News from the Exams Institute, Winter 2011

2011 was another good year for the Exams Institute. Our two “flagship” exams – the 2011 full-year General Chemistry Exam and the 2011 High School Chemistry Exam were released and received their customary strong interest from chemistry instructors. Perhaps the most significant exam to be released in 2012 is the (full year) Organic Chemistry Exam, which is in proofreading after the efforts of a committee chaired by Bob Howell of Central Michigan University. The First-Term General Chemistry exam, prepared by a committed chaired by Jeff Woodford of Missouri Western State University will also have a new version released in 2012

It’s also important to note that there are several exams in development and in need of trial testing this spring. A new version of the Diagnostic of Undergraduate Chemistry Knowledge (DUCK) is in trial testing and is designed for use with seniors nearing graduation. It is fundamentally interdisciplinary within chemistry, and this new version has taken steps to increase the content coverage in biochemistry relative to the first DUCK. Physical Chemistry continues to trial test items from quantum mechanics and kinetics this spring. The General, Organic and Biochemistry suite of exams are also in trial testing. A new Biochemistry exam, which has been designed to be more adaptable for use in one-semester and two-semester biochemistry courses is also trial testing this spring.  At the time of this writing the number of trial testers for the next version of the Analytical Chemistry exam in the fall suggests we will need to be conducting trial tests in the spring as well.  Finally, the on-line versions of General Chemistry and Organic Chemistry are also ready to pilot this spring. There is also an exciting new on-line General Chemistry Lab Assessment that we are looking for trial testers. If you are interested in trial testing and have good facilities for having students take tests on-line, we’d love to hear from you.

Trial tests carry the same security expectations as released exams, but users are provided them at no cost. If you have been wondering how ACS Exams might work in your classroom but have been hesitating to invest the budget resources to try them out, working with us on trial test is often a good way to see how our tests might work for you. My contact information is at the end of this article. Please drop me an email if you are interested or just would like more information in order to make a decision about participating in a trial test.

There has been considerable work on research and development of new ideas related to assessment at the Exams Institute as well. For example, the idea of building a map of content within a framework that can be used across the entire undergraduate curriculum is making steady progress. Indeed, the first installment of this map, directed at content for General Chemistry, is being prepared for publication at this time and will be out this winter. The Organic Chemistry map is not far behind and should be available in 2012 as well.

A second area of current research that is nearing fruition is the ability to provide both traditional scoring and norming of ACS Exams as well as an optional, partial-credit, polytomous scoring. Research associates in the Exams Institute, Megan Grunert (now at Western Michigan University) and Jeff Raker have worked on both psychometric analysis of polytomous scoring and the establishment of a rubric methodology for faculty to identify which incorrect answers on multiple choice items are the result of errors that might commonly have been given partial credit in an open-response item. This rubric building process has had several iterations, and we anticipate that workshops to be held with faculty at the ACS Meeting in San Diego will confirm our understanding of how to make these choices work. It is anticipated that this optional scoring system will be established for General Chemistry exams first, probably by fall semester of 2012.

The workshop idea noted in the previous paragraph is an important part of how the Exams Institute advances our understanding of how assessment tools can be enhanced for the chemistry education community. We will have four, half-day workshop during the ACS Meeting this spring. These events are held on Monday and Tuesday of the conference. Currently, our workshop efforts are focused on three categories, the content map (expanding it into more areas of the curriculum); the partial credit rubric system and the concept of cognitive complexity of items. This spring we’ll have a session on the Organic Content Map and the analysis of cognitive complexity of organic items. Additional sessions related to the content map and complexity in general chemistry will also be held as well as content map development in other areas, depending on how many participants we can recruit. If you are going to San Diego and think you may be interested in participating in one of our half-day workshops, please contact me by email. My email is and I would love to hear from you.

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