Group exams build collaboration skills

School projects and exams have long been thought of as individual assessments. However, collaborative testing introduces a new way to evaluate students.

School projects and exams have long been thought of as individual assessments. However, collaborative testing introduces a new way to evaluate students. Collaborative testing fosters communication while reducing the anxiety associated with traditional exams. In addition, collaborative testing helps teachers evaluate students in a more holistic way.

One of the main benefits of collaborative testing is how it cultivates communication skills between students. When students must work together in order to succeed, communication and cooperation levels have been shown to increase. 

“The conversations around math during collaborative tests are amazing,” said Michael Weitz, who teaches Math 2 and AP Calculus BC at BHS. “It really gets students going.”  A 2015 study by the Journal of Advances in Medical Education & Professionalism evaluated the efficacy of collaborative testing for nursing students. The study found that 96 percent of the participants agreed that collaborative testing improved positive communication between students.

Collaborative testing has also been shown to decrease test anxiety for students. By evaluating students in a group, there is less pressure on individuals to perform to certain standards. Students whose anxiety hinders their ability to perform well are greatly benefited by collaborative testing. A 2011 study from Active Learning in Higher Education studied the influence of anxiety on collaborative test performance. The study found that collaborative testing overwhelmingly reduced anxiety and stress. 

While collaborative testing is extremely beneficial to both students and teachers, it should still be used alongside individual exams. By using both exam styles, students are challenged in different ways and the drawbacks of collaborative testing can be minimized.

One of the drawbacks of collaborative testing, for instance, is that it can be less effective at building long-term information retention. A 2012 study published in Life Sciences Education found that collaborative testing does not increase core retention. This is because, in certain settings, students can become increasingly reliant on others to complete questions. Once this reliance has become common practice, there is a severe toll on the student’s long-term learning retention. In comparison, individual exams have been shown to increase long-term retention in a variety of fields. When collaborative testing and individual assessments are used together, however, the issue of long-term retention is virtually eliminated. 

Issues have also been raised with the equity of contributions during collaborative tests. “Sometimes there are students who don’t know anything and they just sit there and copy,” Weitz said. “From here they are either left behind, or the group gets caught up trying to explain the concept to someone who is completely lost.” Weitz will often grade the best page of the struggling student in order to avoid penalizing them and their teammates. Because group tests can involve copying, Weitz also uses individual tests, for a more holistic way to evaluate students.

All in all, collaborative testing is a novel and effective way to evaluate students. By cultivating communication skills while reducing anxiety, collaborative testing benefits both students and teachers. While certain drawbacks exist, they can easily be mitigated when collaborative tests are used alongside individual exams.