Wednesday, March 2, 2016

The pre-test wake up call

Each year I teach some of a fourth year undergraduate course PHYS4030 Condensed Matter Physics which is based on Ashcroft and Mermin. Back in 2012 I started the course by giving the students a Pre-test, which tests some basic knowledge and skills. I posted the test and some reasons why I thought that it was a particularly valuable exercise.

Yesterday I gave the test for the fifth time. Some of the results were a bit disturbing; more than half the 20 students scored less than 60 per cent. Some struggled to do basic calculus, sketch graphs, or remember Schrodinger's time-independent equation or that the heat capacity is the temperature derivative of the internal energy, ...

I said before that the test is a useful wake-up call for the students. However, I realised it is also a wake-up call for me. I really have some idea of what the students can do and can't do, what they struggle with. I can't just blissfully hope they know more than they actually do. There are also some basic points and skills I will have to keep coming back to.

I welcome comments on the test and my observations. Is it reasonable to expect students to score greater than 60 per cent on such a test?


  1. I guess it's worth remembering that a great deal of students tend to forget this sort of content over the break, hopefully with a little bit of encouragement and some reminders they'll be back in fighting form! (many of my students forget things as simple as linear algebra over the summer holidays)

    All the best for the coming semester!

    1. Thanks for the comment. I agree that this does happen. Then the test is a good reminder to brush up and start remembering.