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Published February 14, 2021 | Multidisciplinary

Two-Stage Assessments: Teach While You Test

Two-stage assessment is an approach in which students first answer questions individually (Stage 1) and then discuss them in teams prior to resubmitting their answers (Stage 2). The student’s grade is determined by a combination of the scores at both stages. This method of assessment can be as effective in a remote as in a face-to-face classroom. The advantage of this approach is that the test doesn't have to be purely summative it can also be a formative experience. Students can keep learning while they're tested.

SALTISE (Supporting Active Learning & Technological Innovation in Studies of Education)
hosted a webinar on January 7, 2021, to present this alternative method of assessment. Various panelists shared how they have used 2-stage assessment in their own classes.

Recording of SALTISE's webinar 2-Stage Assessments: Teach While You Test

Introduction to 2-stage assessment

This assessment strategy has 2 separate parts:

Stage 1: Individual stage

Students take an individual assessment that could be in a variety of formats:

  • test
  • quiz
  • exam

Stage 2: Group stage

Immediately after the individual stage, students:

  • are placed in groups
  • answer the same (as in Stage 1), or more challenging, questions
  • resubmit their answers as a group

A CourseFlow to show how a 2-stage assessment would be enacted in the classroom whether online or in-person

Grading scheme tips for teachers

  • Do not lower an individual’s mark with the group grade. If a student performs better individually than the group does, teachers commonly give only the individual grade and do not count the group grade.
  • Determine weighting for each stage based on whether the assessment activity is high stakes (final or midterm exam) or low stakes (do not heavily impact students’ final grades):
Weighting for each stage based on whether it is a high-stakes or low-stakes assessment activity

Individual Group
Low stakes 50% 50%
High stakes 85% 15%

Time allocated

The time allocated for the assessment activity can be divided between the stages depending if it is a high-stakes or low-stakes evaluation.

Percentage of the total time allocated for each stage based on whether it is a high-stakes or low-stakes assessment activity

Individual Group
Low stakes ½ of time ½ of time
High stakes ⅔ of time ⅓ of time

Students benefit from the 2-stage exams. They:

  • receive immediate feedback while they still care about the answers
  • develop collaborative skills
  • report less stress

How the 4 panelists use 2-stage assessment

Phoebe Jackson uses 2-stage quizzes on a daily basis in her Physics class at John Abbott College.

  • She gives 3 conceptual multiple-choice questions in Moodle.
  • The students have 15 minutes to answer the questions individually.
  • The learning management system then automatically shifts to the group stage where students redo the exact same quiz.
  • The teams are permanent, and quizzes are just one of the things they do as a team.
  • A tip to the teachers who would like to start using a 2-stage assessment is to design your questions well. Make sure the questions stimulate discussion and are honest (not tricky or purposefully hard).

Alice Cherestes teaches chemistry at McGill University.

  • The tests in organic chemistry are composed of questions that require a long answer.
  • After students have answered questions individually, they move onto the group stage where they work on questions they have not seen before but that are related to questions they saw in the individual part.
  • She used Visual Classrooms to help students prepare for the group component of the exam by teaching them to rely on each other's knowledge.

Martha Mullaly, from Carleton University, uses the 2-stage method in diagnostic quizzes she gives students before the midterm exam.

  • The quizzes help students clarify their understanding and focus their exam studying.
  • She insists that it's really important to have low stakes or no stakes activities that support collaboration well before any assessment situation so students can trust each other as a source of knowledge and start to see the benefits of the experience.
  • The students would complete the individual quiz in Moodle and then meet in a breakout room on Zoom to collaborate on the group questions.

Jaclyn Stewart teaches chemistry at the University of British Columbia. Instead of starting off a new term by lecturing again on the key concepts from their previous course, she uses a two-stage activity.

  • This review strategy helps students remember what they may have forgotten or misunderstood from the previous course and also helps them learn from the group discussion.
  • A colleague of hers uses Canvas (as a learning management system) and Gradescope.
  • She uses Zoom for the group interaction during which students have to edit a document using Microsoft Teams.

What the panelists agree on

Group size for the 2nd stage

  • 3 or 4 students are enough to share the knowledge but then not too many so that some people cannot have time to discuss or that others just sit back and not participate.

Students with accommodations

  • Generally, ask for accommodations only for the individual part, not for the group part.
  • Start the individual part earlier so they can finish the individual part by the time they need to join the group to do the group part.
  • As with other students, if they don't want to participate in the group part, or if they cannot start earlier, the group grade will not affect their grade.

Grading of 2-stage exams, not an unfair advantage

  • The average improvement of the exam grade is in the range of 2 to 3 percent.

Final thoughts

One of Alice Cherestes’ students stated about the 2-stage exam, “Working with group members allows me to learn something and see the mistakes I made.” Ultimately aren’t teachers always looking for ways to deepen learning and to develop collaboration skills?

SALTISE offers additional resources for instructors who are interested in learning more about 2-stage exams and how to implement these exams.

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    Daniel Boulerice wrote February 17, 2021 at 3:15 PM

    For years I have been doing a reverse 2 stage. For example, for the final exam in my History of American Music class, students are given the choice of answering 3 out of 4 short essay answers. I begin with a 15 - 30 minute discussion with two different partners about which of the 4 they will choose and what they think they will write. Each student does their own exam and uses their own notes. I find the pre-writing discussion really helps improve the quality of the answers. In my ESL classes students almost always are asked to share essay plans with classmates before writing.

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    Susan wrote February 18, 2021 at 10:14 AM

    Thank you Daniel for taking the time to share your experience. Your students must definitely benefit from this peer-assisted learning strategy.


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