For those of you sitting the OSCE in May or November and written exams in July or February , your study plans should be in full swing. Forming a study group has many benefits over individual study and if you haven’t got one already, you should seriously consider finding a ‘study buddy’ or a study group.
So what benefits does group study have over individual study?
- Learning with a peer can help you calibrate your knowledge – what do you know compared to others? Where are your knowledge gaps? This helps to target your individual study.
- There is no better way of checking if you know something than by explaining it to someone else.
- Studying with others can help you to explore different styles of learning that you haven’t thought of, and expose you to resources that you may not have seen.
- Being in a study group will make you more likely to prepare and stick to study tasks.
- Passing the exams is not just about knowledge – it’s about applying knowledge contextually. Studying with others challenges your clinical reasoning and how you apply knowledge.
- Every doctor has different patient demographics and special areas of expertise – study groups mean that you can benefit from each other’s strengths.
- Study groups develop collegiate support and networks which are useful in the stressful time that is preparing for exams.
Once you’ve formed you study group, use these simple tips to ensure you get the most out of the experience:
- Set the ground rules. How often will you meet, for how long (1-1.5 hours is ideal), by what means (face-to-face or virtually), who will arrange the meetings, what to do if you can’t attend.
- Work out ‘what’ the group needs and ‘wants’ to study. The best way to do this is to discuss what type of patients you do (and don’t see), what areas you feel confident (and less confident in), and how you like to learn (try this learning styles questionnaire if you’re not sure).
- Work out ‘how’ you are going to approach the topics. Case-based approaches usually work best – not just sitting together and doing online quizzes and modules. Present a case and discuss. Remember to focus on all the Domains of Practice, not just applied knowledge.
- Prepare for each session. Group study shouldn’t be for learning textbook knowledge – that happens beforehand. Group study is for learning how to apply it.
- Stay focused. Appoint a moderator for each session to make sure everyone stays on track and doesn’t get distracted. Be particularly careful of this as the group becomes more established as friendly chit-chat can take over!
- Take some short breaks during the study session. This helps to stay on track.
- Evaluate how the group is going. Every few weeks take a few minutes of the session to make sure everyone is happy with the way the sessions are going.
- Summarise. At the end of the session, take time to iterate what you’ve covered that day, and lay the plans for the next session.
- After the session – write a list for yourself of what information you need to consolidate or clarify, and personalise any materials used in the group (e.g. summary notes) so that you can reinforce the content.
- Have fun! For the next 4-6 months the books will be your best friend. So take some opportunities to make study enjoyable – even if it’s just taking a packet of Tim Tams to your study group!
If you’re having trouble finding a study partner or group, there are several options:
- Ask colleagues
- Try the exam groups on Facebook
- If you’re not keen on using Facebook (or don’t have an account), we’ve setup a private Study Group Forum. It’s free to subscribe and you can nominate which exam you’re sitting and whether you’d like face-to-face or virtual study partners. I’ll also be posting some study resources and ideas in the forum. You can subscribe to GP Trainees Australia (free) and post to find a study partner.
- You can also join our Virtual Study Group via Facebook, where we discuss clinical reasoning cases each week.
Next time you’re sitting at your desk, trying to stop looking at the ceiling, texting, or dreaming up other ways to procrastinate, consider how great it would be to have a study partner that you could share your boredom with, and who might motivate you to get your study back on track!