One for All and All for One: Study Groups at NJIT

Anatomy of a Study Group: Jamie, Mona and Karen

Sometimes, especially when confronted with a seemingly unsolvable equation, three heads are better than one.  

At least that’s the thinking of three students – Jamie Lee, Mona Soliman and Karen Martinez -- who have formed a study group. The three women get together three to four times a week to study. And each of their study sessions can last up to six hours. “Our classes are rigorous, but we tough it out together,” says Jamie Lee, a sophomore majoring in chemical engineering.  "And being part of a study group helps you learn more."

Many NJIT students agree. For wherever one walks on campus -- may it be a library, a lounge or a café, a dorm, a lab or a vacant classroom, one will encounter clusters of students--studying. Seated around tables laden with stout textbooks, equation-laced papers and sleek laptops, they'll sometimes be heard debating a problem. Other times they'll be studying silently – but together. 

The benefits of forming a study group, NJIT students say, are many.

  • More Productive: You tried hard but couldn’t solve a problem. Instead of surrendering in despair, you can solve the problem collectively. Each member of the group has a different intelligence. 
  • Overcome Isolation: People are social by nature and too much individual study can make one feel isolated. It’s more social and more fun to study with a group. 
  • More Real World: Most engineers and architects and other employees spend a lot of their time working in teams. Study groups prepare students for that. 
  • Explaining Yourself: When you must explain your answer or your reasoning to a group, it forces you to refine your thinking and thus to think more clearly.
  • Enhanced Morale: Like a sports team, a study group establishes group goals. When they are achieved, the members are motivated (and might even earn a reward).  

When, for instance, Jamie, Mona and Karen all ace a chemical engineering exam, they reward each other: “We take a day off from studying,” says Jamie. “But just one day.”

Jamie formed the group a year ago with Mona, a junior. Last semester, Karen Martinez, a sophomore, joined the group. All of them are chemical engineering majors.  Mona and Jamie had been students at Kean University. They’d see each other there, but didn’t know each other. After they both transferred to NJIT, they became acquainted. They often found themselves in the same classes. And before too long they found themselves studying together. They later befriended Karen.

“After a class,” says Mona, “the three of us will go right to a lounge and study. “Sometimes we joke around and talk but we study a lot. It’s helpful because my study mates can help me when I need it, and we can get everyone’s perspective of the topic.”

Mona works in the Murray Center for Women in Technology, so sometimes the three congregate in the center’s lounge. Recently, the three prepared for a Calculus 3 exam by reviewing previous exams that the math department posts online. “We first did the exam individually,” says Mona, “and then compared our answers. That was really useful.”

Karen says the three have studied diligently lately for a class called Chemical Processes. They’ve worked equally hard for a class called Thermodynamics. Karen has a strong math and science background and she'd do well studying alone. When she was in high school, she took physics and calculus at NJIT. She took the courses through the university’s Center for Pre-College Programs. But studying with others, Karen says, “is more productive. You clear up any questions or problems you have and get more studying done in less time.”

And it’s not just the students who prefer study groups. So do professors. Norman Loney, a professor of chemical engineering, encourages his students to form study groups. Students who do so have a better grasp of class material; perform at a higher level; and achieve higher grades, he says.

“I’ve been telling my students to form study groups since 1991,” says Loney. “If they don’t pick their own study mates, I’ll divide them into study groups. They learn more when they study in groups and are more relaxed during their exams.”

Loney allows his students to work communally on their homework assignments.  But he warns them not to succumb to group think, which occurs when one dominant student does most of the thinking, and the others members follow suit. When that happens, Loney says, the students who fail to think for themselves suffer. They do poorly on exams, which students take individually.

In Loney’s experience, study groups work best when they have three members. A group with two members is too small, whereas one with four or five members is too big, he says.

The threesome --Jamie, Mona and Karen -- have been studying together happily for a year now and expect their scholastic relationship to last through to the end.

“We eat together and when we get good grades we celebrate together” says Jamie. “We’ve become really close friends. We’ll stay together until we graduate.”

(by Robert Florida, University Web Services)