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Lisa Ponton co-authors Innovative Chemistry Exam

 Lisa Ponton, assistant professor of chemistry, worked for three years with colleagues from a range of institutions across the nation in developing an unprecedented type of standardized exam for chemistry, the Diagonistic of Undergraduate Chemical Knowledge, or DUCK, exam.

The American Chemical Society sponsored and will publish the DUCK exam, a capstone exam for chemistry covering all five sub-disciplines of chemistry (analytical, biochemistry, organic, inorganic, physical). That quality makes DUCK unique among ACS exams which in the past have all been targeted to a specific area. But the exam also is notable because, rather than presenting a series of unrelated questions testing knowledge of specific concepts and details, the DUCK exam aims to test the student’s ability to solve chemical problems by integrating knowledge from multiple subdisciplines. Realistic experimental or other factual chemical scenarios are presented and students are then given a set of questions that require them to use their broad understanding of chemical concepts to determine the answers. Because of this approach, the ACS sees the DUCK exam as being able to serve undergraduate schools as a capstone or exit exam, serve graduate schools as an entrance exam, and serve any institution as a departmental assessment of learning outcomes.

In working to develop the exam, Ponton served on the national committee with members from a wide variety of institutions, from liberal arts undergraduate schools (e.g., Harvey Mudd, Roanoke) through liberal arts masters universities (Elon, Butler) to graduate schools (NCSU, Purdue). Participants on the DUCK exam committee were selected and invited to serve by the ACS based on breadth of experience and demonstrated recognition of the importance of undergraduate education in chemistry. Because of the broad differences in schools represented on the committee, a high degree of collaboration and co-editing was involved, including multiple gatherings of the entire group each year and substantial work and communication between meetings. Elon chemistry majors served as a test group on the trial exam in Spring 2008, helping complete the final steps toward publication of the exam. The ACS plans to release the exam this year.

Karl Sienerth,
2/5/2009 4:28 PM