News from the Exams Institute Report, Spring 2015

This entry for the DivCHED Newsletter marks my final contribution as Director of the Exams Institute. I have enjoyed nearly 13 years of serving in this role and it has provided more great colleagues and interesting challenges than I could begin to enumerate. What’s best is that The Institute keeps chugging along and there’s every reason to expect that my successor will have many new and exciting things to talk about in this space over the next several years.

At present, we have several of our traditional new products appearing and available to users. The 2015 General Chemistry exam, created by a committee chaired by Laura Eisen of George Washington University has completed its work and the new test is at the printer – ready to be used for the “finals season” this year. The Physical Chemistry Exam Suite has also been finished up. While the Thermodynamics and Quantum exams were released in 2013, the Comprehensive exam (which includes Thermo, Quantum and Kinetics) has been released in addition to the “Modular” exam, which allows users to mix and match sections of items based on how they divide up the content in their course. The Modular exam includes item-blocks for Thermodynamics (40 items); Quantum (40 items); Classical Kinetics (20 items); Dynamics (10 items) and Statistical Mechanics (10 items).  That’s a lot of work put into the new suite of exams, and the leadership provided by Alex Grushow of Rider University made for smooth sailing despite the demands of a large and complex set of exams.  Another new exam not yet out, but due by this summer is the new General Chemistry Conceptual Exam, co-chaired by Tom Greenbowe of the University of Oregon and Jamie Schneider of the University of Wisconsin – River Falls. As was true for the 2008 version of this exam, it is being designed to be useful as either a pair of one-semester exams or a full year exam.

This spring, we’ll be trial testing two new exams for High School chemistry. The first one is the revision of the traditional, first year of chemistry course. Lauri McDonald of Highland Park High School is the chair of this committee. The other exam is a new one, a High School Conceptual Exam, that is designed to mirror the General Chemistry Conceptual exam. Laura Slocum of Heathwood Hall Episcopal School is the chair of this new committee. If you are a high school chemistry teacher and are interested in participating in the trial testing of either of these exams, please contact us at Another new exam is also in trial testing this spring. While The Institute has long prepared an exam for the senior-level, pchem prerequisite Inorganic Course, this year marks our first attempt to prepare an exam for the sophomore-level Inorganic Exam that has become increasingly common at US colleges and universities. This exam is also hoping to find more trial testing locations, so please drop us a line if you can help with this stage of the development.

Our on-line exam capacity, built on the Metior platform developed by the Center for Educational Software Development at UMass-Amherst is ready to go. Julie Adams is the Assistant Director for On-line Resources and she’s ready to help anybody who is interested in learning more about this new testing means. There are extra steps required because of the security needs of ACS Exams, so we cannot make on-line tests available immediately when they are ordered. We must work with IT personnel from your school to make sure there are no unusual browser dependencies that emerge and to establish security protocols for the machines that will be used in the testing. If you are interested in obtaining more information about the logistics of on-line testing, feel free to contact Julie at

Finally, in addition to these incrementally oriented advancements for Exams Institute products, we are also continuing our research and development efforts for completely new tools. One fascinating example is a system that uses machine-learning matching capacity to take a user entered test question and present likely matches of the content of that question with the Anchoring Concept Content Map we have been developing. Once the user confirms one of the proposed matches (or finds a better match themselves) we can provide basic statistical information about the range of student performances on ACS Exam items in the same topic over the past 20 years. We will be offering workshops at the Sheraton on Sunday, March 22, at the ACS National Meeting in Denver. If you would like to learn more about the capacities of this new system and provide us with further feedback on the user interface, we’d be delighted to hear from you and encourage your participation. Again, you can reach us at to sign up!

So, to close this entry, please allow me to express my thanks to the Chemistry Education community for all of the many things you do that help the Exams Institute accomplish the things we do. When I describe the level of participation we enjoy to colleagues in other STEM fields they are astounded by the efforts. I am grateful I have been afforded the opportunity to work with so many great colleagues. Thank you for helping make the Exams Institute an institution that is both unique and invaluable to chemistry educators. I am moving on to take on new challenges outside of the US. I am looking forward to the adventure, but I know I will never again have the enviable position of being able to count on so many who give so freely of their time and effort. It’s been a great time, and I look forward to crossing paths with friends and colleagues, often, in the future.


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