Although still not at all that widely used, there’s long-standing interest in letting students work together on quizzes or exams. Upon first hearing about the approach,
teachers’ initial response is almost always negative. Here are the most common objections
- Grades are measures of individual mastery of material. With a group exam or quiz, some students may get a better grade than they’ve earned. Group grades do not measure individual learning.
- A group can settle on wrong answers and thereby lower the score of the single bright student in the group who knows the right answer.
- Group exams and quizzes make it too easy for students. They don’t have to think for themselves but can rely on others in the group to do the thinking for them.
- It’s cheating. Students are getting answers they don’t know from other students. They’re consulting another source rather than putting in the work and developing their own knowledge.
- Certifying exams (various professional exams such as those in nursing, accounting, the MCAT and GRE, for example) are not group exams. Group quizzes and exams do not prepare students for these all-important assessments.
On the other hand, those who do allow group collaboration on exams and quizzes may respond to the objections with a corresponding set of set of advantages
associated with their use.
- Group exams and quizzes reduce test anxiety. Pretty much across the board, students report that anticipating and participating in group exams and quizzes makes them feel less anxious. And for students with exam anxiety, that can be a significant benefit.
- Collaborative quizzes and exams show students that they can learn from each other. Many students arrive in courses believing the only person they can learn from is the teacher. But as they talk about test questions, share answer justifications, discuss what content the answer requires, they get to experience what it’s like to learn from peers.
- Group quizzes and exams provide immediate feedback. Students don’t have to wait to get the exam back. They get a good indication from those in the group why the answer is or is not correct.
- Working together on test questions teaches students how to identify credible arguments and sources. Given the opportunity to change answers based on what someone else says directly confronts students with the tough issues of who to believe and when to trust their own judgment.
- Collaborative quizzes and exams model how problem solving in professional contexts usually occurs. Professionals collaborate, they have access to resources, they can contact experts, they argue options, and evaluate possible answers. Collaborative testing gives students the opportunity to see how and why that results in better decision making.
- Group quizzes and exams can improve exam scores and sometimes, but not always, content retention. The improvement in scores is an expected outcome of collaboration, but the improvement is also present when students collaborate on exam questions and then answer questions that deal with the same content on a subsequent exam taken individually. Effects of collaboration on retention are mixed. See the following references listed at the end of this article for examples: Cortright, Collins, Rodenbaugh and DiCarlo, (2002), Gilley and Clarkson (2014), Leight, Sunders, Calkins and Withers (2012), Lust and Conklin (2003) and Woody, Woody and Bromley (2008).
Group/Collaborative Exam Design Options
The faculty who use group exam and quiz options also answer the concerns with a variety of different design options. Many of these options address the common objections mentioned earlier or work around them in ways that protect the integrity of assessment experiences.
- Use small groups, 3 or 4 students, even partners. The smaller the group, the greater the pressure to share and the harder it is to let everyone else in the group come up with the answers. Peer pressure is a powerful motivator. Most students do not want to look unprepared or stupid in front of their peers. In the Pandy and Kapitanoff (2011) design, on given exam days only 50% of the students collaborate. They work in pairs, but before they arrive in class they do not know if they would be taking the exam individually or working on it with a partner. Randomly assigning partners motivates preparation, Lusk and Conklin (2003)
- Don’t give group grades; use individual grades but allow the students a designated time for collaboration. Students first take the exam, then they meet with their group to discuss questions they couldn’t answer or weren’t sure about. They’re then given a brief amount of time to change how they answered those questions, if they believe the answer can be improved. See Hoke and Robbins (2005) for an example of how this works.
If students change their original answer but mark their new answer with a different color ink, during the debrief, the issue of who you believe and when you trust yourself can be raised in the context whether the changed answers were correct or wrong.
If it’s an essay exam, the collaboration may occur before students start writing. See Shindler (2004)
for an example.
- Control the content of the collaboration. Say it’s a 50-question multiple-choice test. Students do 40 questions individually. They jointly answer the remaining 10 questions. See Kapitanoff (2009) for discussion of how this approach works.
- Reverse the order of the collaboration using it as an exam preparation activity. Students work collaboratively on an open-book and notes take-home essay exam. Immediately after turning in the group exam, they take an objective, in-class exam individually. Both exams may count, but perhaps not equally. Sroug, Miller, Witherow and Carson (2013) explain how this worked in a molecular biotechnology course.
- Give a grade that combines the individual and group grades. Students take the exam, turn it in and then do the same exam as a group. Their individual grade counts for 80% of their grade with 20% coming from the group grade. You also could use a 60-40 or 50-50 ratio. Some faculty discourage group participation without preparation by stipulating that a failing individual exam score prevents addition of the group score. See Clinton and Kohlmeyer (2005), and Slusser and Erickson (2006) for these grading options.
- If you’re interested in collaboration on test questions but unsure of the logistics or maybe doubtful of the benefits, start out by letting students work together on a low-stakes quiz.
