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Team testing teaches collaboration

Crawford, Donna, PhD, MSN, RN, CNE

doi: 10.1097/01.NME.0000534120.30023.1c
Department: Education Extra

Donna Crawford is an Assistant Professor at the Indiana State University School of Nursing in Terre Haute, Ind.

This article originally appeared as: Crawford D. Team testing teaches collaboration. Nursing. 2018;48(4):18-20.

The author has disclosed no financial relationships related to this article.



Collaborative testing is a learning strategy that encourages students to participate, negotiate, and work together as a team. Unlike traditional testing, in which sharing answers is considered cheating, collaborative testing encourages learners to share knowledge to improve performance.

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An educator interested in using this method needs to decide if the use of collaborative testing is appropriate and what type of collaborative testing best fits the content and the objectives of the class. For example, collaborative testing can't measure individual knowledge.

There are two methods of collaborative testing: Students can simply take the exam once in pairs or small groups or students can take the same test twice, which is often referred to as double-testing. A typical double-testing session starts with each student completing the test individually. Once all students have finished and the answers are submitted, students are assigned to groups where they're allowed to review the questions and answers together before completing and submitting a second set of answers to the same questions. The group testing session typically lasts 15 to 20 minutes, which provides time for debate and discussion.

Double-testing results in two sets of test scores. An educator using this method needs to decide on a plan for final grading. For example, students may be given the highest score as a final score, or the two scores may be averaged to make up the final score.

Collaborative testing has been used most often with paper-and-pencil testing, but it's also possible to utilize this method with tests taken electronically. Digital platforms can be set up to calculate grades. Collaborative testing methods can also be adapted for use in distance education via a discussion board.

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Groups and consensus

Groups must be created before the use of collaborative testing. Educators may choose to randomly place students into groups; allow students to form groups on their own; or assign students to groups based on preestablished criteria, such as nurses who work together in the same clinical area or nursing students who belong to a clinical group.

Although there's no ideal group size, some evidence suggests that small groups of three students allow for the participation of all students and may encourage those who are typically quiet in the classroom to join the discussion.

Educators must also decide about the requirement of consensus on the collaborative test. If the students are required to submit one answer sheet per group, they'll need to negotiate a consensus on each answer. Alternately, each student can complete an individual answer sheet following the group discussion. This method allows for more independent decision-making.

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Scoring a collaborative test can take more time and be somewhat more challenging than scoring a traditional test. If consensus on test answers is required and students submit answers as a group, then each student will receive the group score. Grading is more complicated with double-testing because each student will receive two grades for the test. (See Grading methods in academic settings.)

If the educator is concerned about grade inflation, he or she may decide to add double-testing points only after a student passes the exam independently. Although most students receive a higher score on the group test than on the individual test, occasionally a student will receive a higher grade on the solo attempt. To avoid punishing a student for collaboration, the final grade will be the higher score received on the individual test. The testing method and scoring rules must be clearly communicated to students before testing.

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Collaborative testing usually results in an increase in test scores, although only a modest gain has been noted in some studies. When educators choose to award collaborative testing points, the grade increase received by students serves as a reward for their collaborative efforts. In one study, students' grades increased by an average of 3% with the use of double-testing.

Student perceptions of collaborative testing have been consistently positive. Nursing students report less anxiety, increased learning, improved relationships and thinking skills, and higher motivation to study because they're responsible for knowing course content within their groups. Additionally, students are able to hear their classmates provide rationales for answers to test questions, which leads to improved test-taking skills and enhanced clinical reasoning. The use of double-testing allows students to conduct their own posttest review. Through group discussion, students use their knowledge of the subject to clarify and explain questions and answers.



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As with any teaching method, the educator needs to balance the advantages with the disadvantages. Nursing students who've participated in collaborative testing express concerns about those students who contribute little to collaborative efforts while reaping the benefits of the group interaction. This behavior has been referred to as social loafing, free-riding, or freeloading. Assigning students into small random groups helps discourage this behavior. Group assignments can be changed for every test. Educators may also wish to avoid announcing group assignments ahead of time.

Although collaborative testing has been shown to consistently increase scores on individual exams, it hasn't consistently shown an increase in long-term knowledge retention. This raises concerns that grade inflation will produce test scores that don't reflect students' true capabilities. To prevent excess grade inflation, educators may consider limiting the number of points that can be gained from collaborative testing. For instance, an educator may decide in advance that no more than three points will be added to the final exam score regardless of the result when the two exam scores are averaged.

Collaborative testing takes more class time than traditional testing and exams may need to be shortened to allow time for double-testing. One disadvantage of double-testing is that students who are rapid test-takers must wait for others to finish the test. Students who finish early should be asked to sit quietly in the classroom to discourage a group discussion of the exam outside the classroom, which would compromise the effect of group testing. Educators may want to consider allowing students to bring reading material not related to the exam or provide stacks of nursing journals for students to read while waiting for other students to finish. If nursing journals are provided, the educator should review them to make sure they don't contain content relevant to the exam.

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Collaborative testing is one method of learning that gives students the opportunity to develop essential communication and collaboration skills that will support their success within the demanding nursing profession. Clinical nurse educators should consider collaborative testing in settings where individual testing isn't required. For example, the use of collaborative testing during agency orientation sessions can encourage newly hired nurses to get acquainted and practice working together. Collaborative testing may also be used as an evaluation method during unit-specific instruction classes, promoting teamwork among nurses who already work together. Additionally, collaborative testing methods may be incorporated into interdisciplinary learning activities to encourage a spirit of collaboration between nurses and allied healthcare professionals.

Although collaborative testing shouldn't be used for all testing sessions, it appears to benefit both nursing students and educators when used in appropriate situations.

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