Group Tests?

What are we doing to help kids achieve?

Third quarter is like a marathon. Fourth quarter is like a sprint. Third quarter had ten weeks of no breaks, no snow days, grey weather, the flu and, in the mind of a teenager, anything over spring break is better than sitting in chemistry class. Fourth quarter has state testing, the ACT, AP testing, fewer days and more interruptions.

The first week into fourth quarter it was time for an assessment over heat and phase changes. Half of the material we completed before spring break and half after….less than ideal. Students are about to face a week of state testing that consists of a couple of hours every morning doing high stakes testing. Also, before spring break many students had a type of end of year test in several classes (a weird new requirement in the state of confusion...I mean Ohio). Bottom line, we were not able to cover as much material as I would have liked. I knew I had to get a test in and students were already entering the phase of being over tested and stressed.

    Students came in and it was announced that they could have a “group” test.  Here were the rules.

  1. You may take the test with a partner that the teacher assigns.
  2. You both need to put your name on the test.
  3. You need to agree on the answer before you write it down.
  4. If one person does not agree, then he/she can write down a separate answer that is different from the partner. Each answer will be graded separately.
  5. Either partner can decide to opt out and take a test on their own. But this decision must be made before the test.


Here is the interesting part: Grades were a bit better than usual but not spectacular. Few students chose to opt out or answer questions separately. So the question is….why do it?

The answer may be in the anecdotal evidence. The conversations between students were mini debates. “Are you sure this is correct?” “How do you know?” “What about this other data?” “Should we label that number?” “What about the energy of the particles during a phase change?” And on, and on, and on….They were having discussions between themselves that I would not have been able to elicit as a teacher.

So here is the this a worthwhile idea? Do students have an unfair advantage during a “group” test? Or do students challenge and teach each other in ways that I could not teach them as the instructor? The questions they were asking each other sure did seem “scientific”. Do you think this is a valid form of assessment?

Currently, many discussions have been going on about academic integrity, posting homework keys and cheating. We can only provide opportunities for students to learn. Part of me believes that what they do with those opportunities is up to them. I also know that I cannot stick my head in the sand and be ignorant that cheating occurs. A group test did allow students to challenge one another in a healthy way. It also allowed me to ask slightly more difficult questions that I otherwise may not have included on the exam. If students work with each other on a graded this an unfair advantage or does it create an enhanced learning environment? How often should this occur if ever? What do you think?


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Comments 3

Tracy Schloemer's picture
Tracy Schloemer | Sat, 04/08/2017 - 13:43

I have done this once for quiz edits. I saw similar grade results: decent, but not out of this world. However, my students raved about this and wanted it more often. I have mixed feelings.

However, I had a professor in undergrad who said he wanted to give his students a test, throw it away, and then the next day give students the exam again and let them do it in a group setting. I don't think he ever did it, but I always found it interesting.

Amory Bennett's picture
Amory Bennett | Tue, 04/11/2017 - 08:46

I suspect you are onto something with these collaborative exams, Mr. Husting.  Full disclosure: I am not an educator. I lead a small team that has developed collaborative software for undergraduate chemistry.  The instructors I work with at the college level have found that giving students an easy way to answer each other's questions is a great way to encourage critical engagement with course material.  The benefits we've observed are twofold: 1) the explanation that 'sticks' for one student may not stick for another, and allowing students to crowdsource several explanations from other students is a great way to maximize the likelihood of delivering an answer that sticks.  (A related point: analogical reasoning -- the kind of reasoning employed by students-as-novice-instructors -- is usually a great way to introduce fundamental concepts.) And 2) students who answer questions benefit because forcing yourself to articulate a succinct explanation of a given topic to another human being is the surest way of solidifying your own understanding of that concept.   I see no reason that the benefits we've observed at the college level shouldn't apply at the high school level. In fact, this kind of collaboration may be even more impactful at lower levels.  Anyway, thanks for your post! 

-Amory Bennett

(FYI a little background on the collaborative software I referred to above:

Chad Husting's picture
Chad Husting | Thu, 04/13/2017 - 07:49

Thanks for all the comments.  I am always interested in different "tools" that I can put in the tool box that allows someone to figure out what a student is thinking or helps them learn in a different way.