Group/Collaborative Exam and Quiz Resources
Here’s a collection of references that showcase these design variations and the range of disciplines where collaborative testing has been used.
Clinton, D. B., and Kohlmeyer III, J. M. (2005). The effects of group quizzes on performance and motivation to learn. Journal of Accounting Education, 23
- Students did the quizzes individually first and then completed a group quiz. The student’s quiz grade was the average of their individual score and the group score.
Cortright, R. N., Collins, H. L., Rodenbaugh, D. W., and DiCarlo, S. E., (2003). Student retention of course content is improved by collaborative-group testing. Advances in Physiology Education, 27
- Students partner to answer selected exam questions then answered that question set as part of subsequent exam. “Results suggest that collaborative testing is an effective strategy to enhance learning and increase student retention of course content.” (p. 102)
Hoke, M. M., and Robbins, L. K., (2005). The impact of active learning on nursing students’ clinical success. Journal of Holistic Nursing, 32
- An example of how students do the exam on their own but then have the opportunity to collaborate with others about answers. After they’ve talked with others, students can change their individual answers.
Gilley, B. H., and Clarkston, B., (2014). Collaborative testing: Evidence of learning in a controlled in-class study of undergraduate students. Journal of College Science Teaching, 43
- Students who took individual tests after group tests had higher scores than students who took individual tests twice.
Giuliodori, M. J., Lujan, H. L., and DiCarolo, S. E., (2009). Student interaction characteristics during collaborative group testing. Advances in Physiology Education, 33
- Analysis revealed that high performing students did not answer for the rest of the group.
Knierim, K., Turner, H., and Davis, R. K., 2015. Two-stage exams improve student learning in an introductory geology course: Logistics, attendances and grades. Journal of Geoscience Education, 63
- The use of a collaborative exam option improved attendance by 16% compared with sections without collaboration.
Kapitanoff, S. H., (200). Collaborative testing: Cognitive and interpersonal processes related to enhanced test Performance. Active Learning in Higher Education, 10
- Controlled the questions over which students collaborated on the exam.
Leight, H., Saunders, C., Calkins, R., and Withers, M. (2012). Collaborative testing improves performance but not content retention in a large-enrollment introductory biology class. Cell Biology Education—Life Science Education, 11
- Exams after group collaboration had cumulative test questions and students who had a group experience did not score better than those who had not taken a group exam.
LoGiudice, A. B., Pachai, A. A., and Kim, J. A., (2015). Testing together: When do student learn more through collaborative tests? Scholarship of Teaching and Learning in Psychology, 1
- Reviewed the research in search of answers to two questions: what memory mechanisms are at play when students test in groups, and when is collaborative testing most likely to enhance learning above and beyond individual testing.
Lusk, M., and Conklin, L. (2003). Collaborative testing to promote learning. Journal of Nursing Education, 42
- Students work alone and then collaborate with a randomly assigned partner. They may change their answers based on the collaboration. Found collaboration did not benefit long-term retention.
Pandey, C., and Kapitanoff, S., (2011). The influence of anxiety and quality of interaction on collaborative test performance. Active Learning in Higher Education, 12
- Used an interesting technique to motivate exam preparation. Fifty percent took the exam individually; 50% took it with a partner. Students didn’t know whether they’d have a partner until they arrived for the test. Those who collaborated were chosen randomly as were their partners.
Rao, S. P., Collins, H. L, and DiCarlo, S. E. (2002). Collaborative testing enhances student learning. Advances in Physiology Education, 26
- Students in a physiology course took four different types of quizzes individually and then in groups.
Russo, A., and Warren, S. H., (1999). Collaborative test taking. College Teaching, 47
- A student and teacher recount their first experiences with collaborative testing in an English course.
Shindler, J. V., (2004). “Greater than the sum of the parts?” Examining the soundness of collaborative exams in teacher education courses. Innovative Higher Education, 28
- Found collaborative exams were valid, reliable, efficient and had positive effects on learners.
Slusser, S. R., and Erickson, R. J., (2006). Group quizzes: An extension of the collaborative learning process. Teaching Sociology, 34
- Students completed quizzes with 2-3 open-ended questions. Then they talked about their answers in a group, adjusting their answers as they saw fit. One quiz was randomly selected from the group and the grade on that quiz was received by everyone in the group.
Sroug, M. C., Miller, H. B., Witherow, D. S., and Carson, S., (2013). Assessment of a novel group-centered testing scheme in an upper-level undergraduate molecular biotechnology course. Biochemistry and Molecular Biology Education, 41
- Students collaborated on an open-book, take-home essay exam before taking an objective exam individually.
Weimer, M. Learner-Centered Teaching: Five Key Changes to Practice.
ed.) San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2013. (see pages 81-83)
- Recounts experiences with group exams, particularly their success at getting students engaged in deep conversations about course content.
Woody, W. D., Woody, L. K., and Bromley, S., (2008). Anticipated group versus individual examinations: A classroom comparison. Teaching of Psychology, 35
- Collaboration via active discussion before individual testing improved test scores but not retention.