Collaborative Testing and Achievement: Are Two Heads Really Better Than One?

By Haberyan, April; Barnett, Jerrold | Journal of Instructional Psychology, March 2010 | Go to article overview

Collaborative Testing and Achievement: Are Two Heads Really Better Than One?


Haberyan, April, Barnett, Jerrold, Journal of Instructional Psychology


Two studies examined the impact of collaborative testing on exam scores for psychology students at a moderately selective Midwestern University. The first study was a replication of previous classroom research where students could choose to test with a partner or alone. No significant differences were found between those taking tests alone or with a partner. Students who scored high on extraversion and excitement seeking were more likely to choose collaborative testing. However, no significant differences were found between the students in each condition in anxiety, trust, and achievement striving. Following the classroom study, a laboratory study was conducted to tease apart the effects of studying with a partner and with testing with a partner. In Experiment 2, a strong testing effect was found, where students testing with a partner benefited, regardless of whether they studied with a partner or not.

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Although individual work is stressed in schools, the ability to collaborate with others is deemed to be an important ability in many diverse aspects of life, such as business, team sports, and scientific research. While cooperative learning in school settings has been popular for some time, and has been the subject of extensive research, collaborative test taking is a relatively new phenomenon. Recent studies have found that collaborative test taking improves exam performance and promotes positive student attitudes (Lambiotte, Dansereau, Rocklin, Fletcher, Hythecker, Larson, et al., 1987; Lusk & Conklin, 2003; Mitchell & Melton, 2003; Slusser & Erickson, 2006; Zimbardo, Butler, & Wolfe, 2003). In addition, some researchers maintain that collaborative testing encourages positive problem-solving, improves long-term retention of information, and reduces anxiety (Cassini, 1994; Helmericks, 1993; Mitchell & Melton; Zimbardo et al.). One purpose of the present studies was to replicate these collaborative testing effects with a different sample and in different subject areas.

A second issue addressed in this paper is the role of personality traits and collaborative testing. Traits such as extraversion/introversion may play a major role in student preference for testing alone or with a partner and in determining whether they benefit from their collaboration. To our knowledge, no such studies have been conducted to date. However, a recent critique of the cooperative education literature may prove helpful (Genovese, 2005). Commenting on why so many educational innovations (including cooperative education) cycle in and out of favor with the education community, Genovese argued that the lack of attention to individual differences dooms any innovation that promises universal success. For example, high achieving students often prefer to work alone rather than with a partner (Cano-Garcia & Hughes, 2000). Hutchinson and Gul (1997) found that the trait of introversion/extraversion played a role in student preferences for working alone or with a group, and Onwuegbuzie (2001) found that peer-oriented students fared better than students with other learning styles in a research methods course requiring cooperative learning. A second purpose of this research project was to test the impact of personality traits on collaborative testing.

While it seems intuitively obvious (at least to the students who participated in the first study) that "two heads are better than one" and that collaborative testing would improve grades, the group process literature is quite mixed (Kerr & Tindale, 2004). Many times, groups fail to live up to their potential. For example, productive groups tend to be cohesive, and collaborative testing appears to work best when students have the opportunity to learn about one another's competencies (Zimbardo et al, 2003). However, two students choosing to take a test together may not spend enough time together to realize the benefits that partners offer. …

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