Study-Group Selection

Group selection is the evolutionary mechanism by which more-fit groups are naturally selected over less-fit groups, much in the same way that more-fit genes are selected for between competing individuals. Though the theory of group selection is packed with some questionable claims about human nature, it is safe to say that some groups outperform others and that the success of individuals is often contingent on the success of their group. This has led me to wonder about the various study-cliques that are popping up. It is easy to witness a spectrum from psuedostudy social parties to individuals studying “alone together”. To what extent are the groups we study with contributing to our individual success, and what are some traits of the most successful study groups?

Effective Study Group Traits

No more than 5 people (Ideally 3-4): To optimize studying with peers, you need enough members to collectively know everything relevant to the class. If you cross the 5-member threshold, however, you are almost guaranteed to lose productivity (worse than simply diminishing returns, the “too-large” study group is actually counterproductive to learning).

Positive peer pressure: Ensure commitment upfront, and then hold each other accountable to be prepared every week. Alternate leading the sessions so that every member has skin in the game. Study groups are also an ideal time to challenge each others assumptions and gain insights we might have missed on our own.

Structured and focused: Every meeting benefits from having a defined set of goals in advance. That way, everyone will know how to prepare, and throughout the study session the group can stay on task. I love the feeling of camaraderie from study groups, but my rule of thumb is that 90% of words spoken are directly related to learning or the group is only psuedostudying.

As an introvert, my breakthrough study sessions tend to happen in solitude, but that doesn’t mean that I can remain aloof to my classmates. I have been constantly amazed by the insights that have arisen from getting a peer’s perspective on what we’re learning. Study groups are not inherently beneficial, and if we’re not careful they can devolve into group therapy sessions. If you feel like your study group isn’t performing well, either figure out how to fix it or jump ship (respectfully and professionally). Medicine is becoming increasingly a team sport, so let’s think of med school as a team sport as well.

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