I have this class where at the beginning of the term the lecturer pretty much randomly creates groups of 5 people (who usually do not know each other at all) and assigns them a project.

At the end of the term we do a presentation and a written exam. A friend of mine who took this class before told me that the lecturer will ask me to evaluate the other members.

Three people in our team were just terrible. They did not care at all, they did not even respond to emails, never arranged any workshops, and only came once or twice to other workshops we suggested, with the only one person remaining in the team besides me; so two of us pretty much did the project.

However, I really do not want to tell in the paper that they did not do anything. I do not care that they did not do anything, and I do not feel comfortable talking behind their backs. It should be the lecturer's responsibility to figure out who did what by asking the right questions in the exam and in the presentation, I believe.

So do I just leave those parts blank in the exam, or explain how I feel?

  • 8
    Just explain the facts of who did what, precisely. Leave out all opinions. youtube.com/watch?v=77XISzgj_9Q Apr 26, 2016 at 19:36
  • I point to my answer at academia.stackexchange.com/a/31961/20457 Apr 26, 2016 at 20:40
  • 5
    Suggestion: if the projects involve writing text files or other documents: use a version control system (and maybe an online private repo for convenience [I'm fond of bitbucket for unlimited free private repos]): then hand the repo to the professor. He can easily scan the commit log and see who made the commits and check exactly who wrote what. This works wonderfully for things like programming but can be used for any type of document (although probably less practically).
    – Bakuriu
    Apr 26, 2016 at 21:18
  • @Bakuriu, from the question that would be too late for the OP.
    – Ghanima
    Apr 26, 2016 at 22:56
  • 3
    I recommend taking a course with a professor who, unlike this one, isn't an idiot. Apr 27, 2016 at 15:32

5 Answers 5


Since it appears that you did actively try to engage the other members of your group in the project, I will answer based on that assumption. If you did not actively try to involve them, well that is a different problem to address.

I have had a number of such encounters throughout my time in school, and my response was to be as objective and honest as I could be without looking like I was trying to put them down. Just state exactly what they did to help the project, nothing more, nothing less. If they didn't do anything, say that. Their grade is not your responsibility, so if you are asked to review their work, don't make it your responsibility to make them look good. Simply state exactly how much work by each person, and leave it to the professor/instructor to assign the grade.

Be careful to not let personal feelings get involved, and to grade everyone by the same standard. You could even create a rubric or break down involvement by sections of the project.

In my opinion, trying to make it look like they did more in the project than they actually did, so that they get a better grade is actually doing a greater disservice to them, than giving an impartial review that shows they didn't really do much. The reason for this is that it can reinforce their theory that they can get by without really doing much work, and relying on other people to pick up their slack, and if they continue on like that, it will most likely come back to bite them later. Better that they do poorly in a course now and learn they can't, than learning it later by possibly getting fired from a job.

Note: Be sure to consider whether or not you and the other active member in your group may have shut out the other members from participating, thus relegating them to a position where they weren't able to do much to help with the project.

  • 5
    I'll note the last time I did this I simply looked up the rubric used, by the professor, to grade the project and used that to evaluate each team member (which did help with objectivity)
    – LinkBerest
    Apr 27, 2016 at 1:22

Evaluating your fellow students should be a supervised exercise of constructive criticism, e.g., after a presentation given by them. I hope this is what the lecturer will do.

Anyway, if you are assigned this you need to do it. I would give the bare facts for the students that didn't really involve themselves. I.e., I would state exactly what each team member contributed to the project. And if they only suggested a color for a button then I would state that. I would then proceed with providing an honest evaluation of the student that did all the work with you and for the others just say that they could have involved themselves more in the project.

I know that this feels a bit like being a tattletale, but it is actually them that behaved unethically by not working with you on the assignment. The only thing you should have done differently is having a frank discussion regarding their involvement (with them and with the lecturer) at an early stage. Resolving issues like this during team work is actually something you need to learn during your studies. And it appears like you haven't. Thus, you should add this as self-criticism to the evaluation and ask the lecturer to teach you methods of handling such issues.

