This Complete Research Paper will describe the practice exam program implemented at the School of Engineering at this institution, which was implemented in order to better support engineering students in foundational courses. It will then investigate the impact of the program on academic performance and retention of Engineering students in pre-requisite math and science courses, as well as impact on participating upper class students. The majority of participating students are first year students.
The practice exam program was based on various studies supporting repeated testing, third-person teaching, simulation-based learning, and collaborative learning as study strategies that lead to enhanced academic performance. The pilot concept was an event in which students spent one hour taking a practice exam in a simulated environment and then spent an additional hour with School of Engineering peer tutors to clarify missing or confusing content. Future iterations of the program included more cooperative learning: students spend 30-40 minutes working the practice exam independently, 20-30 minutes working the exam with peers at their table, and 60 minutes working on unclear content with Engineering upperclassmen.
Helpers during the practice exams include engineering student tutoring staff and upper class members of School of Engineering student organizations, who “adopt” one course each semester. Once students have worked the exam both alone and with peers at their table, solutions to the exam are read. Then, helpers split up the problems and position themselves around the room, working through those problems. Participants can move around the room as needed to review problems. Practice exams are typically held the Sunday evening before the scheduled exam. The next day, attendance and any test problems that were particularly challenging are communicated to instructors. The program is managed in the Engineering Student Success office of the School of Engineering by various full time and graduate staff.
The pilot program began in Spring of 2017 and has now grown to include all courses in the calculus sequence, all first year chemistry coursework, and both physics courses required of engineering students, for a total of nine courses. The program serves School of Engineering students and STEM majors outside of Engineering. Practice exam attendance has grown to 25-75% of enrolled students in a course. Initial feedback from students is that this program is a valuable study tool and yields a positive experience that could lead to retention in Engineering. Early indicators also suggest that participants in this program may see improved test performance in comparison to non-participating peers.
Our research questions are: what effect does the practice exam program have on students who participate in the short term (i.e. earned grade in that course), and in the long term (based on future academic success and retention in Engineering)? Also, what academic or retention effect the practice exam program has on the upperclassmen who provide support during these sessions? To investigate these questions, exam performance data from Math courses will be compared between participants and non-participants. We will also compare retention in the School of Engineering and the University between participants and non-participants. Finally, surveys to participants and peer helpers will provide insight into their experience with the program.
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