I am a student and another student asked me to study together for an exam and I agreed. But when we started studying he didn't know much about the subject, and I had to explain to him how to solve the problems and waste a lot of time in doing so.

Should I keep studying with him?

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    Often the best way to cement learning of a subject is to teach someone else. – Bob Brown Jan 25 at 14:33
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    I think whether it is helping you significantly depends on the expertise differential. If you have to teach him basics, this may hold yourself back. If the other student is only moderately behind, explaining to them may be beneficial also for you. – Captain Emacs Jan 25 at 15:31
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    This is purely a matter of opinion and personal values. I voted to close. – Anonymous Physicist Jan 26 at 2:44

Ask yourself what you are getting out of it. If nothing, then give it up and just advise the student to study harder.

But it is just possible that you are benefitting from the experience. Having to explain things to others firms up your own understanding in many fields. Many professors have had the experience that teaching a relatively low level course for the first time gave them a deeper understanding. Even something like, say, calculus.

One of the most important aspects to learning is reinforcement and feedback. Depending on the other student's questions and issues, you may be getting both from the interaction.

Think about it and also think about your best use of the time. Active learning (as in such a scenario) may be more effective than passive (reading notes, say).

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This is not a clear case of a hard YES or NO answer.

Let's start with the question: Why should you continue?

You could continue studying with him and approach the study periods as though they are lessons to you about how to work with peers who do not have the same levels of interest, skills, comprehension, or aptitude as you have. This may be your first time in such a situation. It will not be your last time in such a situation. In the future, you may not have an option to leave such situations.

This approach will test your patience (as you have already noted). More importantly, this approach will test not only whether you have learned the material but also whether you can teach/communicate the meaning of that material to someone else with the expectation that you will not learn anything new about the material in return.

To be clear, I stand by the mantra that, what you think you know about something is only truly tested when you have to communicate it completely to someone who does not know it. You should make your own judgement about how this mantra comes to play in your case.

To what extent then are you prepared to continue in the study group when continuing may give you absolutely no new insights about the material that you are studying but when continuing could give you new insights about how to communicate what you already think that you know about the material yet continuing will definitely test your patience?

Now ask: Why should you not continue?

You should not continue when you have exhausted the above analysis to the point that you have determined that your return on investment is too low compared to the effort, time, and patience that you must invest during the study period.

This is only a shameful decision to make when it is done flippantly or conversely, when you blame the other student for YOUR choice.

So, when you decide you will stay, do so with an appreciation that the investments that you must make go beyond just learning the material, they include learning how to teach it. Also, the returns that you will get will perhaps not include learning more or new information about the material at hand versus learning how to communicate and teach what you already think that you know.

Alternatively, when you decide you will leave, do so with an appreciation that you owe the other student a respectful closing statement. An example might be: I have to stop working with you in the study group because I am not well-enough prepared to spend the time needed to teach you in the way that you seem to need.

In either case, I strongly recommend that you visit your course instructor for two reasons. First, for any course material, the highest level of understanding that students have generally never fully exceeds the level of understanding that a course instructor has. Secondly, you will do well to ask your instructor for advice about this situation. He/She may be able to point you to better resources (on-line Web tutorials, university study mentors) that you can suggest to your classmate to help him as supplements when you continue in the study group or, more importantly, as replacements when you leave the study group.

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Your choice.

Of course, you knew that. You might also suspect things could turn to your benefit, but believe such a payoff is unlikely. If you're looking for an excuse to help, to see if such a possibility exists, then let me provide you with a scenario. True story, involving me, where I fit the description of the other person in your story.

I went to a class. This was after I had been away from college for years, and this was the last quarter I could graduate under the old catalog, and was the last time this class was offered. I attended class and paid attention during the class. Yet I made an error that could well have been fatal to my efforts: I didn't take notes. I was naturally gifted with a talent of picking up an understanding of material quickly, doing well on tests, and memorizing some details rather well.

However, this humanities class ended up having a take-home exam which was a tremendous portion of the grade, and it asked for tons of nitpicky historical facts like dates and cities and other minor details. There was no way I would have passed this on my own.

Yet I had a savior... partners were allowed in this monstrosity of an exam, and here was an elder gentleman who was a fellow student and who was impressed with how attentive I seemed in class. He decided to partner with me.

I worked with him at the school and in his house, and it took us 3 or 4 days to fill out all the numerous questions that were asked. It became very evident that the only way either of us could pass was based on the notes he took. He quite literally saved me. But this was not unethical cheating - the rules totally permitted such "partnership". Surely, it was lopsided. I really only managed to contribute to one question the whole time. (There happened to be one question, out of the whole bunch, where my sharp memory did recall an obscure detail.)

So, he improved my score dramatically. What did I contribute back to him? Just one detail, which he somehow missed in his notes. The end result is that I graduated college. For him, the end result was his score was improved, by one correct question (out of probably hundreds).

I can also remember being in the shoes of being the knowledgeable one, when I was assigned a partner whose knowledge and skill were clearly inferior throughout the whole class. We were supposed to make a computer image, yet I decided we could go above and beyond by making an animation. It was wonderful, except for one part which was broken. I wasn't finding the cause as a deadline was closing in on us, yet my partner stunned me by successfully noticing a problem. He saved both of us.

So, getting back to you... would it be worthwhile to help, even if the overall result ends up being only a very slight benefit to your grade? (Not to say that those results are guaranteed... he might surprise you, and help a lot, or just not help at all.) Whether you deem such a slight bump to be worth your effort is a judgement call that would reflect how much you value your grade.

Also, there's the concept of you helping someone else. Maybe you doing such a good deed would just be a positive thing, simply for humanitarian reasons. Is that something you would like to invest in? Maybe the only benefit to you will be when someone else learned how nice you were. Maybe nobody will ever learn of that, but you yourself will know that you helped someone. Is this worthwhile?

If you were looking to see if excuses may exist on why to keep helping someone, I've just provided you with some. Ultimately, though, I agree with Anonymous Physicist's comment. There isn't a single answer which logic dictates to certainly be right. In the end, it's your judgement call.

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