In our recent Student Engagement Insights survey, we asked a series of questions about students’ study habits. The responses will give you a window of insight into students’ attitudes and preferences.

As you review these responses, you might consider the types of recommendations you could make to your own students who seek your advice about refining or improving their study habits.


How do students prefer to study?

Of over four thousand students who responded:

  • 67% prefer to study alone
  • 23% prefer studying with a partner
  • 10% prefer to study in groups of three or more

As you can see, the majority of students stated that they prefer studying on their own. However, we also observed that, for some students, circumstances may dictate a change in habit.

We also asked: Do your study habits depend on the course you’re taking (e.g., do you study in groups for chemistry or language, while studying on your own for English or accounting)? We observed a few trends; we’ve summarized them below.

Five reasons why students vary their study habits

1. Different subjects call for different strategies. No one subject rose to the top as “best for studying alone” or “best for studying in groups,” but a large number of students did state that they vary their study habits based on the course for which they needed to study. A few representative examples:

  • “It’s easy to study for something like history or math on your own, but learning a language is difficult without interacting with others.”
  • “In my EMT courses group studying was way more helpful, while in accounting now, I like to study alone.”
  • “…for classes such as history or science I feel it is best to study with someone else. If you talk out what you just learned you are more likely to remember it. However, English is a more solitary subject in which I do not find it helpful to talk with others.”
  • “…for more math-based classes I like studying alone doing practice problems. Other classes that require memorization and understanding concepts I like working with others.”
  • “…if studying for a class that involves a high volume of reading I prefer to discuss book questions and materials in a study group. Math, and other classes that involve individual participation to understand material, are better worked alone.”

2. They need extra help (or moral support). If students feel confident in a course or subject area, they may decide to go it alone. However, if the material challenges or confuses them, they’re often more ready to seek out the camaraderie, or assistance, of others. One student said, “If it is a subject I understand I prefer to study by myself, but if I am struggling in the subject, I prefer to study with others.” Another wrote: “I usually prefer to study alone, but if I have difficulty understanding a certain concept or subject, I will ask other students if they understand it and can explain it to me.”

And, some students did mention they’ve seen a benefit from studying with others: “In language we did study together and it was a lot better.”

3. They want to hear a variety of perspectives. Interestingly, some students noted that they liked to work with others because they like the interchange of ideas and opinions. One student simply wrote, “…I like feedback in my religion classes.” An accounting student said, “…I like to study with a group of classmates for the harder classes. Doing so helps me out a lot, because sometimes studying alone could result in tunnel vision. Studying with others and learning their perspectives on certain problems can greatly help you understand what you’re learning in different ways.”

4. The instructor may require group work. Many students mentioned that they tend to prefer working alone, but that they do often have to work in teams to complete group work assigned by instructors. One graduate student wrote that “it is mandatory that we form study groups for this graduate program.”

5. They’ll study together if friends are taking the same course. Some students enjoy working together when they’re already friends with someone in the same class. As one student said: “If I have a friend in class, I may study with them but usually I study alone.”


Five reasons why students students might always study either alone, or in groups

1. They just prefer one strategy over another. Some always prefer studying alone. Others prefer “groups all day, every day.” Either way, some students’ choices are simply driven by their desire to either be alone, or work with others. A few students have even figured out how to have the best of both worlds: “I work better while studying with a classmate. Even if we work separately but… ask each other questions.”

2. Because of their physical circumstances, it’s hard to meet with others. Due to their distance from the college, or their status as fully online students, some respondents said they always study alone because no fellow students are nearby. Some recognize that they could meet virtually, but that they preferred not to because it felt “impersonal,” or that schedules were difficult to manage.

3. They want to avoid distractions. More often than not, those who studied alone cited a desire to focus and concentrate. One student said: “I tend to get off subject when I study in groups, so I generally study on my own.”

4. Their schedule demands that they study alone. Family or work responsibilities may require students to study when, and where, they can. This makes studying with others more challenging.

5. They believe that every class benefits from some interaction. One fortunate student told us that “We always help each other.” Another said that “studying is always better with another mind to talk aloud about the information,” while another wrote that “since I get along well with my classmates, I try to conduct a group study of two or more people for every class I’m in.”


Ways to apply these findings in your classroom

Wondering how you can apply this information to your classes? Consider how these students’ statements might help the students in your classes.

  • If students want to form study groups, but seem uncomfortable taking that initiative, what might you do to make it easier for them to find like-minded study partners in the class?
  • What study tools can you recommend or make available to students who need additional guidance or practice, but whose schedules demand that they can only study on their own?
  • If a student has a hard time concentrating when studying (whether alone or with others), what tips can you offer them to increase their focus and, ultimately, their effectiveness?
  • What study habits benefited you as a student in your own discipline? Pass those tips along to your students.

Share your study tips for students in the comments.