All the world’s a two stage exam: Assessing group research related problem solving in exams


  • Timothy Robert Charles Lee University of Sydney
  • Francesca van den Berg University of Sydney
  • Matthew Pye University of Sydney
  • Osu Lilje University of Sydney
  • Hong Dao Nguyen University of Sydney
  • Mark de Bruyn


Collaborative learning, Authentic assessment, Feedback


Written examinations are an established part of university assessment, part of a tradition reaching back thousands of years. Examinations have been considered useful because they are seen as objective, consistent and safeguarded against cheating. Nevertheless, examinations are problematic. Solitary problem solving without access to information resources is a situation that does not occur in the modern workplace; also, final examinations are ‘dead-end’ assessments, where students usually do not receive, (or have no incentive to pay attention to), feedback. One proposal to change the traditional examination format is the two-stage examination, where students spend most of their examination time in a traditional format (Stage 1), and part in a small group working on similar or identical questions collectively (Stage 2). This allows students to gain instantaneous feedback from their peers on their examination performance, and immediately and meaningfully apply this feedback. Use of this format in tertiary STEM education in universities in the Americas has indicated that the practice is looked on favourably by students, although its effects on reducing stress and improving understanding are mixed. We review the results of previous studies on two-stage examinations, and propose a formula for employing them in a large-cohort Australian introductory biology course.

Author Biographies

Timothy Robert Charles Lee, University of Sydney

Associate Lecturer (Education Focused)

Francesca van den Berg, University of Sydney

Associate Lecturer (Education Focused)

Matthew Pye, University of Sydney

Scholarly Teaching Fellow

Osu Lilje, University of Sydney

Senior Lecturer

Hong Dao Nguyen, University of Sydney

Academic Fellow