Categories
Lifestyle Personal Finance

How to Manage Debt The Year Before Buying a Home

The whole value of the dime is knowing what to do with it.

Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803-1882)

The most frequently asked questions I get from my students (especially the boys) are related to personal finance or financial literacy. As someone who’s pretty passionate about finances, I figured it would be fun if I started to share my knowledge and experience and created a place for students to come and learn financial literacy.

This wasn’t something I planned on doing for a while, but Katie approached me with an idea for collaboration so I figured this would be a good starting point.

The article is written by Katie, but I chime in with a few thought of my own after CM:


Written by Katie Conroy of advicemind.com

Right now, low-interest rates are extremely appealing to many hopeful home buyers. However, we aren’t all in a solid enough position to buy a house right now. Debt is extremely common, and many of us would prefer not to take on more before reducing what we already have. Plus, credit scores aren’t exactly known for treating people with a ton of debt kindly. 

Fortunately, there’s a lot that can be done to make debt more manageable. There’s no reason that debt has to stand in the way of homeownership. Here are some tips to inspire savvy debt management and strong financial decisions in the months leading up to buying a home: 

Get Informed 

When it comes to any financial endeavor, knowledge is our very best asset. Credit scores, though an imperfect representation of someone’s full financial health, are an excellent starting point when it comes to building this knowledge. There are plenty of sites online that give free access to credit scores. With this information, we can come to better understand our starting position, and make wise choices about how to proceed. 

Remember, bad credit does not necessarily mean buying a house is off the table. It can mean that we need to take steps to improve our scores or look into alternative lending options. For example, there are plenty of loan programs out there designed to help those with small down payments or poor credit scores be able to buy a home. Looking into these programs and figuring out the available options can help make the next steps clearer.

CM: If possible, I say plan on doing whatever you can to boosting your credit score. Buying a home is a big-ticket purchase, often the most expensive things most people buy in their life. I suggest shooting for the bottom of the highest tier (at least 800), this should qualify you for the best rates. If that is too far away, a 670 would get the job done in most places. Planning for massive purchases can save us thousands down the line.

Boost Monthly Payments 

One simple way we can put ourselves in a better position for home buying is to reduce that debt load. Paying more into the principal of a loan comes with a number of benefits. It can make monthly payments smaller, improve credit scores, and reduce the amount of interest that gets added back into the principal over time. 

Plus, taking this extra load on is great practice for homeownership. Although the monthly payment for a loan itself is often less than rent in the same area, that’s not the only thing that contributes to month-to-month costs for homeowners. Insurance, taxes, and utilities can mean that owning a home costs as much — or sometimes, more — than renting. When we pay more out on our debt, we practice living with higher payments and less extra spending to go around. This puts us in a far stronger position when it comes to managing finances down the road.

Make a Clear, Actionable Plan 

When it comes to any major undertaking, our best roadmap is a clear, detailed plan with actionable steps to guide our path. The first step is taking a clear look at our current financial situation, including all income sources, savings, and debts owed. Next, it’s figuring out exactly how much we can manage to put each month toward shifting those balances in our favor. Then, we have to ask ourselves the hard questions, such as, “Can I commit to this? Is it feasible? Is it what I really want?” 

Once these questions have been answered, we’ll have a solid direction in which we can move. Homeownership is one of life’s most exciting milestones, and debt shouldn’t have to stand in its way. Increase payments, boost savings, and do the work necessary to make this dream come true. 

CM: This is so true. Nothing works without a plan. Trust me, I’ve tried to make it work. My favorite financial plan is known to many as Conscious Spending, made popular by Ramit Sethi. This plan involves spending extravagantly on what I love and cutting spending intensely on everything I don’t care for. This prevents me from spending any money on unnecessary things. After practicing conscious spending for about a year, I saved more money and lived more of my “rich life” than I ever thought possible. This plan may not work for everyone, but it works great for me. Having a plan is crucial, we just need to find which plans work best for us.

Categories
Lifestyle Productivity

A Few Networking Techniques

“The richest people in the world look for and build networks, everyone else looks for work. Marinate on that for a minute.”

