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Effect of Multiple Choice Testing on Student Performance in an Introductory Engineering 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

First Year Engineering

Tagged Division

Educational Research and Methods

Page Count


Page Numbers

23.461.1 - 23.461.17



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Paper Authors


Jennifer M Peuker University of Alaska, Anchorage

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Jennifer Mott Peuker recieved her Ph.D. from the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign in 2012, where her research focus was on aluminum combustion in explosive fireballs. In addition, she has two teaching certificates from the University of Illinois Center for Teaching Excellence. In the Spring 2013 semester, she was a Term Assistant Professor at the University of Alaska Anchorage in the department of Mechanical Engineering, where she taught the freshman level engineering practices course, with an emphasis on computer programming using MATLAB and communication. Her teaching interests are in the area of thermo-fluids and freshmen engineering. Her current research is focused on the success of freshmen engineering students, and implementing a flipped classroom by using Team-Based Learning in engineering core courses. Jennifer can be reached at

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Jennifer McFerran Brock University of Alaska Anchorage

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Dr. Jennifer McFerran Brock is an Assistant Professor of Mechanical Engineering at University of Alaska Anchorage. Her teaching focus is on fluid and thermal systems; she teaches classes in thermodynamics, heat and mass transfer, and fluid mechanics. She has done work with academic assessment, particularly relating to ABET. She can be reached at

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Steffen Peuker University of Alaska Anchorage

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Dr. Steffen Peuker is an Assistant Professor of Mechanical Engineering and the Director of the Thermal System Design Laboratory at the University of Alaska Anchorage. He is teaching the Thermal System Design, Thermal System Design Laboratory, HVAC Systems Optimization and Introduction to Engineering courses. His work in engineering education focuses on hands-on undergraduate engineering education in the HVAC&R area, student-industry cooperation, and developing innovative ways of merging engineering fundamentals and engineering in practice and research. Dr. Peuker's educational research also focuses on increasing student retention and success in engineering through a student success focused introduction to engineering course. He is an active member of the American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air Conditioning Engineers and can be reached at

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Effect of Multiple Choice Testing on Student Performance in an Introductory Engineering CourseThis study is intended to investigate the effect of multiple choice (MC) testing on studentperformance in an introductory engineering course. Most of the engineering educationalliterature is focused on the development of quizzes and web based questions. The main questionthis study intends to answer is: Does the use of multiple choice questions on an exam adverselyaffect the students’ performance? MC questions would allow instructors to test a broader rangeof material on the exams than the traditional open-ended problem approach. A possible drawbackof using MC questions could be that it will tempt the students to guess instead of solving aproblem. This study aims to compare student comprehension of introductory statics material bycomparing the exam scores of students who are given both MC questions and constructedresponse (CR) questions to see whether the type of exam question makes a difference in studentperformance and understanding.The sample population was taken from students enrolled in an introductory engineering course.Students from four majors are required to take this course, Computer Systems Engineering, CivilEngineering, Electrical Engineering and Mechanical Engineering, as well as undeclaredengineering majors. One of the main topics covered is an introduction to engineering statics,including free body diagrams, and calculation of resultant forces. For the final exam, four staticsquestions were given, each in two formats: MC and CR. Two versions of the exam were made—Exam A and Exam B—and each exam had a different combination of the four statics questionsrepresented as two MC and two CR questions. Seventy-five students did either a MC version or aCR version of each question, resulting in MC answers and a control group of CR answers to eachstatics problem. The students were also polled for feedback regarding their preferences of testquestion format at the end of the semester.All the exams were graded by one professor, and the results showed little difference between thescores on the MC versus the CR versions of a question. The average score for the MC versionwas 80%, while the average score for the CR version was 76%. The high success rate on the MCversion shows that the students are not guessing, and are exhibiting an understanding of thematerial tested. Feedback from the students indicates that only 12% of the students are temptedto guess, while 75% are not tempted to guess. In addition, 68% of the students indicated that theyprefer MC to CR exam questions. Fifty-eight percent of the free answer comments from studentsindicate that the students like to be able to check their answer, get new ideas from the answers,and feel that the MC questions boost confidence during the exam.While MC questions may not be appropriate in all circumstances, the high performance on theMC questions, and similar performance on CR questions indicates that not only do students notguess at the answer, but also are able to show understanding of basic statics problems. MCquestions are good at testing calculations, but are poor at testing problem set up. The perceptionof easier exams may induce less studying by students, but reducing fear and text anxiety, andbuilding confidence in freshman engineering students can also encourage more students tocontinue in engineering, and therefore could improve engineering student retention.

Peuker, J. M., & Brock, J. M., & Peuker, S. (2013, June), Effect of Multiple Choice Testing on Student Performance in an Introductory Engineering Course Paper presented at 2013 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Atlanta, Georgia. 10.18260/1-2--19475

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