Two-Stage Group Quizzes Part 1: What, How and WhyPosted: March 23, 2011
Note: This is the first in a series of posts, and is based on my fleshing out in more detail a poster that I presented at the fantastic FFPERPS conference last week. The basic points of group exam pros and cons, and the related references borrow very heavily from Ref. 5 (thanks Brett!). All quoted feedback is from my students.
A two-stage group exam is form of assessment where students learn as part of the assessment. The idea is that the students write an exam individually, hand in their individual exams, and then re-write the same or similar exam in groups, where learning, volume and even fun are all had.
Instead of doing this for exams, I used the two-stage format for my weekly 20-30 minute quizzes. These quizzes would take place on the same day that the weekly homework was due (Mastering Physics so they had the instant feedback there as well), with the homework being do the moment class started. I used them for the first time Winter 2011 in an Introductory Calculus-based E&M course with an enrolment of 37 students.
The format of the weekly quiz (20-30 minutes total) was as follows:
- The students wrote their 3-5 multiple-choice and short-answer question quiz individually and afterward handed these solo quizzes in.
- The group quiz (typical group size = 3) consisted of most or all of individual questions as multiple-choice questions. Most questions had five choices.
- The marks were weighted 75% for individual component and 25% for group component. The group component was not counted if it would drop an individual’s mark .
Immediate Feedback Assessment Technique (IF-AT)
The group quizzes were administered using IF-AT  cards, with correct answers being indicated by a star when covering is scratched off. This immediate feedback meant that the students always knew the correct answer by the end of the quiz, which was a time at which they were at their most curious, and thus the correct answer should be most meaningful to them. Typically, students that did not understand why a given answer was correct would call me over and ask for an explanation.
“I feel finding out the answers immediately after the quiz helps clarify where I went wrong instead of letting me think my answer was right over the weekend. It also works the same for right answers.”
My students found it to be a very fair marking system because they received partial marks based on their number of incorrect answers. My system was 2 points if you got it correct on the first try, and that went down by half for each wrong answer. So 1 wrong answer = 1 point credit, 2 wrong answers = 0.5 point credit, and so on.
The General Benefits of Group Exams
Peer interactions and feedback: Both students benefit when one explains an answer to the other.
“When I think I know what’s going on I can explain it and realize yes, I really do know what I’m talking about…and sometimes vice-versa.”
All students are given a good chance to participate: All students, including the shy or quiet, participate and are given a chance to explain their understanding and reasoning. I gave nine of these two-stage quizzes over the term and don’t remember seeing any students sitting on the sidelines letting the rest of their group figure it out. They were invested because their marks were on the line, and they genuinely (based on feedback) seemed to feel like it was a good opportunity for learning.
Development of collaboration skills : I can’t really comment on this too much. These are not skills which I was able to notice a difference over the course of the term, but I would certainly believe that many students had some tangible level of development of these types of skills.
Students enjoy them and there is an increase in overall enjoyment of course : The claim about the increase in overall enjoyment from Ref. 2 is not something I can comment on since I changed many things in this course from the first time I taught it so couldn’t pinpoint one thing which lead to higher student evaluations and a more positive classroom culture than the first time I taught this course (note this was only my second time teaching this course). But I can certainly tell you the feedback I got regarding the group quizzes was overwhelmingly positive.
“I (heart) group quizzes!!! I always learn, and it’s nice to argue out your thinking with the group. It really helps me understand. Plus, scratching the boxes is super fun.”
They promote higher-level thinking : This claim from Ref. 3 is another one for which I cannot say I looked for, nor saw any evidence.
Increase in student retention of information (maybe) : This is at the heart of a study which I plan to run this coming year. Ref. 4 saw a slight increase in student retention of information on questions for which students completed the group quizzes. But this study did not control for differences in time-on-task between the students that completed just the individual exams and those that complete individual and group exams. More discussion on my planned study in a future post.
Improved student learning [3,5]: I saw the same sort of evidence for this that is shown in Ref. 5. Groups of students, where none of them had the correct answer for a question on their solo quizzes, were able to get the correct answer on the group quiz nearly half the time. This shift from nobody having the correct answer to the group figuring out the correct answer is a very nice sign of learning.
Some Specific Benefits I Saw in My Implementation
The feedback comes when it is most useful to them: Immediate feedback via IF-AT provides them with correct answer when they are very receptive, after having spent time on their own and in group discussion pondering the question.
“It’s a good time to discuss and it’s the perfect time to learn, ‘cause right after the quiz, the ideas and thoughts stick to your mind. It’s gonna leave a great impression.”
Very high engagement from all students: I observed my students to be highly engaged with the questions at hand and were very excited (high-fives and other celebrations were delightfully common) when they got a challenging question correct.
Reduced student anxiety: due to (a) knowing that they could earn marks even if they were incorrect on individual portion, and (b) knowing that they would come away from the quiz knowing the correct answers. Point (a) is pure speculation on my part. Part (b) was a point made by multiple students when I asked them to provide feedback on the group quiz process.
Some Drawbacks to Group Exams
Longer exam/quiz time: This really wasn’t a big deal. It was typically less than an extra 10 minutes and the advantages were far too great to not give up that extra little bit of class time.
Some students feel very anxious about group work and interactions: This never came up in the feedback I received from the students, but I have friends and family who have discussed with me how much they dislike group work. Perhaps this specific implementation might have even been to their liking.
Social loafers and non-contributors earn same marks as the rest of the group: To my mind the potential student frustration from this was greatly moderated by all students writing the solo quizzes, as well as the group portion being worth only 25% of total quiz mark. And as I mentioned earlier, I do not remember noticing a non-contributor even once over the term.
Dominant group members can lead group astray when incorrect: This is another thing which, to my mind, the IF-AT sheets moderate greatly. Dominant group members can potentially minimize the contributions of other group members, but I do remember an “ease-your-mind” about dominant student issues point made by Jim Sibley when I first learned of IF-AT. Jim Sibley is at the University of British Columbia and is a proponent of Team-Based Learning. In this learning environment they use the IF-AT cards for reading quizzes at the start of a module. He told us that groups often go to the shy or quiet members as trusted answer sources when dominant group members are repeatedly incorrect.
 Stearns, S. (1996). Collaborative Exams as Learning Tools. College Teaching, 44, 111–112.
 Yuretich, R., Khan, S. & Leckie, R. (2001). Active-learning methods to improve student performance and scientiﬁc interest in a large introductory oceanography course. Journal of Geoscience Education, 49, 111–119.
 Cortright, R.N., Collins, H.L., Rodenbaugh D.W. & DiCarlo, S.T. (2003). Student retention of course content is improved by collaborative-group testing, Advan. Physiol. Edu. 27: 102-108.
Gilley, B. & Harris, S. (2010). Group quizzes as a learning experience in an introductory lab, Poster presented at Geological Society of America 2010 Annual Meeting.
March 26, 2011 – Added: “These quizzes would take place on the same day that the weekly homework was due (Mastering Physics so they had the instant feedback there as well), with the homework being do the moment class started.”