Robert Kiyosaki (Author)

Part of great networking is getting people to like us. We determine who we like based on how we feel about them. How we feel about people is determined by our amygdala, the emotional part of our brain. The techniques I’m going to discuss in this post are designed with the human amygdala in mind. They’re proven to lower threat responses as well as raise feelings of safety. In my last post, The Fundamentals of Networking, I discussed some of the principles and attitudes that I use when going about expanding my network. This post will have more actionable and applicable knowledge in terms of networking effectively. This post is more tactics, last post was more strategy. If you’ve read my posts on studying, then you know that I believe if we know the principles then the tactics don’t matter too much. However, having the knowledge of some go-to tactics along with the knowledge of the principles sets us up nicely to be a high performer.

Networking properly is all about being able to influence the experience that others have of us. There are so many ways to go about this, but I’m just covering a few here.

Influencing the Experience

“Use what language you will, you can never say anything but what you are.”

Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803-1882)

We can only intentionally influence what we understand. So we can’t “trick” people into believing that we’re a certain kind of person that we’re not, we can only “trick” them into seeing more of ourselves. If we learn more about things we don’t know, or if we develop ourselves in a diverse fashion, we can influence people’s opinions on a deeper and broader level.

There are a few things we can control once we understand them. We can start with body language.

Body Language

There have been numerous studies on communication and they’ve found that most human communication is nonverbal, about 93% of it in fact. 7% is focused on the actual words, which in my opinion, is the hardest part so that works out nicely.

Most of these nonverbal communication happens with our body language. For a large portion of human history, our survival depended on our abilities to be able to quickly pick up on what others are feeling. When we were hunted like the prey animal we are, we had to find ways to communicate faster and more efficiently than talking. It’s easier and quicker to know that something is dangerous by looking at someone’s face rather than waiting for them to tell us. We’ve evolved to pick up on, even the slightest, adjustments because we’ve needed it to survive for so long. This is why body language is such a huge portion of our communication.

Much of our body language is dictated by our amygdala. This is the emotional part of our brain and this part of our brain is almost too honest. If we can understand the language that our bodies use to express what’s going on in our emotional brain, then we can influence the experience that others have of us fairly easily. It’s so much easier to adjust your posture to communicate a message than say the perfect combination of words. As we know, most of the time people don’t react to what we say, but how we say it anyway.

I recommend checking out the book What Every Body is Saying by ex-FBI agent Joe Navarro. He talks about all the different things we do with our bodies and what they mean. A few of the ideas that I use almost every day are these:

  • Our feet are the most honest part of our body. The direction they are pointing can give us an insight into what the person is genuinely feeling. For example, if someone wants to leave a conversation but they are being polite their feet will be pointing towards a way out or away from us. There are some exceptions, but this is typically the case. This knowledge helps us see what people really feel as well as control our bodies for the messages they could be giving off.
  • Paying attention to pacifying behaviors – these are motions that people do to calm themselves down when they’re feeling anxious. This could be taping a leg, playing with their hair, fidgeting extra, and many other things. Notice when people are trying to calm themselves down and we can do what we can to help them out.
  • When people are nervous or feel powerless their body will take up less physical space and move quickly. They will do things to make themselves feel smaller. A primitive attempt at hiding from a predator. On the other hand, people who are feeling confident and powerful will take up more space and move slower.
  • People love seeing the palms of our hands. Showing our palms lets people subconsciously know that we’re not hiding anything and our intentions are pure. Conversely, hiding our hands makes people feel nervous and conceals our intentions.

There are so many other body language behaviors that we do and Navarro does a fantastic job in explaining each of these behaviors in his book. He even includes pictures to really drive the point home. One thing I have to mention about body language is that these movements have to be taken into consideration with the person’s baseline state. Maybe someone has a habit where they love to tap their leg and it doesn’t mean that they’re feeling anxious. We have to get a baseline when we first meet people before we start trying to interpret their body language. It’s much easier to understand people we know well than strangers off the street. Everyone is a little different and we have to keep that in mind or we’ll end up making some terrible assumptions.

Compassion & Verification

Once we understand what people are feeling, then we can use our compassion to guide our actions that verify their feelings. People need to be heard in the hearts and minds of others and providing this for people is invaluable and highly effective with connecting.

There have been numerous studies that have found that children who don’t receive compassion and verification develop much slower than children who do. They also have a tougher time creating and sustaining relationships. They develop hormonal imbalances and behavioral issues as well. While the developmental problems aren’t the same if an adult doesn’t receive compassion and verification, the need is still there. People seek compassion and verification constantly and use it as a way of staying sane. We use other people as a gauge to determine if what we see and think is “real.”

