Collaborative Research: Supported Mastery Assessment using Repeated Testing (SMART)

Andrew Elby
University of Maryland

Need:In engineering science courses, exams typically lead to two undesirable outcomes: students feel anxiety, and students study in ways designed to maximize partial-credit accumulation at the expense of deeper conceptual understanding. This project explores an alternative assessment regimen, called “SMART,” designed to ameliorate these two problems. The regimen includes exam re-takes and a grading rubric that rewards conceptual understanding and does not award partial credit for bits and pieces of information that aren’t part of a coherent strategy or explanation.Guiding Questions:Although the pandemic has disrupted our pursuit of research questions about student performance under our assessment regimen vs. standard assessment regimens, we have been able to pursue the following issue: How does “SMART” affect students’ approaches to studying, and how does it affect their anxiety level?Outcomes:Analysis of interviews with students is still in process, but preliminary results indicate a bifurcated pattern based on students’ levels of overwhelmedness. For students who report being able to keep up with their coursework and other responsibilities, typically those doing very well or quite well in their courses, SMART tends to lower anxiety and shift their exam preparation to focus more on understanding what they’re doing rather than just absorbing problem-solving procedures. By contrast, students working multiple jobs, struggling in other courses, or reporting other reasons they are overwhelmed and time-starved, feel less or no reduction of anxiety and don’t change their study habits much or at all. This is largely because taking advantage of the regrade-request and exam-retake opportunities take time and mental bandwidth the students don’t have.Broader Impacts:These results suggest that assessment reforms that are confined to particular courses, unaccompanied by broader changes in undergraduate engineering education structures and culture, may help the students who are already doing at least ok but won’t help the students who need it most.


Andrew Elby, University of Maryland, College Park, MD