Discussion Thread

  • 1.  Engineering Exam Styles

    Posted 10-27-2021 09:49 AM
    As I am sure, all of us have seen our fair share of civil engineering exams. You know, the do-or-die type, the 2-questions-midterm worth 20% of your final grade type.

    Most often we weren't allowed to bring anything with us besides a pencil, calculator...
    Sometimes, if the professor was generous, we were allowed to bring anything we wanted besides a phone or laptop. Other times, a single sheet of handwritten notes.
    With no clear standard and every professor's testing style differentiating, this got me thinking:

    What types of tests prepare better engineers?
    Isn't it discouraging for students to strive for a 55 on a test and be happy with that?

    What testing methods best help the students retain the information?
    What testing methods best help the professor gauge if we understand the material?

    Daniel Bressler EIT, A.M.ASCE
    Structural Engineer
    Brooklyn NY

  • 2.  RE: Engineering Exam Styles

    Posted 27 days ago

    I'm happy to contribute about this! So thank you! 

    Since I'm on my way nearly graduating, I have a subject that helps students review all critical mathematics, fundamentals, and principles of computing any civil engineering math subjects. And I love how my professor guiding us right now, he make us prepared a flashcards for every formula we needed for every subject course. And advice not just to memorized the formula but understand each element, and how it can be process by solving different difficult problems at a time. While in board exam it was advice to aim to make it as in a perfect score and not the average passing score so that you will be sure pass if you make that high score.

    And in "What testing methods best help the professor gauge if we understand the material?" For me as a student, I think right after you study it, you will refresh ones minds by solving easy to difficult problems. Then create our own journal of how do we understand this kind of formula in a informative and readable way (and I prefer it written than digitalized). I know what I said is given, I hope someone share theirs too. 

    Llala Chrishaye Ocampo S.M.ASCE
    City of General Trias Cavite

  • 3.  RE: Engineering Exam Styles

    Posted 26 days ago
    In my university, there is this learning system called Project based learning. Basically, at the beginning of the course the professor explains to the students what the project brief is and what are the requirements till the end of the course. The classes are mixed with civil, electrical, and mechanical engineering students and they need to form a group together to start working on the project.

    In my opinion, this is one of the best ways to allow engineering students to learn and be tested, since we have the freedom to search whatever is required such as designing reinforced concrete or steel and to use designing software like AutoCAD. It also teaches and prepares students about the importance of communication and project management techniques used in real life.

    By the end of the project, 3 professors from civil, mechanical, and electrical engineering departments sit with the students and interview them by asking different types of questions to test their knowledge and understand of the project.

    I always preferred this type of testing or learning more than any other course and I always ended up learning more during such projects than a single course focusing on one thing.

    Avo Solakian S.M.ASCE
    Civil Engineer Assistant

  • 4.  RE: Engineering Exam Styles

    Posted 25 days ago
    This topic has always been interesting to me. I've been through about 8 years of college working through multiple different exam structures. I found that college, and the previous academic phases (middle school, high school, etc.) should be looked at as more of a 'tool' than a 'product'. The phrase "give someone a fish, feed them for a day; teach them to fish feed them forever" resonates well with this point. School shows us 'how' to learn, not what to learn. It is not until the upper level degrees (Masters, Doctorates, PhDs, etc) that I feel your question has an answer. After college, I am using the resources that are available to find answers instead of "knowing it off the top of my head" as many people expect college graduates to. I attribute my ability to understand a question and how to approach finding the answer directly to the scholastic experience; not knowing the answer, isn't a setback of life, it's an aspect of it. Exposure to multiple testing strategies is a key component to preparing for what comes after academics. Maybe your question doesn't have an answer. You are spot on with your assessment that, with so many different styles of exams and expectations of a passing grade, how can we best tell if a student understands the material? Maybe that's the point!

    Great question-Good thoughts!

    Cody Boomer EIT, A.M.ASCE
    Project Manager
    Charlotte NC

  • 5.  RE: Engineering Exam Styles

    Posted 23 days ago
    Great topic, Daniel!

    I think that university engineering tests should reflect, to the extent possible, the way that engineers work in the field. It is more important to know how to follow the design procedures than to know off the top of your head what the value of *insert constant* is. At the same time, sometimes professors do students a disservice with completely open book and note exams because they don't feel like they need to prepare. Knowing how to be prepared is a life skill and a career skill.
    If tomorrow I was handed a professorship I think I would use the "one page of notes" plus any necessary code books method. That gives students enough space to write themselves a brief guide for the procedures and any needed constants without enough room to have a bunch of fully worked problems to just mimic with no real understanding of the procedures.

    I also firmly believe it should be possible for a student that prepares properly and understood the homework or projects to get a perfect score on the exam. Exams shouldn't be too long to realistically finish or at a much greater difficulty than what was covered in class. My reinforced concrete professor liked to give really unconventional shapes for one of the problems on the exam. In order to solve it you really had to understand where the geometrically based numbers were coming from in the theory, but it was not at a higher difficulty level. I thought that was a great way to fairly test if the material was really mastered or if students had just learned to regurgitate the typical problems.

    In a couple of my general engineering courses (Fluids and Thermodynamics) I had two professors that team taught. One started the semester and one ended it. With one professor I could do test problems based on the in class examples, but I did not really understand the theory of what was going on. On his tests I could easily get an A by just doing what I'd done on the homework. With the other professor I had a pretty good grasp on the concepts, but his test problems were incredibly difficult compared to the in class problems and homework. I passed his exams, but barely. I was glad they team taught because my average grade at the end of the semester was an accurate reflection of my understanding, but I would guess they had similar styles in the classes they taught alone.

    One last thought: I liked when professors gave us one or two tests from previous years to use as practice tests. For one, some students will likely already have access to them through friends or fraternity course files (that's another topic haha), so it makes it more fair for everyone to start with the same resources. I also think because there is such a variety in testing methods it helps students make their study sessions more effective. When students know where to focus, they're more likely to form a deep understanding of the concepts the professor deems the most important.

    Heidi C. Wallace, P.E., M.ASCE
    Tulsa, OK

  • 6.  RE: Engineering Exam Styles

    Posted 5 days ago
    @Heidi Wallace you make several really good points.

    I guess it really boils down to the professor's teaching style as well. One of my professors allowed open everything and similar to your situation, he asked somewhat non-typical exam questions to see if you understood the fundamentals of the class.

    I agree with what you said regarding professors giving out previous exams. For all the classes that the professors gave out the previous year exams (oftentimes with solutions) I was able to understand their testing style and take a "practice exam". Oftentimes these professors were more hands-on with teaching the class and it was shown through their effort of producing new exam questions for every year.

    Daniel Bressler EIT, A.M.ASCE
    Structural Engineer
    Brooklyn NY