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Direct Competency Testing Is It For You?

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1999 Annual Conference


Charlotte, North Carolina

Publication Date

June 20, 1999

Start Date

June 20, 1999

End Date

June 23, 1999



Page Count


Page Numbers

4.200.1 - 4.200.7

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Paper Authors

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John I. Hochstein

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E. H. Perry

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NOTE: The first page of text has been automatically extracted and included below in lieu of an abstract

Session 3266

Direct Competency Testing – Is It For You? John I. Hochstein and Edward H. Perry Mechanical Engineering Department The University of Memphis


A pedagogical tool, Direct Competency Testing, has been developed to measure the ability of engineering students to find correct solutions to simple problems in a small number of specific “competency” areas for each course. Competency is demonstrated by finding a completely correct solution to at least one test problem in the stated area. Students must demonstrate competency in at least three areas to pass the course and in all areas to receive a grade of “A” regardless of their performance on regular course exams. Direct Competency Testing not only serves as a measure of individual student ability in the classroom, it also provides a convenient means of documenting program outcomes for the coming EC2000 accreditation process. Finally, and perhaps most importantly, it helps to prepare students for the practice of engineering where completely correct solutions are the only acceptable solutions.


Have you ever asked yourself if it is possible for a student to earn an engineering degree without having produced a single completely correct answer on any engineering exam? Have you ever struggled over whether a student with borderline performance on traditional engineering exams, consisting exclusively of problems graded with partial credit, has acquired sufficient knowledge and skill to merit a passing grade and subsequently a degree from your program? Are you searching for innovative methods and tools for providing the program documentation demanded by EC2000 accreditation requirements1? We believe that most of our colleagues have considered some, if not all, of these questions at some time in their teaching careers. Our motivation in writing this paper is to share with those colleagues a pedagogical tool that can help serve as a partial answer to all of these questions – Direct Competency Testing, (DCT).

The experience reported herein evolved from a chance discussion between the two authors a few years ago that focused on the first question posed above: “Do some of our students graduate without ever producing a single completely correct answer to an exam problem?” Because traditional examinations are the major element in the grading system for most engineering courses, we concluded that this certainly could, and probably did, occur. We agreed that such an occurrence was certainly undesirable.

If a simple mathematical error is made during an exam, we generally attribute it to “time pressure” and, provided that the solution methodology is sound, give the student a passing score for that problem. While pedagogically sound, this same type of performance in a professional engineering setting is completely unacceptable. There is no question that in engineering practice the analysis must be completely correct so that sound and safe decisions can be made. It is not overly dramatic to say that human lives are often at stake. So, the question becomes: “How can

Hochstein, J. I., & Perry, E. H. (1999, June), Direct Competency Testing Is It For You? Paper presented at 1999 Annual Conference, Charlotte, North Carolina.

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