Peer review is a significant component in scientific research. Introducing peer review into inquiry processes may be regarded as an aim to develop student understanding regarding quality in inquiries. This study examines student understanding in inquiry peer reviews among pre-university chemistry students, aged 16-17, when they enact a design of a mimicked scholarly peer review. This design is based on a model of a human activity system. Twenty-five different schools in Brazil, Germany, Poland and The Netherlands participated. The students (n = 880) conducted in small groups (n = 428) open inquiries on fermentation. All groups prepared an inquiry report for peer review. These reports were published on a website. Groups were randomly paired in an internet symposium, where they posted review comments to their peers. These responses were qualitatively analyzed on small groups' level of understanding regarding seven categories: inquiry question, hypothesis, management of control variables, accurate measurement, presenting results, reliability of results, discussion and conclusion. The mimicked scholarly review prompted a collective practice. Student understanding was significantly well on presenting results, discussion and conclusion, and significantly less on inquiry question and reliability of results. An enacted design, based on a model of a human activity system, created student understanding of quality in inquiries as well as an insight in a peer-reviewing practice. To what extent this model can be applied in a broader context of design research in science education needs further study. © 2014 Taylor & Francis.