Participation doubles in second ‘test drive’ Elliott mock exam experience

For courses with large enrollment numbers, Elliott Hall of Music is Purdue’s most practical space for hundreds—and sometimes thousands—of students to take a single exam at once. 

While great for concerts and commencement ceremonies, the venue provides some challenges as a testing environment. Its dim lighting and a cacophony of sniffling noses can be distracting to students who have only tested in high school classrooms.

That’s why, for the second year in a row, Purdue’s Academic Success Center (ASC) provided students with an opportunity to “Test Drive” the Elliott Hall exam experience.

The event gives students—new freshmen in particular—an opportunity to take a timed, multiple choice practice exam in Elliott so they could experience the testing circumstances without any effect on their grade. 

“Every semester, we hear from students that their first exams were much more difficult than the practice ones they took,” says Katie Dufault, ASC director. “The help students seek at the ASC is often reactionary, so we decided to simulate the exam experience to give new undergraduates a better idea of what to expect.”

Emily Kreighbaum, a freshman in the College of Health and Human Sciences, said the mock exam helped her set a better pace for taking her real Chemistry 115 exam days later.

“During the mock exam, the first 20 minutes went by and lots of students were already getting up to leave, but I was only a third of the way through the test and I thought I might not finish on time,” Kreighbaum says. “Because I took the practice test, I knew what to study and how much time it might take me to answer each question, so I think I did better on the actual exam as a result.”

ASC Assistant Director Brandon Keith displays a pink chemistry 115 sign in Elliott Hall of Music ASC Assistant Director Brandon Keith directs students on where to sit for their mock chemistry 115 exam in Elliott Hall of Music.

More than 720 students participated in the Sept. 10 mock exam event, nearly double last year’s participation. While last year’s event focused exclusively on math courses, this year students from high-enrollment chemistry and biology courses also had an opportunity to participate. Chemistry 115 was by far the largest, with 458 student participants.

“Many of our students were getting ready to take their first college exam, so just having the experience of lining up with all those people, knowing where the lap boards are, experiencing the lighting and seating may have resulted in less nervousness and pre-test anxiety for the real thing,” says Marybeth Miller, general chemistry coordinator.

Miller says she initially had reservations about promoting the Test Drive event to chemistry students because real Chemistry 115 exams have assigned seating and the practice event, with seven courses participating, did not.

“What persuaded me was learning that some students with approved testing accommodations might be unsure whether to use them,” Miller says. “Thanks to Test Drive, those students could experience the Elliott exam environment without the weight of an actual exam. I thought that was a really valuable benefit for that particular group of students.”

Also new this year was the ability for students registered with Purdue’s Disability Resource Center (DRC) to take the mock exam in a distraction-reduced environment.

“Sometimes not knowing what to expect can trigger or exasperate anxiety,” says Kelsey Jordan, DRC Testing Center coordinator. “By going through the Test Drive, our students now know what to expect for that first exam, which will hopefully help alleviate some of their anxiety for the real thing.

In addition to experiencing the testing environment in Elliott, students also received graded feedback on their practice exam. As one of several proctors during event, Dufault said some students experienced issues that might have negatively affected their results had they been taking a genuine exam.

“Some of them forgot No. 2 pencils, while others forgot their Purdue student IDs,” Dufault says. “Those types of things may be inconsequential in a high school testing environment, but college is different.”

Another hope of the mock exam is that it will provide students a better measure of their proficiency with the subject matter.

“Some students struggle to accurately self-evaluate where they are with their study skills, knowledge, and course material,” Dufault says. “They come to Purdue with 12 years of experience that show them the way they study and learn is working, without realizing that the scenario and rigor has changed. And because this is a reality that students face, the ASC will continue to look for new ways to help students navigate the experience.”

Dufault says the ASC will continue to offer Test Drive annually, at the beginning of the fall term, with plans to adapt the event as new testing environments emerge.

Meanwhile, preparing students for large-scale exams will continue to be a priority for the ASC.

In fact, the ASC has already scheduled a variety of workshops that will help students prepare for final exams, improve time management, polish their study skills, and avoid procrastination. A full list of workshop opportunities is available on the ASC website; staff and faculty are encouraged to promote these free offerings to students who may be interested. Although advance registration is preferred, students may also register at the event.  

Writer: Andrea Mattingly, andrea@purdue.edu  

Last updated: Oct. 10, 2018

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