Because of this, I’m constantly giving people affirmations and letting them know that they are heard, understood, and empathized with (if appropriate). All it takes is saying “It seems like…” or “It sounds like…” in response to whatever they are saying.

Repeating what other people mean to say in conversations keeps everyone on the same page, is great for preventing arguments from spiraling out of control, and most importantly ensures that people feel heard and understood.

Great Conversations

Most, but not all, networking happens in conversation. In my post, The Significance of Speech, I talk about how humans live at least half of their existence in the world of conversation. Understanding how to navigate this world is, not only crucial to networking, it’s crucial to living a life by design.

If we’re meeting someone for the first time and we aren’t familiar with them we’re most likely going to have to deal with small talk. I used to hate small talk, and I still kind of do, but it’s part of the game and it can be used to our benefit if we can do it intentionally.

Let’s get into why we even use small talk in the first place — it’s a way to gauge other people’s social skills, like a dance. When we’re in the small talk moment with someone, we’re testing to see if this person meshes with our interpretation of the world and they with us.

If we want to expand our network, we need to be able to show people that we’re worth engaging with relatively quickly.

A couple of tips I love to use when making small talk are these, I got them from ex-FBI terrorist negotiator, Chris Voss. If there’s anyone that can understand navigating a conversation, it’s this guy.

  • Ask Calibrated Questions – asking what or how questions. Questions that start with the words “how” or “what”. They make people feel needed and they are more likely to cooperate when they feel like they have to provide information. Asking why questions (Why did you do this? Why did you do that?) makes people feel defensive, so avoid using them if possible.
  • Mirror Them – just say the last three words of whatever they’re saying, if appropriate. This will bate them into talking more.

I didn’t think these small techniques would work, but they do. They work because they were designed with the amygdala in mind. We are attempting to communicate with the emotional part of the brain directly because people have less control over it. If we can get to the amygdala, everything else will follow.

Once we’ve proven ourselves, we have to keep the show going. Here are a few ways to never run out of things to say:

  • Ask Open-Ended Questions – if we hit the right topic we can get someone going off for hours. This is optimal because people love sharing with others and providing a space for people to do that is invaluable.
  • Make a Complimentary Cold Read – this is another great place to use “It seems like….” or “It looks like…”
  • Bring up something that this situation reminds you of – this is a great way to spark something up when we have those moments of awkward silence.
  • Put it on them – flip the script and let them be the one’s to talk, I love mirroring to do this

In conversations, be sure to let people know your goals and intentions if they like you they’ll tap their network to give you opportunities. People love connecting and sharing intentions gives people an opportunity to connect in different ways. Remember networking is also about connecting ideas or opportunities to people, not just people to people.

This is exactly how referral businesses work. Bob hires Joe to do a job. Joe does amazing and Bob remembers this later and mentions to her friend Sarah who also needs Jow’s services. Since Bob knows that Joe is trying to get more business, they are subconsciously looking for opportunities if they come up. Connecting people with opportunities. If we can build up a group of people who know who we are, then we start to develop a reputation.

Another fantastic great way to keep a conversation going is to become genuinely interested in others. Everyone is interesting if we ask the right questions. Genuinely wanting to discover someone, learning how and why they do certain things will develop natural curiosity.

I’ve always been fascinated by people’s stories, or at least their interpretation of their lives and how it’s impacted their thinking and decision making. Asking the next question is always easy when I’m coming from that place. It also gives me access to deeper connections with people because I ask questions that people don’t typically get asked. Although small talk has its place, I try to stay away from it and use genuine curiosity is my vehicle of choice.

Be Mindful of Criticism

“Criticism is futile because it puts a person on the defensive and usually makes him strive to justify himself. Criticism is dangerous, because it wounds a person’s precious pride, hurts his sense of importance, and arouses resentment.”

Dale Carnegie (How to Win Friends and Influence People)

I stole this idea from Carnegie’s book, but it’s also self-evident if you’ve had close relationships and something that I’m mindful of when talking to people, especially my students. People are already criticizing themselves. Criticizing them turns them off and damages our reputation with them. I find having compassion for others is a great way to hold your tongue. If I feel the urge to criticize someone, I try to keep in mind that they are doing exactly what I would do if I was in their situation. I try not to critique unless it’s warranted. People, more often than not, try to do the best they can with what they have at their disposal.

