Studying in a group is a tempting yet risky proposition for most people. If you’ve ever had to work on a group project, you know how useful (and fun) it can be to bounce your ideas off of other people rather than sitting alone with your books, and you probably also know how easy it is to get sidetracked in a group study session and end up accomplishing nothing.
Having a friend to hold you accountable and critique the content, if not the language, of your question responses can be a great (and free) alternative to hiring a tutor, but it does take a good amount of determination to keep the sessions productive.
Photo by Financial Times
Decide together on benchmarks
One of the most important benefits that a study group will offer you is accountability. Promising a friend that you’ll do something—and then having the friend check in on you—is a great free motivator. So at the beginning of every group session, set goals together for what you want to accomplish in the session. And at the end, each person should have told the group what they will have accomplished by the next session. If each session begins with each person sharing what they did that week (to prepare for the TOEFL—you can talk about your weekend after studying), everyone will find it easier to stay on track.
Don’t be afraid to do your own thing
It’s almost inevitable that your group will have people of different levels, aiming for different target scores. The goal should be for everyone to reach their own goals, not to get everyone to the same level. So if the group agrees on an assignment that isn’t appropriate or useful for everyone, suggest an alternative so that everyone can get the most benefit out of each session. You may need to break your group into two smaller teams depending on level when working on different things—especially when going over essays and speaking together, it’s best to put like levels together.
Have a leader
one person who naturally takes the reins, but most of the time, members will be reluctant to take the lead (or to follow the person who has taken the lead). In that case, you may find it useful to assign leaders on a weekly or biweekly rotation. The leader’s job doesn’t necessarily have to mean organizing the meetings and arranging study materials (although if that’s the way that works for you, then go for it!), but rather should focus on keeping the group on-track and encouraging people to come (on time) and participate.
Photo Credit: Financial Times Photos