  • 2
    And if the pattern repeats itself, they will soon be competing with you for a job position, and I doubt they will thank you for letting them pass this course for free. All unethical actions generate more group harm then the sum of the individual benefits accrued. Apr 26, 2016 at 19:48

Internal peer reviews can provide information that an instructor simply can't glean from a written exam and oral presentations.

I am currently teaching a course where the students have to do an end-of-semester presentation on a project they've been working on for the last six weeks or so. Each team has six members, and the time schedule we have available means I have just about five minutes per group to ask questions. That doesn't give me a lot of time to investigate group dynamics and decide who was productive and who wasn't on a meaningful level.

I therefore rely on a peer evaluation to help understand what went on in the group. Did everyone contribute their fair share, or did a few people "freeload" of the rest of the group? Did people work together well, or was there a lot of friction inside the group? Sometimes I can tell this from the presentation, but a lot of times, I can't.

However, this only works if everybody participates honestly. You can choose to decline and say nothing about what the other group members have done or not done, but then you also have to be willing to live with the consequence that those students will get the same grade as you have earned without doing anything to actually earn the grade.

  • 1
    Yup, this is how I do it too. My wrinkle is that the peer evals go to me only; I find that helps people be honest.
    – D.Salo
    Apr 27, 2016 at 1:42
  • 1
    @D.Salo: You confuse brutal condemnation for honesty. Secrecy is how the Star Chamber and Stasi worked, and why in our justice system an accused is entitled to be faced by their accuser. If five freeloaders accuse the lone worker of laziness, how do you judge the truth? You should be reported for this blatant abuse of authority. Apr 27, 2016 at 1:48
  • 2
    @PieterGeerkens: Well, first off, presumably the person who did the work will say so. Then, you talk to everyone in private. So nobody gets punished without a chance to defend himself, and without overwhelming evidence—not just hearsay. Secondly, this kind of system with peer reviews going only to the instructor is common at many universities. Should all of them be reported as well?
    – aeismail
    Apr 27, 2016 at 3:43
  • @aeismail: A practice being common does not make it sound; defendable; fair; or just. Apr 27, 2016 at 3:49
  • 2
    @PieterGeerkens: In this case, the collection of information In and of itself is not an abuse of authority; how it's used is what makes it problematic..
    – aeismail
    Apr 27, 2016 at 3:53

Hide your pride and give them the praise for the things they did well (but don't lie). Of course, you can take more credit saying you "led the project", but don't throw others under the bus. This will help your professional reputation, they will know they are indebted to you (whether they ever pay it back, it's okay if they don't), and you know not to work with them in the future if you don't have to. Really, it's a choice between pissing someone off or doing someone an (unintentional) favor when it doesn't really change anything to you (since you already did the project and it likely won't change your grade).

As aeismail stated, from the presentation and the writing in the exam it's quite obvious who did the work, so there's no reason for you to go at them. A simple "Johnathan did a good job getting the information for the introduction of Section ###" where that's the section they sent you 1-2 sentences; that's all you (and the other that did the work) have to hint to the lecturer to get the point across (especially if that's all they said in the presentation).

In total, if the lecturer doesn't see it, then you're fighting a losing battle where you can't really gain anything. So you might as well be nice, but tell the truth in the nicest way possible.


When I was a student a very long time ago….. (Just before the web was invented.) We had a joint project in teams of 5.

  • At the end of the project we were each given 100 points
  • Told to divide them between the other 4 team members in relationship to the contribution they made.
  • Each person had their highest and lowest points drops, leaving the 2 middle set of points.
  • No one was told how many points they we given, so even if you know what points one person gave you, you could not work out what someone else did.

The mark was divided between the team members based on the above.

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