When networking we have to keep in mind that we’re dealing with emotional creatures, not logical ones. Paying attention to people’s feelings is a sure-fire way to connect. Being seen and heard in the hearts and minds of others is as necessary to us as food and water. When we pay attention to other’s emotions, then we’re able to see and hear them in our hearts and minds, which inevitably comes with a bit of compassion.

Now, I don’t want to say that all criticism is dangerous for networking. Sometimes it’s welcomed, even necessary. If someone is obviously having trouble, a gentle critique that helps a situation is likely to bring someone close to you. Solving other people’s problems is like a fast track to connection, especially if they don’t end up feeling like a fool.

Criticisms are only valid when a solution is offered in its place.

Any idiot can tear down a building. No one has ever erected a statue for a critic.

Empathy & Narcissism

The deepest principle of Human Nature is the craving to be appreciated.

William James (1842 – 1910)

We all naturally have empathy but when we’re not using it to connect and understand other people, it fuels our narcissism. However, honing in on that empathy gives us a serious edge, especially in networking.

We’re all narcissistic on some level, some people further along on the spectrum than others. We needed to be if we wanted to survive infancy, our survival depended on us needing attention from others and those feelings never leave us as we get older. We need a certain level of narcissism to thrive, but it’s important to be able to get a handle on it too.

Human beings are inherently narcissistic but it’s not a bad thing. Narcissism is part of our human nature like how dogs go on walks, people think about themselves. Narcissism has a bad connotation, but it’s in our nature to think highly of ourselves and need admiration.

Seeing narcissism as part of our biological survival tool kit is much healthier than seeing it as a mental illness. Now some people do have a narcissistic personality disorder and that is a mental illness, but narcissism, in general, is a very human quality.

Getting upset at people for being narcissistic is like getting upset at a rock for being hard.

Keeping our narcissism in mind gives us a few advantages in conversation. We can make things all about them, especially in the beginning. This is a great way to get people to like us.

People love to feel important and according to Dr. John Dewey, people’s deepest urge in human nature is “the desire to be important.” If we can make people feel important, they will love us. The easiest way to do this is to give them a compliment, a genuine compliment.

The best compliments are on things that they are working really hard to improve.

For example, I work extremely hard on my blog and providing value to my students. A compliment like “Chris, your writing has absolutely changed how I see education” would mean way more to me than “Chris, I love your style.” Yeah, I put in some effort in my wardrobe, but I put at least 10x that in my writing so I’ll respond to the first compliment more positively and be more likely to believe it to be authentic. We can use our empathy to discover what other people really care to improve.

If we can make people feel sincerely important, then we can make them fall for us. However, what makes people feel important tells us a lot about their character. Be mindful of what kind of people you are complimenting. I recommend connecting with people who have similar values to you. For example, there are people who pretend they are invalid to force sympathy and feel important. If you are someone who values self-reliance and responsibility, it probably isn’t worth the effort to put the moves on this person because they probably won’t add value to your network. Yes, I am saying that some people are not worth connecting with from a networking perspective.

I brought this up earlier, but another great appeal to narcissism is to use the mirroring technique from ex-FBI terrorist negotiator Chris Voss. Just say the last three words of whatever they’re saying if it fits with the situation. This will bate people into diving deeper into the thought their already having while feeling accepted and heard. In his Masterclass, he talked about how he taught a guy the mirroring technique and he used it to get everyone to like him on his cruise ship. Mirroring makes people think we’re more interesting than we actually are.

We’re just showing people what they like, themselves.

Names are the Sweetest Sounds

In Dale Carnegie’s How to Win Friends and Influence People, he found that across cultures and languages people love to hear their names. No surprise, people are inherently narcissistic. When we hear our names, we feel recognized.

The sweetest word in any language is our own names.

My cousin Brian is one of the sweetest and caring people I know. He often gives his money and attention to those who are less fortunate. He told me about a homeless person who said one of the hardest things about being homeless is never hearing your name. The guy said he felt almost like less of a person because of it. So Brian makes an effort to get to know some homeless people’s names so they can hear it.

Hearing our names is a privilege, but it also makes us really happy.

One thing notable tidbit is that most people, especially in high-performing circles, know that saying names makes people like you so doing it too much or with bad taste could come off like brown-nosing. Be tasteful with your techniques, don’t come off like Andy Bernard from The Office.

