Tests to Anytime, Anywhere
Scott Sutherland, Mathematics Professor,
SUNY Stony Brook
||With time and resources in mind,
to reduce the chaos and stress of their placement
||Automated, web-based testing using Maple T.A.™
|| • Completely automated their placement
• Greatly reduced the stress and chaos of registration day
• Students were better prepared and felt better about the exam
• Allowed professors to concentrate on the students and not the exam and
required to administer the placement exams are substantial.”
|At the State
University of New York (SUNY) at Stony Brook, academic
success is as important to the university as it is
to the students.
to succeed, and the first step to ensuring they do
is making sure they are enrolled in the proper classes.
For this reason, Stony Brook's mathematics department
administers placement tests every year to assess the
student’s level of math knowledge and the appropriate
||Maple T.A. can
address all of these schools and situations, as it
automates the entire process, including assessment
through to diagnostics; enabling the placement test
to be done anytime, anywhere. Stony Brook University
is a perfect example of how Maple T.A. can substantially
save time and resources.
mathematics department has been giving a placement
test to every freshman and a large fraction of their
transfer students for 15 years. They’ve developed
a series of multiple choice questions ranging from
arithmetic through to the end of single variable calculus.
The test is administered during orientation at the
beginning of the year using paper-based Scantron cards.
For approximately 14 years, Stony Brook University
was faced with the logistical nightmare of conducting
the test, scanning and recording the grades in their
student record, and advising the appropriate course
all in one morning, so the students could register
in the afternoon. Not only was this process harrowing
for the staff and faculty, the students often complained
that they weren’t prepared, that they didn’t
know they had to write a test, and therefore, the results
did not represent their ability.
Stony Brook needed a better solution.
They wanted to be able to administer the placement
test before the students came to orientation, and they
wanted the students to be as prepared as possible for
“Maple T.A. can address
all of these schools and situations, as it automates
the entire process...”
|University administered placement tests are common
practice, and normally occur in the areas of mathematics
and science. This, however, is where the commonality
leaves off, as the administration process for placement
exams differ for almost every university. Some perform
the test at the beginning of the summer, while some
do it at the end or during orientation; some have the
students come in to the high schools or universities
to write it, while some send it to the students’ homes.
The resources required to administer the placement
exams are substantial. It requires professors to create
the exam, a dozen or more proctors to facilitate the
exam, thousands of Scantron cards, staff to set up
and clean up after the exams, staff to
feed the Scantron cards into the computer or to hand
grade the exams, etc.
Solution: Maple T.A.
Stony Brook, using Maple T.A. was a natural progression
since the math department has been using Maple™,
the premier environment for teaching, learning, and
researching, for 10 years. Scott Sutherland, a mathematics
professor at Stony Brook, chose to work with Maple
T.A. for many reasons:
of adoption. He could drop his existing
questions in without very much work, and without having
to rewrite any of his questions. This allowed him to
concentrate on how he wanted the exam to be presented
to the students, rather than on getting the content
and practice question bank in place.
2. The potential of Maple T.A.. The variety of question
types and options, and the scalability of the program
encompassed all the future plans and possibilities
that Scott saw, making it extremely attractive.
3. The adaptability of Maple T.A.. Scott didn’t
want his students to see the class module, since they
weren’t in a class. He was able to, through the
flexibility of the Maple T.A. interface, adapt the
program to make it look the way he wanted and work
in his setting, and in the end help his students.
4. Compatibility with other programs and content. It
was invaluable to Scott that Maple T.A. was compatible
with his existing publisher’s textbook content.
The ability to mold the tool to fit into different
applications, such as Blackboard®, was also appealing.
5. The copious number of question types, such as Maple-graded,
standard, multiple selection, short answer/essay, matching,
true/false, and mathematical formula.
easy-to-run, straight-forward interface. Since
the students who need to write the test are at home,
and have a limited period of time to become familiar
with the program, it was very important that the interface
be intuitive and simple.
7. No need for students to install software
or a browser.
Maple T.A. is accessed through Web browsers for authoring
content, taking tests, and for administration of tasks.
8. Interest in Maple T.A. from other departments within
the University. If multiple departments are using Maple
T.A., the professors can create a better knowledge
now includes with their math admissions package details
on the math placement test, which is to be taken prior
to orientation. Students are referred to the web site
where they perform as many practice tests as they like,
and then write the exam when they are ready. The organization
of the actual test remained the same; the students
were still timed, and had to perform the test before
a certain date.
With Maple T.A. students were able to access a large
test bank with practice questions that they could do
as many times as they wanted before the test. They
could then perform the test in a time that best suited
them, when they felt the most comfortable and prepared.
The faculty and staff were able to quickly and easily
compute the results. Scott said he had fewer problems
with 3500 students in the first year of Maple T.A.
than he did with the 700 students he has during the
year using other software. Scott commented that he
didn’t hear “I don’t
understand how to make this work” from any of his students.
Maple T.A. has the capability to better assess the
student’s level, as the interactive tool has
the ability to move the student to an easier or more
advanced module based on their performance in the current
The results were clear
The stress and chaos of registration day was greatly
reduced. The faculty and staff knew when the students
arrived at orientation which math class they needed
to enroll in. They were then able to concentrate on
orientation and the students, rather than facilitating
a test. It was a lot less work for the administration,
and Scott said there was “a
net increase in satisfaction and happiness with the
The students were better prepared. They had a chance
to thoroughly practice, and write the test when they
were ready. The feedback revealed that the students
felt that the scores better represented their abilities.
Professors were able to concentrate on the students
and the content of the exam, not organizing the facilitation
of the exam and timing of the day. They were also better
able to evaluate the test and the process, to see where
improvements could be made.
Stony Brook has many plans for Maple T.A. in the future.
They are not only planning to evolve their placement
test questions, but they plan to start using it in
their pre-calculus course in conjunction with the textbook
content. They also intend to use Maple T.A. as a homework
engine, including homework assignments. Several other
disciplines-physics, chemistry, and economics-have
also expressed interest in the tool, and the math department
is more than willing to help them get started.