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Northwestern University

Generative AI as a Study Partner


Students can use Generative AI (GAI) tools as a study partner. In fact, large language models (LLMs) can be used like a tutor to help you better understand course concepts. But what GAI help is too much help? At Northwestern, we suggest the following guidelines to safeguard academic integrity:

How is GAI Different from Google?

Students are very familiar with the search engines such as Google. Ask it a question and it will respond with thousands of resources - websites, images, videos, even particular moments in a video. LLMs are different: they actually generate text to answer the question, sometimes with supporting references where the user can learn more. As LLMs are language prediction machines, they predict what text might follow a prompt, rather than searching the web to identify places you might find an answer. Try some identical searches in Google and an LLM, such as "Best colleges for singing and acting" or "Help me with my calculus homework" or "Write a 500-word essay on Alexander the Great." What do you notice about the answers and how do they differ?

Remember that all content produced by GAI should be checked for accuracy and bias. Check items presented as facts, as well as references and citations.

Video Inspiration

Watch this short video featuring Assistant Professor in the Department of Computer Science Kate Compton about GAI as the world's best tutor to spark your imagination.

Tips for Making GAI a Study Partner

For students, the emphasis should be on learning from GAI, not producing content for submission. Here are a few suggestions for making an LLM into a learning tool:

The tutor

This prompt, which appears in Ethan Mollick's June 12, 2023 post titled, "Assigning AI: Seven Ways of Using AI in Class," sets up an LLM to tutor the user on any subject.

Learn terms and how to remember them

This prompt sets up an LLM to help students learn discipline-specific terms and create mnemonics for remembering them.


This prompt creates a partner out of the GAI - a patient, a coach, a debate partner - to improve performance with feedback.

Test yourself with open-ended questions

One of the best ways to learn something is to be tested on it. This prompt allows you to test yourself with in-depth questions and receive useful feedback.

Test yourself with multiple-choice questions

A variation on the open-ended quiz prompt, this prompt allows you to prepare for an exam of a similar format.

Remember that LLMs sometimes misinterpret what you ask of them. You may need to refine or adjust your request - "no, you are the patient in the role play, not the doctor" - to make it perform the way you intend.

Finally, remember that the University has many academic resources for students where you can find help with study groups, writing, research and fellowships.

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