How to IMSA: Group Projects

Accurately encapsulates most IMSA students' feelings towards group projects. Made with Imgflip.

Sooner or later, you’ll encounter the bane of all high school students’ GPAs: group projects.

Sometimes you get good group members. You like all of them and/or work well with all of them. In that case, group projects are an opportunity to both boost your grades and build friendships.

Often, however, you end up with a bad partner, a bad group member, or an entire bad group. As IMSA slang puts it, you end up being the “carry” for your group.

The problem with group projects is that people tend to look at the words “group project” on their daily planners and think, “Eh, I can afford to not do anything for that project. My group members will take care of it”…except when everybody in the group has that mindset, then nothing gets done.

Even when you divvy up the work “evenly,” you frequently end up with at least one group member who offers a lame excuse for not doing their part.

As someone who’s been both the “carry” and the “carried,” here’s some advice on surviving group projects.

  1. Meet up to work on the project at least once in the days leading up to the project. That’s days, plural – as in, don’t have your first all-group meeting the day before the presentation. Even if it’s just for an hour, by meeting in person, you hold each other accountable for actually working on the project during that time. You’d be surprised how much work you can get done.
  2. Admit when you don’t know what you’re doing. Your partner/group has to know what they can expect from you in terms of project contributions. If you simply don’t understand what’s going on, there’s nothing wrong with admitting that straight-up.
  3. On that note, don’t expect everyone in your group to be competent. Sometimes your partner will give you what you think is a lame excuse, but what is actually a poorly-disguised way of saying, “I genuinely do not know what I’m doing.” Some students are great at math but just can’t analyze poetry. That’s normal. And it’s better for someone to admit that they don’t understand the project than for them to pretend like they know what they’re doing and just do everything wrong.
  4. If #3 happens to be the case, you can try to tutor your group member(s). Of course, this depends on the amount of time you can feasibly devote to the project (and also on your personal patience!), but if possible, you should always help your group members get up to speed with the task at hand.
  5. If #3 happens to be the case and you simply don’t have the time to tutor your group members, you can do the harder work yourself and ask your group members to do the easier but still necessary tasks, like proofreading, organizing PowerPoint presentations, printing materials, etc.
  6. On a related note, always spread out the work, no matter how trivial the tasks are. Some teachers require group project reflections. You can’t very well write, “I did everything by myself.” Better to write, “My group members did Y and Z, which was pretty easy, and I did X, which was considerably harder, but we still spread out the work.” Plus, a considerable portion of a group project grade is given based on collaboration.
  7. If you’re the person being carried, don’t take out your insecurities on your own carry. It’s a terrible group dynamic. Sometimes a group will blame their own “carry” for making a mistake in the project – when that mistake wouldn’t have happened if the rest of the group had helped. Or, they’ll complain about the project to the one group member who’s actually doing all the work.

And hey, not all group projects are bad, as long as everyone does something. If you’ve got a group project due soon, it’ll help both you and your group to work on it over the upcoming extended.

About the Author

Grace Yue
Grace Yue is a junior from Des Plaines, a resident of 03A for the second year running, and the Opinions editor for the 2018-19 school year. Outside of Acronym, she participates in an SIR particle physics analysis at Fermilab, is a peer tutor, and volunteers as an SCS member. You can find her in 06B-wing "studying" particle physics, or in 03C-wing writing the next installation of the How to IMSA column, which she co-authors with her friend and hallmate Mara Adams.

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