Using Simple Tests to Identify Students Needing Support in Engineering Mathematics

Ballance, D. (2016) Using Simple Tests to Identify Students Needing Support in Engineering Mathematics. In: 18th SEFI Mathematics Working Group Seminar (, Gothenburg, Sweden, 27-29 June 2016, (Unpublished)

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Within large first year classes it can be difficult to identify, at an early stage, those students who are struggling to adapt to studying at a University. In mathematics, many universities adopt a policy of early diagnostic tests to try to identify those struggling with the background material, however this can often identify those who have been away from formal learning for a long time who will not have problems adapting to study within a university environment. In addition, any support provided to students may not be directly related to their studies and such support is often not taken up by those who need it, but instead taken up by those who do not. This paper presents an approach using simple tests which may be repeated weekly to identify those students who are struggling. To complete the first year mathematics course, a student must pass five such tests covering the basics of algebra, the use of calculators, vectors and matrices, differentiation and integration. In each test ten multiple choice questions are asked and a student is deemed to have passed the test when they correctly answer all questions at a single attempt. In advance of the tests, students are shown an example test and told that each of the 10 questions will be on the same topic as in the example. They are therefore able to revise the basics before the test, know the topics that will be present in the test and know that they cannot try to be strategic in their approach by avoiding what they perceive to be hard topics. Students who fail to achieve 100% at each attempt, are given feedback on their attempt, encouraged to seek further support during tutorials, and required to take the test again the following week. Experience has shown that at each attempt between 60% and 80% of students pass the test. Within two tests it is therefore possible to narrow down the list of students struggling with the basics to about 10% of the class. An added benefit is that the tests provide early events for monitoring attendance and those students failing to engage are quickly identified. Personalised emails are sent to each student after each test detailing their test performance, or inviting them to identify problems they are having. The paper concludes by correlating the test results with overall performance in the first year engineering mathematics course.

Item Type:Conference Proceedings
Glasgow Author(s) Enlighten ID:Ballance, Dr Donald
Authors: Ballance, D.
College/School:College of Science and Engineering > School of Engineering
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