Using 2-Stage Exams in Online Courses

A 2-stage exam, also called collaborative testing, is a method where, in its traditional form, students complete 2 stages of an exam:

    1. First, an in-person exam is completed individually, and then
    2. In groups of 3 or 4, students complete a similar (or identical) exam collaboratively.

Since students have just completed stage 1 individually, stage 2 typically takes less time because students are solving the same problems again. In stage 2, students must participate in analysis, problem-solving, and discussion to come to a consensus and agree on a final solution.

2-stage exams are an interesting option for online courses, and might appeal to instructors because of their collaborative nature. This post will offer some advice on using this approach in your online course.

Adapting 2-Stage Exams for the Online Environment 

To administer a 2-stage exam online you will need to do the following: 

    1. Determine how you will deliver stage 1: the individual portion of the exam. There are some great suggestions in this article to help you decide. Typically, this stage of the exam should be synchronous, meaning all students are set to write the examination on the same day, at the same time, within the same time constraints. 
    2. Have pre-determined groups made, with parameters on when stage 2: the collaborative portion of the exam must be completed (e.g., stage 2 must be completed within 48 hours after stage 1). It will be the responsibility of the groups to determine when they can meet to complete stage 2, and have it submitted on time. 
    3. Provide students with information on what final product they must submit, and a list of resources and tools they may use to complete stage 2 (e.g., videoconferencing apps like Zoom, online whiteboards, or collaborative word documents). The final choice on how stage 2 is completed will be up to each group. The emphasis is put on producing a product that is a representation of deep discussion and consensus from the group. 

Some Good Practices to Consider 

    1. Assign most of the exam score for the individual part. For example, Individual portion: 80-90%, Group portion: 10-20% 
    2. Let students know that their individual grade will not decrease due to the group part. Implementing a policy that a student’s grade cannot be lower than their individual score addresses concerns about fairness. In practice, it affects only a few high-performing students, as groups perform equal or better than individual students in most cases. 
    3. Use smaller groups of 3 or 4 students. If groups are too large, not every student will have their say, and it may be harder for groups to come to consensus. However, groups of 2 students will not have as much diversity of strategies. 
    4. Various approaches for the group stage can be used. For example, you might have students:
      a) Repeat the entire exam.
      b) Repeat a subset of questions (e.g., the most challenging ones; conceptual questions work well).
      c) Turn open-ended questions into multiple-choice or ranking tasks.
      d) Add a more challenging question that was not on the individual part.

Adapted from: 2-Stage Exams (Carl Wieman Science Education Initiative) 

Benefits of 2-Stage Exams

Read more about how 2-stage Exams were successfully implemented online at the University of California and Harvard University in this article: Improving college exams during remote learning 


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