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Testing study groups during the students’ first semester

Brief description

During student orientation week, the mentor team holds a workshop in which they establish study groups. Between this workshop and the autumn break (week 42), the students get to try out three different study groups, so they can try collaborating with different people and in different ways. The final study groups are established based on a discussion between the mentors and the individual students about their preferences.

The teacher’s motivation

Study groups increase student retention and improve learning. The better students achieve their learning outcomes in the first academic year, the better they perform during the rest of their degree.

Description of the activity

  1. During student orientation week, the mentors hold a workshop in which they establish study groups. The workshop includes the following:
  2. The mentors explain what a study group is, what students can use them for, and what working in a study group will be like for them going forward.
  3. Students are put into their first study groups, which are randomly composed.
  4. Every other week following the workshop, new study groups are established, so each student gets to collaborate with as many other students as possible.
  5. One week before the autumn break, at which point the students will have been in three different study groups, the mentors hold one-to-one talks with all the students:
  6. During these talks, they discuss how things are going and what it’s been like to work in study groups.
  7. In connection with this discussion, the students fill out a point-based questionnaire to indicate their preferences for their final study group.
  8. Based on the talk and the questionnaire, the mentors establish the final study groups for the rest of the semester.
  9. In the week following the autumn break, the mentors hold a final study group workshop, during which the students write and sign study group contracts and align their expectations in the individual study groups.
  • Along the way, the mentors ensure that any problems in the groups are properly dealt with.
  • The permanent study groups continue during the second semester. After this, it’s up to the students themselves to establish their study groups. Students often choose to continue in their study groups from the first semester – in any case, students are expected to continue working work as part of a study group.

Read a practice example about the mentor scheme in groups.

Resources for students:

Materials for the two workshops:

  • Text; introduction to the process and the purpose of study groups (including four small exercises).
  • Cases; exercise in which the students discuss how a study group solves a given challenge.
  • Question that makes the students reflect on their cooperation in the study group.

Support for students

A team of mentors are tasked with helping the study groups during the semester. This team consists of ten mentors available for five hours a week for half a year. During the first semester, they hold 12 academically relevant workshops for the students, which includes the study group workshops.

Outcome of the activity

  • The study group evaluations from autumn 2021 show that 73.9 per cent of students agree or strongly agree with the statement that they’re satisfied with their final study group. At the same time, 78.8 per cent agree or strongly agree with the statement that they use their final study group to a high degree.
  • Previously, the student advisers were responsible for establishing study groups. Now the mentors are in charge of monitoring and maintaining the study groups, which they do over a longer period of time together with other academic support.


  • Starting study groups as early as the student orientation week requires coordination with the student adviser association and a particular focus on making sure that everyone is included (for example, students that are prevented from participating in the student orientation week).
  • It is important that the mentors maintain a professional relationship with the students.
  • Study groups require timely intervention if problems arise. If just one student drops out, or if the teamwork doesn’t work, it’s important to intervene so the problems don’t escalate. This also requires good communication, as the effort to solve one study group’s problems usually means that another study group has to change its composition. So it is important to balance the changes with all those involved.
  • Some students prefer to work alone, and they rarely do as well as those in study groups.

Useful tips

  • Make sure that the students organise themselves into study groups and make sure that they schedule study group work. This is easiest if the teaching follows a regular weekly schedule.
  • It is also important that the students have the same study groups across all of their courses, so they are only part of one study group at a time. Otherwise, it would be too difficult for them to meet regularly.

Basic information

  • Faculty: NAT, the Department of Mathematics
  • Degree programme: Across Data Science, Mathematics-Economics and Mathematics.
  • Course: All first-semester courses
  • Study level: BA
  • Size of class: 200
  • Form of instruction: Study groups
  • Extent: Short course
  • Primary activity type: Discussion, collaboration and exercise/practice
  • How the case is carried out: Classroom instruction

Learning objectives

In addition to the social aspect and strengthening the students’ affiliation to their degree programme, the study groups should also maintain student engagement and activation and thereby support the learning outcomes of the courses.