I think a ten-person study group is not likely to be helpful to you. Sometimes people think, "I'll get together with a big group and we can divide up the outlining of the course and that's going to give us sort of efficiencies."

Having trusted people in study groups helps in discussing tricky concepts, sharing notes

That's not really going to be helpful to you, because as we spent a lot of time talking about in the previous class, the reason to do outlines, the reason outlining matters, is because the actual process of outlining a class is how you are going to learn the class. Someone else outlining a class for you is not really going to help you get ready to take an exam. A study group can be helpful in the following way. It can be very, very helpful to have someone you trust that you can talk over tricky issues in the class with. You can say, "I was reading this, and I just really don't understand how these two rules are consistent with each other," and you talk it over.

There's going to be a lot of stuff like that, especially your first semester and first year, things that you just don't understand and you really need someone else's help, and in that situation, having a couple people maybe that you trust and that you think are working as hard as you are, putting as much effort in, can be immensely helpful. You also could do things like quiz each other. You can ask each other legal rules, you could take practice exams together, swap answers, things like that, see how well you did, and talk through, "How could we have done this better? What do you think the professor was getting at?"

(1) Beware of free-riders in study groups, (2) understand that entire studying process can't be collaborative

You can share notes. One of you missed class last Tuesday, the other missed class two weeks ago, you can share notes, things like that. It can really be collaborative. But it's only going to work if it's a group of people that you trust and that you feel like they are working at roughly the same level as you are. They're not just trying to free-ride on your efforts that you're putting into the class. You also don't want to choose a study group that's going to stress you out, that's all about being really competitive and trying to just prove each member of the study group knows the material the best.

Now, US Senator Ted Cruz was apparently in a study group while he was at Harvard, where only people who had attended the most elite undergraduate institutions were even allowed to join. It was very competitive. I don't think something like that is likely to be a positive experience for you. If, over the course of your first year, you make a couple of friends that you trust, you get along well with, you're not trying to one-up each other and you could get together and talk about your studying, I think that could be really helpful.

You also need to recognize that there's only so much of this that you can do with another person. That is, a certain amount of it is just going to be you sitting at your desk, looking at your book, looking at your notes, typing in your outline, and doing stuff on your own. You can't make the entire process of studying collaborative, you have to do a certain amount of work on your own. But having some other people around, I think, can be helpful, if they are the right people. You're going to want to be choosy about that.

In my experience, when I was in law school, I ended up being very lucky because just by coincidence, I ended up in a law school section with two people I had known for a very long time, actually, I had known since high school. They were both very motivated, hardworking students. We were all in the same classes and we all liked each other and trusted each other, and we formed a little study group. It worked out really, really well. I think we were all able to really help each other and all perform better as a result of our help.

Important to make right environment for studying

I'd say the most important thing is making an environment in which you can do the kind of studying that is helpful to you. If you can't find a study group that seems really ideal, I think it would be better for you to just go it alone, rather than working with a large group where you're not really sure if everyone is bringing the same level of contribution, or if they're increasing your stress level in some way.

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