Originally published March 18, 2016. Republished October 9, 2018.
When an important test, such as the bar exam, approaches, it's natural for students to revisit their studying techniques to be sure that how they're studying is adequately preparing them for success. One of the most common questions that students have is whether it is better to study alone or in a group.
There isn’t much scientific evidence that indicates that one studying technique is better than the other. Rather, it depends on the type of environment you best excel in. Both study techniques have their advantages and disadvantages, so consider these factors when deciding how you are going to approach preparing for the bar exam.
The bar exam will require significant time studying and digging through material and practice questions on your own. Time spent personally reflecting on the information you're studying is critical to truly understanding it. As with any studying technique, though, there are some things to consider with this necessary method.
Some people prefer to study alone because they concentrate better without any distractions. When there’s no one around to divert your attention, you’re left with the opportunity to get through each section faster and have full control over what you study and for how long. When you’re in a group, you may end up spending a lot of time on material you’re already comfortable with and not spend as much time as you would like on other subjects.
Studying on your own also gives you more flexibility. Coordinating the schedules of multiple people and organizing a place to meet can be difficult when trying to study in a group. Studying solo gives you maximum flexibility to study when and where it's convenient for you, whether you want to fit in a study session after work or crack open your review materials while your waiting for your laundry.
Additionally, if you tend to absorb more information by writing it down repeatedly, reading directly from your notes, or utilizing any other study habits that don’t require other people to be present, studying alone would probably work best for you.
If you come across a topic or concept that you're having difficulty understanding when you're studying by yourself, you may be unable to ask others for help right away. Preparing for the bar exam requires more than just memorizing and reciting material. You must also understand the application of the law and be able to connect different topics together. Studying in a group allows you to collaborate with others who may be able to help you understand those concepts and make those connections. If you’re able to make those connections by yourself, though, time studying on your own may be the only thing you need.
Gather round, everyone.
Studying alone is an essential part of preparing for the bar exam. Studying in a group, though, can also be beneficial to some students. However, this technique comes with its own set of pros and cons.
Studying with other people is kind of like being in class because you are able to hear what your peers have to say. When you’re in a group, you have the ability to bounce ideas off of one another, which is a great way to go over particularly complicated topics. Everyone interprets information differently. Your perception of a situation could be completely different than someone else’s and being able to discuss those analyses with one another can help give you a better understanding of that topic.
Being in a group also allows you to test yourself by teaching others. As mentioned before, sometimes when you’re studying with other people, you go over subjects you’re already comfortable with. Take that opportunity to share that knowledge. When you can successfully explain a particular topic to another person, you know you have fully grasped that information yourself.
Additionally, studying in a group can help calm your nerves. Preparing for the bar exam can feel overwhelming. Knowing that there are other people going through the same thing can help you feel like you're not alone and can make the task feel more manageable.
One of the downsides to studying in a group is that you may start with the intention of reviewing class material, but end up talking about what you did over the weekend or what your plans are after the study session is over. When there are more people around, there are more distractions. Though studying in a group can prove to be more productive than studying alone, depending on your preferred study habits, the chances of being distracted are greater when there are a lot of people in one group.
Finding a balance
For some people, studying alone may be all they need. For those people struggling to see the big picture, however, we recommend finding a balance between the two. If you find that studying certain material for the bar exam is easier alone, go over that particular information by yourself. Then try getting together with a couple of friends, perhaps for an hour before class once or twice a week, to discuss other material that is more challenging to grasp on your own. The key is getting the most out of every study session you have—not matter what study techniques you use. You never want to feel like you wasted your time studying, whether you were alone or with other people.