Community of Learners – Group Test Results

October 14, 2010 at 5:55 am 2 comments

Last Wednesday I gave an exam to my elementary algebra class on systems of linear equations in two variables. The exam had two parts: a group portion worth 20 points and an individual portion worth 80 points.

Groups had up to 20 minutes to complete the group portion which consisted of 4 word problems. Most groups finished in approximately 10 minutes, and spent the remainder of the time reviewing the key points of those problems, discussing things to watch out for, etc.

The individual portion had 12 questions. There were two quick graphing problems worth 5 points each – draw the graph of a system that is inconsistent, draw the graph of a system whose single solution is (7,2). There were 10 additional problems worth 7 points each. There were 6 systems to solve, some set up for the substitution method, others for the addition (elimination) method. One of the systems was inconsistent and another was dependent. One system had coefficients that were fractions. There were also 4 word problems – perimeter of a rectangle, interest with 2 accounts, coin/mixture, and one “find these two numbers” problem.

The results were very good. Of the 40 students there were 23 A’s, 5 B’s, 6 C’s, 3 D’s, and 3 F’s. That’s 57.5% A’s and 85% passing, and those are strong results. I looked at the results of the individual portion compared to the combined totals and noted that only 3 students received a higher letter grade due to the addition of the group portion – 2 students moved from a high C to a low B and 1 student moved from a high F to a low D.

I interviewed students about the group exam this Monday and they reported that the period they spent working with their group had an impact on their performance more than the points they got directly from the group portion of the test. One student reported that it was nice to be able to ask questions of other students in the group. Another student mentioned that they were still struggling with interest problems and had a chance to get direct assistance from their group members. Another mentioned that their group had a chance to discuss strategy for deciding between the substitution method and the addition (elimination) method, and go over the overall strategy for each method.

I know some are skeptical of group tests, or even group portions of a test, but in my experience it has a positive effect on students without compromising the integrity of the assessment.

On the next exam, rather than having an official group portion I will try having a “group warm-up”. It will follow the same format, but will not count directly to their grade. I’ll let you know how it goes.


Do you have any experience with group exams, or any questions for me about this semester’s community based approach? If so, please leave a comment or reach me through the contact page at my web site –


I am a math instructor at College of the Sequoias in Visalia, CA. Each Thursday I will be blogging about the importance of community in the classroom. If there’s a particular topic you’d like me to address, or if you have a question or a comment, please let me know. You can reach me through the contact page on my website –


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2 Comments Add your own

  • 1. maria zarowna  |  October 18, 2010 at 1:56 pm

    Do you give each group a different version of this exam ?

    • 2. georgewoodbury  |  October 18, 2010 at 2:13 pm

      Hi Maria. I give 2 versions of the exam, and I stagger them so that no group has the same exam as a group next to them.


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