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Group Exams and Quizzes: Design Options to Consider

Quizzes and Exams

Group Exams and Quizzes: Design Options to Consider

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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).

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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. 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/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. 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.

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 (2), 96-116. 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 (3), 102-108. Hoke, M. M., and Robbins, L. K., (2005). The impact of active learning on nursing students’ clinical success. Journal of Holistic Nursing, 32 (4), 348-355. 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 (3), 83-91. Giuliodori, M. J., Lujan, H. L., and DiCarolo, S. E., (2009). Student interaction characteristics during collaborative group testing. Advances in Physiology Education, 33 (Summer), 24-29. 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 (2), 157-164. Kapitanoff, S. H., (200). Collaborative testing: Cognitive and interpersonal processes related to enhanced test Performance. Active Learning in Higher Education, 10 (1), 56-70. 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 (December), 392-303. 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 (4), 377-389. Lusk, M., and Conklin, L. (2003). Collaborative testing to promote learning. Journal of Nursing Education, 42 (3), 121-124. Pandey, C., and Kapitanoff, S., (2011). The influence of anxiety and quality of interaction on collaborative test performance. Active Learning in Higher Education, 12 (3), 163-174. Rao, S. P., Collins, H. L, and DiCarlo, S. E. (2002). Collaborative testing enhances student learning. Advances in Physiology Education, 26 (1), 37-41. Russo, A., and Warren, S. H., (1999). Collaborative test taking. College Teaching, 47 (1), 18-20. 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 (4), 273-283. Slusser, S. R., and Erickson, R. J., (2006). Group quizzes: An extension of the collaborative learning process. Teaching Sociology, 34 (July), 249-262. 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 (4), 232-241. Weimer, M. Learner-Centered Teaching: Five Key Changes to Practice. (2nd ed.) San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2013. (see pages 81-83) Woody, W. D., Woody, L. K., and Bromley, S., (2008). Anticipated group versus individual examinations: A classroom comparison. Teaching of Psychology, 35 (1), 13-17.