If you prefer studying in a group, you’ve chosen one of the most effective methods of learning. Research has demonstrated that students learn at a deeper level when they communicate and engage with each other during the study process. Why? Because working collegially helps them to take ownership of the content they’re learning.

One of the benefits of studying in a group is that you can figure out what you do and don’t know by listening and comparing to your fellow group-members. This helps you identify the content you need to learn. You also have opportunities to share your medical knowledge, which will reinforce your own understanding and viewpoint.

If you’re interested in boosting your learning by studying in a group, read on for some good tips and advice.

Studying in a group: Are you ready?

If you’re nervous about joining a study group for your GP Fellowship exams, be aware that you’re probably not alone. Other people in the room, whether face-to-face or online, are likely apprehensive to begin with as well. But remember this. The most important thing you can bring to a study group is being committed to learning and achieving good results.

Central to your personal learning and establishing your place in the group is the expectation that you don’t simply absorb the knowledge that’s being generated, but you contribute to it as well. So prepare well and take your notes, and if you are feeling a little overwhelmed in your first study group session, try asking the group a question. If that makes you feel more confident, go on and probe the answers in meaningful ways to extend the discussion. Do this a couple of times and you’ll soon be participating comfortably in the group discussion.

How many people should be in a study group and how long do they run for?

The general consensus is that three to five people are the ideal number for a study group. This number also applies to a study group online. Organising a study group requires time and effort, and keeping the group under five makes it manageable and more personal.

Most people are comfortable sharing email addresses, phone numbers and their opinions with a small group of fellow students, but invite 10 and suddenly they may be feeling uncomfortable and restless. If your three or five participants don’t know each other well, take time to introduce them and invite them to speak about themselves for a minute or so (even in a study group online).

You should spend between one and three hours studying in your group. Decide on the time period before you meet, and appoint a different moderator each session to keep an eye on the clock. It’s often a good idea to take time out every hour. Usually, 10 minutes is sufficient to take a short break.

Who should you invite to your study group?

Good question, and this isn’t always a simple process. Take care to invite people who are happy to contribute to the group. If somebody is shy, then a friendly effort from others can help them to join in. Remember, it’s more lively to have a combination of personalities so ideas are bounced between people in the group. At the same time, you don’t want personalities to clash. So it’s important to consider group dynamics when forming your group.

Don’t fall into the trap of inviting anybody who appears interested. Be selective about who joins the group because it may be the difference between a high-functioning Fellowship-exam study group and one that doesn’t provide anything of value.

If you’ve been invited to join a study group for your Fellowship exams, it might be a good idea to attend one meeting before you commit to becoming a full member of the group.

How to make sure people attend  

Communication is essential to ensure most, or all, participants turn up to every study group session. Send out reminder emails and include the topics that will be discussed. If participants can’t make it, request they notify the group moderator prior to the session. 

Assigning group members to do short presentations or to lead the group on a particular topic are great ways to retain interest and optimise learning. If rotating moderators are appointed, then assign small tasks to them such as emailing reminders and assigning tasks to group members.  

For example, an appointed moderator could set the topic for that week (e.g. cardiology), ask group members to prepare information on the different sub-topics (e.g. hypertension, heart failure, lipid disorders, ECG interpretation or carotid artery stenosis) and prepare a set of questions to test each other on the assigned sub-topic. 

It’s also useful to dedicate some time in each session to decide, as a group, what they’d like to study at the next session. 

Remember that participation promotes a sense of belonging and ownership, as well as motivation and commitment. A positive group dynamic that features free-flowing back and forth discussion will often give you new and innovative insights into the course material you’re studying. This is one of the benefits of studying in a group. 

Are study groups good for GP Fellowship exam preparation? 

GP Fellowship exam preparation can be boosted by studying in a group. Reviewing content and discussing past and potential exam questions will increase your knowledge and boost your confidence. Plus attending a regular study group will provide deeper learning opportunities and consistency in your study schedule, optimising your study preparation. 

Study groups have been shown to increase motivation and commitment to studying, often thwarting the tendency to procrastinate. Other benefits of study groups include sharing of resources, learning new study methods or skills, increase in confidence, focus and concentration, boosting memory retention, and learning from others’ individual strengths, experiences and unique insights. 

While a study group is great for GP Fellowship exam preparation, it shouldn’t be used as a replacement for an exam preparation course. The latter will provide formal authoritative learning, feedback and review, while studying in a group enables you to review content with your peers and can be a more personal, supportive experience. 

Five ways to create a high-functioning study group for your GP Fellowship exams

1. Set out the rules of the group at the first session and email these to all members. Potential rules include: 

  • Respect differences in learning styles. 
  • Be willing to make mistakes. 
  • Give constructive feedback. 

2. Make expectations clear and discuss and agree on what you’ll do, as a group, if requirements aren’t met. 

3. Appoint people to perform admin tasks on a rotation basis. 

4. Encourage people to speak and to listen to others. 

5. Applaud people when they share both their successes and failures.  

The benefits of studying in a group are numerous and diverse. Whether it’s a study group online or a workplace meeting room, you’ll have interactions that help you to recognise your strengths and weaknesses. And it’s this knowledge that will help you optimise your study time and learning.