Group assessments


Assess and give feedback to learners

Appropriate methods for teaching, learning and assessing in the subject area in the subject area and at the level of the academic programme

What can I do?

  • Avoid using group assessments as they lead to poorer learning and knowledge retention
  • Students also tend to dislike group assessments as they're seen as unfair and invalid
  • While group assessments seem to benefit lower performing students, this comes at the expense of learning from higher performing students
  • Design learning activities that promote group work in class as this is excellent for promoting learning, teamwork, and enterprise skills
  • If you do use group assessments, university policy says each member's contribution must be evaluated and marked accordingly

What is this about?

In the context of higher education, group assessments are a type of assessment where students are required to work in a group to complete a task or project. Group assessments are typically designed to evaluate students' ability to collaborate, communicate, and problem-solve with others, as well as their individual contributions to the group. Group assessments can take many forms, including group presentations, group reports, group projects, or group discussions. They may be structured as a single, large-scale assessment or as a series of smaller assessments throughout the term. Group assessments are often used in addition to individual assessments and may be graded as a group or individually. The purpose of group assessments is to evaluate students' skills in a more realistic and authentic setting and to prepare them for the collaborative nature of many professional environments.

What's the evidence say?

Group assessment is where one marker grades the collaborative work of multiple students.

  • Examples
  • Group presentations
  • Collaborative reports or essays
  • Experiments with joint write-ups

Group assessments lead to poorer learning.

When students work in groups, there are strong benefits for student learning (click HERE for more information). When that group work is accompanied by a group submission or group presentation, learning reduces with a moderate effect size.

Less time together, working interdependently, and not evaluating each other leads to better learning.

It might be assumed that working together for longer results in better learning outcomes, but Tomcho and Foels (2012) reported that working in groups for 1-3 sessions compared to 6 or more sessions is best. They also found that working interdependently (e.g., high levels of group interaction, collaboration, and problem-solving) led to better learning outcomes than working more independently in groups. Finally, they found that having group members evaluate each others' contributions diminished learning outcomes.

What's the underlying theory?

There are several underlying theories that describe why group assessments may hinder learning. One theory is that group assessments can lead to social loafing, which is the phenomenon of individuals exerting less effort when they are part of a group compared to when they are working alone. This can happen because individuals may feel that their contributions to the group are not being fully recognised or that their efforts are being overshadowed by those of the other group members. Another theory is that group assessments can create a dependency on others, which can lead to a lack of individual accountability and a decrease in motivation to learn. In addition, group assessments may also lead to conflicts or power dynamics within the group, which can disrupt the learning process.

Where does the evidence come from?

We can be very confident that group assessments don't work, but there is a question of generalisability. The main meta-analysis that informs this evidence summary (Tomcho & Foels, 2012) was conducted well. While it didn't exclusively include randomised trials, the effect seem reliable, the publication risk was low, and the number of included studies was high. The only concern regarding the strength of this evidence is that the meta-analysis only included psychology students. Because the notion of social loafing is fairly universal, only including psychology students might not necessarily be a major concern. It is reasonable to expect that similar results would be found in other areas of study.


Forsell, J., Forslund Frykedal, K., & Hammar Chiriac, E. (2020). Group work assessment: Assessing social skills at group level. Small Group Research, 51(1), 87-124.

Lou, Y., Abrami, P. C., & d’Apollonia, S. (2001). Small Group and Individual Learning with Technology: A Meta-Analysis. Review of Educational Research, 71(3), 449–521.

Pai, H.-H., Sears, D. A., & Maeda, Y. (2015). Effects of Small-Group Learning on Transfer: a Meta-Analysis. Educational Psychology Review, 27(1), 79–102.

Springer, L., Stanne, M. E., & Donovan, S. S. (1999). Effects of Small-Group Learning on Undergraduates in Science, Mathematics, Engineering, and Technology: A Meta-Analysis. Review of Educational Research, 69(1), 21–51.

Tomcho, T. J., & Foels, R. (2012). Meta-Analysis of Group Learning Activities: Empirically Based Teaching Recommendations. Teaching of Psychology, 39(3), 159–169.

Additional Resources