Talk In Terms of Their Interests

One of the most impactful ideas I’ve ever read came from the book The Art of Communication by Thich Nhat Hanh. In order to communicate clearly and effectively, we have to meet them at their level of conversation regardless of who they are. It is our job to communicate in a way that others understand. Expecting people to conform to their listening to our preferred way of communicating is a losing strategy and will breed a ton of disappointment.

This is huge when it comes to dealing with my students. If I start using language they don’t easily understand, I’ll lose them and they’re more likely to dig their heels into the ground. People are also more open to new ideas when they can recognize something familiar in them. Whenever I’m talking to my students, I’m constantly looking for points of connection and similarity between what they know and what I am trying to teach them.

Being able to conform to all these different forms of communication makes us a better communicator but also more diverse and interesting to others. As time goes on, I start to see the beauty in those new topics too and they start to become like my interests.


There are a ton of other networking techniques out there. These are just a few to get started, like a jumping-off point. Networking is all about understanding that people are more alike than different and putting ourselves in other people’s shoes.

Networking is all about connecting. Connecting people to people, people to ideas, people to opportunities.

Removing obstacles to that connection and doing what we can to make it easier.

Categories
Education

Solo Studying vs. Group Studying

“Surround yourself with good people that compliment the areas where you are weak”

Jacko Willink (1971 – )

The professor just announced the exam is coming up. We’re a little stressed, but not too stressed. Luckily, we’ve read Chris’ blog posts and understand the fundamental principles of studying Active Recall and Spaced Repetition. We also read my posts of Strategies for Better Studying 1, 2, 3, & 4, so we know a thing or two about how to studying for this exam effectively.

On top of that, we read his posts on time management and scheduling Part 1, Part 2, Part 3 so we know exactly when and where we can start applying the study strategies. We even read his post on Conquering Test and Performance Anxiety, so we have some strategies to handle that too.

It’s safe to say that we know a little bit about kicking academic ass, but then our classmate turns to us and asks a question.

“Hey, do you want to join our study group?”

Suddenly, we’re present to the fact that we don’t know if we actually want a study group or not. We aren’t sure if the study group will help or harm the progress we already made.

Maybe there will be people in the group that know way more than us and this study group will be the difference between a pass and fail.

Or maybe they’ll constantly go off-topic and spend too much time on the concepts we already understand.

Study groups and solo studying each have their own benefits and drawbacks. What determines if a study group will be beneficial is based on a few variables. The best way to decide for ourselves is to be knowledgeable of the benefits and drawbacks of group vs. solo studying and weigh them according to our particular situation.

Benefits of Solo Studying

The first (and possibly most obvious) benefit of solo studying is fewer distractions. When we are left on our own, we have the minimum amount of distractions available to us. Fewer distractions mean a higher probability of accomplishing deep and substantial work. If we can minimize our distractions, we have a greater chance of reaching flow and making significant progress.

Fewer distractions also mean higher access to focus, which is a fundamental ingredient to deep work.

When we study on our own, we have complete control over the study environment and study schedule. This means we can study whenever and wherever we want. Want a midnight study session in the parking lot of McDonald’s? You got it.

Although I don’t recommend studying at midnight in a Micky D’s parking lot, it is nice to be able to choose when and where we study. This way we can minimize excuses. No waiting on other people. No scheduling conflicts. It’s just us and our material.

Studying solo gives us maximum flexibility. We can take breaks whenever we want and spend as much time as we need on whatever concepts we need to. When I was in O-chem, I spent an ungodly amount of time going over reaction mechanisms. I would come home at around 7 pm and review the mechanisms over and over until midnight or 1 in the morning. This was possible because I was studying alone. I didn’t need to wait for anyone or make sure that everyone was cool with the time. I was simply able to use the time I found and didn’t need to qualify it. Most of my classmates wanted to study when I had work, so I had to go about it on my own.

Another fantastic benefit of studying solo is not spending extra time on concepts that we already understand. For me personally, there are some topics that I get faster than others and some topics that take me longer to understand. When we study solo we don’t have to hold anyone back from their studying and no one has to hold us back from ours. We can spend our time focusing on the concepts we don’t really know, which is crucial for effective and efficient studying.

