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Analysis of the Impact of Testing Frequency on Student Performance in a Basic Thermodynamics Course

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2013 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Atlanta, Georgia

Publication Date

June 23, 2013

Start Date

June 23, 2013

End Date

June 26, 2013



Conference Session


Tagged Division

Mechanical Engineering

Page Count


Page Numbers

23.192.1 - 23.192.10

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Paper Authors


John R. Reisel University of Wisconsin, Milwaukee

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John R. Reisel is an Associate Professor of Mechanical Engineering at the University of Wisconsin, Milwaukee
(UWM.) He serves as Associate Director of the Center for Alternative Fuels, and Co-director of the Energy Conversion Efficiency Lab. In addition to research into engineering education, his research efforts focus on combustion and energy utilization. Reisel was a 2005 recipient of the UWM Distinguished Undergraduate Teaching Award, the 2000 UWM-College of Engineering and Applied Science Outstanding
Teaching Award, and a 1998 recipient of the SAE Ralph R. Teetor Educational Award. Reisel is a member of ASEE, ASME, the Combustion Institute, and SAE. Reisel received his B.M.E. degree from Villanova University in 1989, his M.S. degree in mechanical engineering from Purdue University in 1991, and his Ph.D. in mechanical engineering from Purdue University in 1994.

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ANALYSIS OF THE IMPACT ON TESTING FREQUENCY ON STUDENT PERFORMANCE IN A BASIC THERMODYNAMICS COURSEAbstractMany engineering courses, such as Thermodynamics, have topics which build upon thematerial previously learned in the course. For example, students will have difficultylearning the Second Law of Thermodynamics if they have not mastered the First Law.Unfortunately, many students delay studying material in courses until an exam is drawingnear. This can be a particular problem in a course which does not inherently interest astudent, such as a non-Mechanical Engineering student required to take Thermodynamicsas a course outside their major. As a result, they may find themselves well behind in acourse and struggling with the material currently being taught because they had not spentenough time learning older material while it was being covered in class.One technique which has been used to motivate students to learn the course materialpromptly is to test students more frequently, rather than waiting a month or more to doso. The author used this technique for many years, using shorter (30-45 minute) quizzesevery 2 to 3 weeks in a Basic Thermodynamics course. Before using this method, theauthor had used a more traditional approach of giving the students 2 mid-term examsduring the semester. While the frequent-quiz technique generally received positivefeedback from the students and appeared to aid in their learning of the material, the twotechniques had not been directly compared to measure their relative impact.In the Fall 2011 semester, the author taught two sections of Basic Thermodynamics,using the frequent-quiz technique in one and the 2 mid-term exam technique in the other.Other than the testing frequency, the two sections were kept as similar as possible. Thelecture content and homework assignments were identical. Results of the final exam inthe course were used to judge which technique was more successful in aiding thestudents’ learning. Still to be determined is the impact of each technique on studentretention of the material in a second Thermodynamics course.In this paper, a thorough discussion of the study methodology and results is presented. Adiscussion of the benefits and detriments of both techniques is provided, andrecommendations for teachers on testing frequency in Thermodynamics courses aremade.

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