l-r: Undergraduate students Jacob Tng, Kody Garbutt, Cameron Zupp and Samantha Lagumbay took their GEOG 104W midterm as a two-stage collaborative exam earlier this semester.


This SFU instructor lets students take exams in groups

April 03, 2017

By Allen Tung

As university students, we’ve all done this: wait outside the classroom after an exam and jump on the next person who walks through the door to ask what they answered for question number seven.

You won’t see that happening in this semester’s GEOG 104W course when students take their final exam on Apr. 11.

That’s because the class will be doing the exam in groups so students know exactly what their classmates’ answer was, not only for question number seven, but for the entire exam.

It’s called a two-stage collaborative exam.

Students first take the exam individually as they normally would, and hand it in. Then, they take the same exam again, only this time they take it in a group of three or four.  Each group hands in only one exam, and must come to a consensus on all answers.

The individual exam is worth 85 per cent of each student’s exam grade, and the group portion is worth the remaining 15 per cent.

Course instructor Tara Holland explains this type of exam can maximize learning opportunities, reinforce the value of collaboration, and make exams more engaging for the students, focussing less on memorization and more on understanding the material.

Students say it’s fun and the most exciting exam they’ve written. But perhaps the most important outcome is that it promotes student well-being. That’s because it  reduces  exam anxiety since they receive instant feedback on answers from classmates.

“I don't feel the same uneasiness that I get from other exams because I'm not constantly wondering what I got wrong,” says Jacob Tng, a student in this semester’s GEOG 104W class that took the mid-term as a two-stage collaborative exam.

Tng adds the group aspect helps him immediately pinpoint the incorrect answers and learn the correct one, which will help him avoid making the same mistake again.

Holland says, “The fact that the exam becomes a learning experience rather than simply a testing tool is the main reason I do this, along with the lessened exam anxiety for the students.”

Now, one would expect knowing that you can rely on your classmates for 15 per cent of the grade means less studying. Not true, says Tng and his classmates Kody Garbutt, Samantha Lagumbay and Cameron Zupp.

They all agreed they felt inclined to study more and understand the material better when preparing for the midterm exam to avoid letting their classmates down.

Rest assured they’ll be studying hard for their final exam. And once they hand it in, the students will be able to concentrate on preparing for their next exam rather than fretting about how they did on the last one.