In medical school, we are constantly bombarded with a barrage of content. Overwhelmed and overworked, we are often left drowning in a sea of lecture slides and anatomy flashcards, trying to battle our way to the surface through increasingly long nights and even more frequent cups of coffee. Stuck in a seemingly never-ending cycle of trying to consolidate newly taught content, revise previous knowledge and prepare for tomorrow’s lectures, it’s no wonder why many medical students view studying as a chore, a laborious process spent alone slaving away in the college library or burning the midnight oil at their desks. However, there is a better way. As a lighthouse beckons sailors on treacherous seas safely ashore, group studying could be just the helping hand you need to pull you out of medical school’s deep waters.
The Feynman Technique
Being able to properly apply “The Feynman Technique” is one of the most potent benefits of group learning. The Feynman Technique, named after the renowned physicist Richard Feynman, involves reducing a topic to its bare essentials to teach it to an audience of varying levels of knowledge. This is perfect for group study in 2 main ways. Firstly, if you know that you want to try and teach a topic that you’re confident about to your friends, it will motivate you to learn the content deeply and thoroughly. It will force you to organise information into easily comprehensible chunks and simplify difficult concepts as much as possible. On the flip side, if you are unsure of a topic, or if the steps of the Krebs cycle just refuse to stay in your head, you can ask members of the group to teach it to you. This not only allows them to test how well they have learnt the content but also benefits you since you are being taught it by students who were just as confused and unsure of the topic as you. Being taught by peers who are going through the same content as you is one of the most efficient and powerful ways to learn new content.
The Dunning-Kruger Effect
Another extremely useful advantage of group study is exposing how much or, unfortunately, more often than not, how little you retained and understood from a lecture. It’s all well and good to attend a 9 am lecture, dutifully make notes and strive to pay attention to the professor’s words and then after the lecture go through flashcards or test yourself on the content. But how much of that content has really sunk in? How much of that topic will you be able to dredge up from the mines of your memory in a few days, weeks or months? Unfortunately, many students only find out when they are staring nervously at their exam papers. Group study is perfect at tackling this issue head-on. The Dunning-Kruger effect essentially explains the state of being falsely confident in your grasp of a topic. Looking over lecture slides and answering recall questions based on the lecture can make anyone feel confident that they have a sufficient understanding of the content. However, this is often not the case, a brief surface-level understanding often boosts the ego in the short term but frequently falls short of the deeper connections required for the harder medical school exam questions. One way group study combats this is the aforementioned teaching of content to others. In order to teach content one must first develop a sufficiently deep level of understanding. Additionally, whilst teaching others in the group, key questions that were non-existent during the lecture, often bubble to the surface. Moreover, group study provides the ideal environment to quiz each other and expose areas that you had previously thought were secure. Overall, studying and quizzing each other in groups, provides you with a more realistic impression of your understanding of the curriculum, facilitating you to focus on topics that you are genuinely weaker on rather than simply relying on your, sometimes incorrect, perceived notion of harder topics.
You are not alone
Medical school can feel lonely at times. From being a newly initiated fresher to a wizened final year, the journey of going through medical can sometimes feel solitary and uniquely difficult. Paired with the widespread concept of studying being an individual pursuit, something that’s done away from friends, hustling away in the library, it’s easy to see why group study is often severely under-utilised by medical and all university students alike. But studying in groups can have a truly transformative impact on how you view studying and learning in general. There’s nothing more fulfilling than teaching a topic that you had struggled with to a friend and seeing the spark of understanding and appreciation light in their eyes. There’s nothing more comforting than talking with your peers about how behind everyone is on lecture content and then working together to plug those gaps. And there’s nothing more fun than creating and sharing crazy, comic and often crude acronyms or mnemonics with your friends to make learning the medical school curriculum more enjoyable. Group study is a safe space to talk about which topics you are struggling with, which upcoming tests are worrying you and a space where you can ask all the questions you were too scared to ask the lecturer. But more than that, it is a great way to reconnect with friends, create a sense of comradeship and community spirit, and most importantly reaffirm that no matter how hard medical school can be, you are never going through it alone.
Group study is a fantastic way to learn, understand, memorise and test your understanding of everything taught at medical school. It facilitates greater engagement with lectures and promotes the chance to reach deeper levels of understanding using a wider variety of perspectives than can be achieved through self-study. Additionally, in the grand scheme of things, it helps hone communication skills and the ability to impart medical knowledge in a digestible and comprehensive manner that will form a vital part of our future lives as doctors. Studying in groups encourages people to be curious, ask questions, and clarify doubts all within the safe confines of friendship and the common goal of helping each other get through university together. Of course, just like every other study technique, it must be used in moderation and combination with self-study, in order to be maximal. Overall, group studying can make the fast-flowing rapids of the medical school curriculum a lot more fun and a whole lot more manageable.