Academic journal article Adult Learning

Collaborative Test Taking with Adult Learners

Academic journal article Adult Learning

Collaborative Test Taking with Adult Learners

Article excerpt

The purpose of this article is to explain and describe the use of cooperative test taking in the college setting, specifically in a graduate class. At the heart of cooperative learning is a John Dewey philosophy that the education process should be one where students are active learners, where knowledge is socially constructed, and where education should teach about community life (Gabelnick, MacGregor, Matthews, & Smith, 1990). Cooperative learning is a teaching technique that many teachers of all levels use in their classrooms. Putting students in structured groups so that they may work together has become a popular teaching strategy. Cooperative learning is student-centered teaching that requires the teacher to be facilitator and where students learn from each other (Slavin, 1992). The merits of cooperative learning for adult learners are documented in the literature. The range of benefits includes, promoting self understanding, encouraging higher levels of reasoning and critical thinking, improving interpersonal skills, making learners take a more active role, and increasing adult motivation (Dean, 1994; Galbraith, 1998; Johnson & Johnson, 1987; Tennant, 1991).

However, there is limited research about the benefits of cooperative test taking for college students in which students are allowed to work on their tests together. Some believe that it prepares students for the workplace (Beckman, 1990); some suggest that it aids in the development of teamwork skills (Russo & Warren, 1999); others assert that performance of students on tests is better (Ravenscroft & Buckless, 1995); and other research suggests that it promotes critical thinking (Vermette & Erickson, 1996).

Why Cooperative Test Taking for Adult Learners?

Although there are many ways to assess students, administering paper and pencil tests is one of the most common practices. For some college students and teachers, the testing atmosphere is hostile and not productive (Grzelkowski, 1987). It causes anxiety in students, provokes some students to cheat, others to fail at their attempt at achieving the desired grade in a class, and, many times, does not accurately measure knowledge gained in a class.

For adults, expecting to be successful in the learning process is critical for maintaining a high level of motivation. Emotions, like attitudes, play an important part in their learning. If in their past experiences as students, they had test anxiety, then that anxiety is likely to play out again in the next testing situation. Simply put, if adults expect to do poorly on tests, they will. This self-fulfilling prophecy occurs time and again when adult learners have negative expectations about testing. Setting up students for success should be the goal of every teacher; however, when it is time to take a test, sometimes teachers forget this basic premise that guides their instruction.

Using the structure of cooperative learning and allowing students to work in teams to take tests may be a solution for teachers. Pray Muir and Tracy (1999) suggest that cooperative test taking is a solution to this hostile environment and negative expectations. With cooperative test taking, "test anxiety and the possibility of cheating are eliminated" (Russo & Warren, 1999, p. 19).

Lambiotte et al. (1987) distinguish between cooperative studying and cooperative test taking. "Cooperative studying was associated with higher accuracy of recall while cooperative test taking was more associated with quantity of recall" (p. 59). Collaborative test taking, as I have structured it, includes both. Students collaborate to decide what they should write, and meet later to edit for accuracy. The essays are clearly written and integrate class discussions, notes, and articles/textbooks to read. Although it is difficult to quantify the level of discourse among students, it is my sense that students are talking about course material in meaningful conversations (in their groups). …

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