Academic journal article NACTA Journal

Group Exams in the Higher Education Classroom: Strategies and Support for Successful Implementation

Academic journal article NACTA Journal

Group Exams in the Higher Education Classroom: Strategies and Support for Successful Implementation

Article excerpt


Group exams have been proposed as a means to improve student learning and provide balanced assessment in the higher education classroom. Group exams are an assessment procedure that requires small groups of students to work together to answer exam questions. Grades can be assigned at the group or individual level depending on the goals of the instructor. This paper provides an overview of the benefits of implementing group exams in the higher education classroom, describes how four individual instructors implemented group exams within their classrooms to achieve specific pedagogical goals, and discusses student evaluations of the group exam process in light of these goals. Student evaluations of the group exam process revealed several perceived benefits of the group exam when compared to other exam experiences. Student reported benefits included increased exam preparation, reduced anxiety, learning from and collaboration with others, exposure to new ideas, retention of knowledge and critical thinking. Instructors in agriculture and related disciplines may wish to consider the use of group exams as part of a balanced classroom assessment process.


Group exams have been proposed as a means to improve a range of student and classroom outcomes including student exam performance, learning, and retention (Cortright et al., 2003; Jensen, Johnson et al., 2002; Rao et al., 2002; Zimbardo et al., 2003). Group exams are part of a broader family of collaborative learning strategies. Such strategies focus on the learning process as opposed to the testing process (Jensen, Moore et al., 2002). Group exams provide a mechanism for assessing class content, while at the same time, providing an opportunity for the development of group process skills (Graham and Graham, 1997; Rao et al., 2002). Group exams are one tool that instructors can use as a means of providing a range of classroom assessments and accommodating multiple learning styles.

Group exams can take a range of forms within the classroom. For example, they can be used as the primary or sole assessment in a course; they can be part of an individual exam, or serve as a "follow up" on an individual exam (Hodges, 2004). They can be used effectively in laboratories as well as in the classroom (Hodges, 2004). Exams can be written using multiple choice questions, open ended answers, true-false, and problems. Groups can be self or instructor selected and can be graded at the individual or group level (Ewald, 2005; Jensen, Moore et al., 2002;). Arguably, in order to be truly cooperative, group exams should be graded at the group level because positive interdependence will promote encouragement and assistance among group members (Jensen, Johnson et al., 2002).

Support for the role of group exams in facilitating key learning goals within the college classroom is provided by several related theories and taxonomies. Bloom's Taxonomy (1956) and other models of student learning (Quoss et al., 2000), describe student learning and knowledge gain as occurring in stages. If one of the goals in the college classroom is to move from one stage to the next, professors must develop strategies to assist with this process. Vygotsky's theory of the zone of proximal development (1978) supports the notion that learners can move from one level of thinking to the next with the assistance of competent others such as peers providing a "scaffold" to support movement to higher levels of learning. Collaborative processes, such as group exams, allow for such peer interactions to occur.

This paper utilizes case studies from four different classes to demonstrate the role of group exams as a learning and assessment tool. Examples are provided from three disciplines (child development, family studies, and textiles and merchandising) within Family and Consumer Sciences and Human Development and Family Studies. Student evaluations of the group exam process are presented to illustrate the role of group exams in increasing student learning; promoting social learning and group process skills; and providing a balanced assessment process and accommodating of multiple learning styles. …

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