How to choose the right study partner

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Learning can be a lonely business when it’s just you and your books.

For some study partners are key for mutual support as well as learning.  But how do you pick a suitable study buddy? Does an online group work as well as actual contact?  And when is it better to study alone?

Find a friend…

Study partners can offer personal and academic support: you learn together while also offering each other mutual support when things get tough. Whether you have one study partner or are part of a group, Mary Dobson, AAT Curriculum Lead at Doncaster College and University Centre said: “We actively encourage our students from day one to work with the person they are sat next to. I find this encourages the student to engage with each other from the beginning of the course”.

If you want to work with one person, then it makes sense to find someone with the same attitude to work as you. That can be as simple as finding someone who likes to study at the same time of day as you – if you’re a night owl then you don’t want a lark as a study mate.

…Or friends

If you’d rather, you can have multiple mates: particularly if you want to harness the benefits of technology when working. Catherine Andrews of Tameside College said: “It’s all about mutual support, helping each other work and bouncing ideas of each other. My A level group all support each other through a WhatsApp group: it doesn’t need to be a one to one personal support”.

Leanne Pilkington is in her third and final year at Doncaster College studying AAT Level 4. She said: “When you start college you form groups you work best with. Thankfully, there are a few of us who have been around since Level 2. We help each other out and have WhatsApp groups to throw ideas around and discuss our ways of revising”.

Rebecca Fay is fully AAT qualified and is now studying towards ACCA. Like Leanne, she didn’t have a single study friend but was part of an online support group. “I joined the AAT students group Facebook page. Students would use it to ask technical questions or even just as a venting agent to air their stresses with studying. Indirectly this was helpful because it reassured me that when I was struggling I was not the only one and actually to feel like that was quite normal”.

What’s the theory?

Two heads are better than one, says the proverb. There’s even an academic study to support this. In Classmate Peer Coaching: a Study Buddy Support Scheme (2014, University of Wollongong) the research found that those who participated in a buddy scheme were less likely to drop out of their courses, more likely to pass their exams and were overwhelmingly (more than 90%) in favour of the scheme.

That study might have been of antipodean midwives and nurses, but having a study buddy works whatever you’re studying. And actually, it’s particularly useful for AAT students. Dobson said: “I think it is an excellent idea to have a study partner. Our learners are only in college for six hours per week so by having a study partner they are able to ask each other questions outside of class and if they are still not 100% sure they can then contact the tutor”.

Catherine Littler, a trainer and consultant for AAT who is a published author and expert on mindful learning, said: “What’s really good about having a study buddy is that it helps you learn. A big part of learning is being able to understand information and to relay that information. If you have a study buddy to discuss topics with, you benefit from having to put your ideas into words; if you have to explain a subject to your study partner, then you have to understand it – and thus you learn it”.

Keeping it real

Feeling isolated can be a problem. Littler said: “Studying on your own can be lonely particularly if you are distant learning. But if you have someone to study with – and they don’t even need to be doing the same course – then it really helps. It means you’re not alone, that you have somebody to share things with”.

Having a study partner can allow you to pool resources if you need to.

You can have a joint study schedule: you’re much more likely to keep to one if there are two or more of you involved. You can also have fun together – setting each other quizzes, for example. Offer rewards for winning, Maybe you can arrange a treat for the pair of you when you’ve completed a particular assignment.

Different ways of studying?

You can learn from each other’s studying methods, Tutor Catherine Andrews explained: “I’ve got a study pair where one partner is into particular ways of working such as flashcards and Power Point, while the partner is into more traditional ways of studying. They complement each other and work well together, learning from each other’s methods of working”.

And there’s a particular benefit for those studying accountancy subjects, said Littler. “Many come to accountancy because they enjoy working with numbers only to find that a big part of the work involves writing reports for businesses. If you have a study partner then it can help if they read your work – otherwise you could fall into the trap of being too theoretical rather than actually communicating effectively with your intended audience.”

When it’s better to go it alone

Sometimes study partnerships don’t work. Dobson commented: “Having a study partner can be counterproductive if one student is starting to lose interest in the course. However having a study partner can encourage a student to re-engage with a course”.  Andrews added: “Where student partners don’t work is when you have one really bright student and one less so and the latter’s level of attainment is disguised by their brighter partner”.

And be wary of having a yes man (or woman) as your buddy: “You need someone who will be a critical friend” said Littler. “There is no point in just having someone who says everything is good without really listening. You have to be able to give as well receive constructive criticism”. And, after all, isn’t that what being friends – as well as study partners – is all about?

Browse the full range of AAT study support resources here

Charlotte Beugge spent more than 20 years as the deputy personal finance editor on The Daily Telegraph and then The Daily Mail. A freelancer since 2010, her work has appeared in national newspapers, magazines and websites.

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