Drawbacks of Solo Studying

When we’re working on our own it’s easy to talk ourselves out of studying, especially when no one else is counting on us to study. It can be extremely motivating when we have people around us who are focused on the same goal as us. If sticking to commitments is challenging, I recommend checking out my posts The Relationship with Ourselves (Part 1) and Maintaining Purpose.

Another drawback of solo studying is increased potential inaccuracy with facts. It’s hard to make sure that we’re studying something correctly if no one is around to double check out work. Yes, we can refer to the textbook, lecture notes, or other resources, but it’s still possible to support evidence that supports our incorrect beliefs. When we are studying solo we have to be mindful of cognitive bias, particularly confirmation bias.

When it’s Best to Study Solo

“To believe your own thought, to believe that what is true for you in your private heart is true for all men,—that is genius.”

Ralph Waldo Emerson (Self-Reliance)

There are a few indicators that let us know when it’s probably in our best interest to study on our own.

If the group is too talkative or off pace, then it’s probably time to switch gears and study solo. Now, this isn’t to say that study groups need to be quiet. After all, coming together and studying requires conversation but that conversation should be in service to the greater purpose of understanding and learning the information that we’re responsible for knowing.

Pay attention to where the group is headed. If you sense disaster, run immediately.

Another sign that it’s best to study on our own is if the sessions are rescheduled. In order to maintain a healthy relationship with ourselves, we need to maintain commitments to ourselves, no matter how small. If the group decides that 4-5 pm after class on Friday isn’t good enough, we can still study at that time. If the group bails, no worries we can still kick ass all on our own.

Although there are many indicators, the last sign I’m going to discuss is if the group has a different level of understanding that we do. It is a colossal waste of time to study in groups if the group is far ahead or far behind our own understanding. Trust me, I’ve tried it both ways. It’s best to study with people of similar or equal competency, too much time is wasted otherwise.

Benefits of Group Studying

While studying on our own is effective, studying in groups can provide many advantages. With groups comes an opportunity to discuss concepts with others which tests our comprehension as well as creates more intricate neural connections. The more connections we have to a particular piece of information, the easier it is for us to recall it.

The group setting can also be a place to get our questions answered. If someone in the group knows more about a concept, then they can explain it to us exactly how we need it. Our group members may have a fresh understanding of the subject, so they know precisely what we need to know to go from ignorant to expert. This is a fantastic place to break down complicated topics.

Additionally, being around other students can be motivating. I know I’m less likely to slack off if I’m in the library with a group of other academics trying to prepare for this test. Especially if the test is graded on a curve and I have to perform better than my classmates.

It’s been known that social interaction makes people feel safer and calm their nerves. Group studying can work the same way. Studying alone can be an anxiety-inducing activity, especially if we’re seriously behind, but studying with a group could help calm the nerves too. The sense of “all of us are suffering together” makes things a little less painful and nerve-racking. Working with a group to solve a bunch of problems is a lot less daunting than working along to solve a bunch of problems.

When we study in groups, we get to teach each other. The opportunity to teach others is one of the most powerful study methods at our disposal. Teaching to our group mates puts us in the role of “expert” and it is from that place where we confront the gaps in our knowledge.

This happens to me with tutoring all the time. There are two possible outcomes when I try to teach something – I either teach it flawlessly or I don’t and realize that I don’t understand something. The best part is that if I mess up teaching the concept, the less I mess it up in the future. Honestly, it’s embarrassing, stressful, and painful to teach something that we don’t understand and that negative emotion gives a strong enough jolt to make me remember all the things I didn’t know the next time I have to teach. It’s kind of like putting our hand on a hot stove, the pain helps us remember.

Drawbacks of Group Studying

Studying in groups can be extremely powerful, but that’s not at a price.

With groups comes a higher chance to get distracted. All it takes is 1 person to derail the whole group. The group is only as strong as it’s the weakest link. This isn’t to say that all groups are distracting, some groups could offer a perfect study environment but that has to be intentioally selected for.

Groups are also less flexible when it comes to studying schedules. We risk spending too much or too little time on concepts which is an inefficient use of our time. Additionally, we can only study when EVERYONE’S schedule allows for it, which drastically limits convenience. A certain time may be optimal for everyone’s schedules, but that time may not be optimal for studying. I recommend scheduling study sessions during the hours you feel the most alert, for me that’s around 11 am – 2 pm. Knowing thyself is key here, as with most things.

One last point, including more people tends to make systems run slower, be mindful of that when picking groups.

