Research on group testing is interesting. Before you stop reading because you think you would never do something this inhumane to your students, consider this — in virtually every study conducted on group testing, exam scores improve the most for low- and middle-achieving cohorts. Students report lower test anxiety and generally enjoy this form of collaborative problem solving over standard testing methods. In addition, they report that it promotes deep learning of difficult content.

The assumption is that students are debating, negotiating, sharing, and working through what they collectively know about a complex problem to come to a solution. Isn’t that what we do at work every single day? How many times in a week do we listen to each other’s ideas, debate an issue, and yes, sometimes compromise, to reach a final answer? I wonder if by NOT having students engage in activities like collaborative testing, we are doing them a disservice as we send them out into the world where employers expect them to have these skills.

Scoffers might say that group exams defeat the purpose of individual course grades, make testing too easy, approximate a form of cheating, or fail to prepare students for certifying exams they may encounter later. However, consider the advantages. In addition to the pros mentioned above, the research also demonstrates that group exams:

  • show students that they can learn from each other
  • provide immediate feedback
  • model professional problem solving
  • promote content retention

If you’re considering giving this a try, here are some ideas that help retain the integrity of assessment:

  1. Use small groups (2-4 students) so that weak or unprepared students have a harder time skating by. Peer pressure is a great motivator to come prepared.
  2. Don’t announce whether the quiz or exam will be individual or group-based until the day of the test.
  3. Don’t give group grades. Allow students to take the exam on their own first and then get together with their group to discuss difficult questions. Have them use a different colored ink so they can see how the changed answers affected their grade.
  4. Have students first take the quiz on their own, then get in groups and retake the same quiz. You can weight the two quizzes however you like.
  5. If you’re not sure how this will work, start with a low-stakes quiz.

Several of our faculty use group-based quizzes already, with great results! Talk with Ann Petersen or Tim Burnett for more ideas. Ann has a tool called “If-At” forms that uses a scratch-off sheet to reveal correct answers. It’s fun but also easier to grade because the more bubbles the group scratches off per answer, the lower the score for that item. Ask her for some of these if you want to give it a try!

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