When it’s Best to Study in Groups

“In the crowd one feels no responsibility, but also no fear.”

Carl Jung (Archetypes & The Collective Unconscious)

Here are a few things to look out for when determining if we should study in a group:

If our classmates are high performers and highly motivated, a study group could be the difference between success and failure. I’ve had study groups with struggling students, average students, and high achieving students and I can say that without a shadow of a doubt that studying with the high performing students gave me better results than the other two groups. Be cautious of groups if other people tend to distract you more than motivate you. Know thyself is the most useful piece of advice here. If other people motivate you more than distract you, then go for it. Sometimes our classmates can help keep us focused when we get distracted.

Additionally, it has been proven that it is easier to recall information through discussions because the conversations allow us to make multiple connections to the information. The multiple connections we create make the recall easier. Study groups are great for having a discussion about a concept or idea.

I recommend group studying when we are comfortable with a subject. If there isn’t much deep work to be done, groups are a fantastic way of studying more efficiently, However, if there’s a lot of heavy lifting that needs to be done I suggest studying solo or with one other person.

What to Look for in Study Partner (or group)

There are a few things I like to keep in mind when looking for people to study with —

  1. Make sure that they are looking for the same type of study partner. They have to be able to match our needs as we can match theirs. Some questions to ask can be: How often will we be studying? What kind of studying will be do – more learning or more reviewing? Will it be online or in-person? Are they someone we can easily communicate with? Are they someone who is mindful and respectful of our time as well as their own?
  2. Make sure that they have a similar study plan and test date. This is easy if someone is in the same class as us, but not so easy for standardized tests where people have different dates and times. If they have a different test date than us, then they will inevitably have a different study plan and our time together may not be as constructive as it would be if we had to same test dates. A test coming up in 2 days requires a different strategy than a test coming up in 2 months.
  3. Make sure they have complementary or similar struggles. This is the best way to utilize group studying. Refer to the first quote I put at the beginning of this post. We get an opportunity to learn from our classmates when we surround ourselves with people who understand the concepts that we don’t. In my experience, if a student understands a concept proficiently, they can explain it to a fellow student better than a professor. Additionally, if they have similar struggles, then we can spend most of our time tackling the things we don’t know together.
  4. Make sure they have similar study habits. Maybe they like silence and we like some chill lo-fi in the background. Maybe they like larger groups and we like smaller ones. Maybe they prefer to study in the afternoon and we prefer to study at night. Paying attention to our own habits allows us to understand what we need to create our own optimal study environment.
  5. Make sure they are someone that you can share resources with. They should be knowledgeable in efficient and effective study techniques, (and if they aren’t then share my content with them so they can be) so they can teach us new methods or whatever else they learn. I showed my girlfriend Anki when she was studying for her MCAT and she showed me Anki plug-ins, which brings active recall to a whole new level.
  6. Make sure they can motivate you and keep on on track. It’s easier to hold ourselves accountable when we have partners. They can lift us up when we’re feeling down and keep us on the straight and narrow.
  7. Make sure that they are comfortable to be around. This helps us with actually asking for help when we’re stuck. When I’m tutoring my students, I try to make the environment as comfortable as possible because I know that we’re spending most of our time together working on something that makes them feel inadequate or is at least proof of their incompetence. These things are impossible to work on if we aren’t comfortable.

Bottom Line

I’ve had study groups save me, like my first exam for O-chem 2. I wouldn’t have studied anything that my group was studying, but thank God I did because all of that stuff was on the test. But I’ve also had study groups sink me, like in P-chem. I studied for my 2nd P-chem exam with a group of peers that I share multiple classes with. We studied for hours and hours but when it came to testing day, we all got D’s.

Group studying and solo studying — one isn’t inherently better than the other. Their benefits only shine through once we know what we want.

Determining the superior method depends on what we want to accomplish.

If there is a lot of work to catch up on I recommend studying solo or with 1 other person. If we’re more comfortable with the material and just have to focus on review, then groups are a fantastic option.

I’m a little bias because most of the powerful study techniques I talk about don’t require groups, but circumstances change and it’s better to be educated about the options so we can pivot rather than just picking one side and brute-forcing it.

Know what works best for you in terms of study techniques and do that. If you prefer flashcarding alone, do it. If you prefer discussion groups, do it.

The bottom line — get those neurons firing.