The Institute Report, June 2013, Page 13
Chemistry Professor Writes
Questions for National Exam
Everybody knows what it’s like
to face the blank answer sheet of a
multiple-choice test. But what’s it like
to be on the opposite side of the desk,
and write the questions for such a test,
especially one that is administered
That’s the experience Lt. Col.
Stan Smith, associate professor of
chemistry, had this spring when he
helped to write questions for the
American Chemical Society’s organic
chemistry exam. The 70-question
exam is given at colleges and
universities across the country so
professors can gauge how their
students are doing compared to
others around the nation. Students
taking the test are typically chemistry
or biology majors in their second or third year of college.
The ACS’s organic chemistry exam has not been given at VMI in the
last few years, although some professors teaching other branches of
chemistry do administer ACS tests.
“It’s been great to see how the whole process works,” said Smith, who
took the organic chemistry exam himself when he was an undergraduate
at the University of Central Florida.
Smith heard about the opportunity to craft the next ACS exam through
Col. Daren Timmons, department head. Timmons had participated
in writing ACS exam questions in the past. Smith put his name into
consideration as a potential participant two years ago, but did not hear
until last year that he’d been selected. He traveled to New Orleans, La.,
in April to meet with 14 other other chemistry professors from around
the country and narrow down a pool of 300 potential questions.
Smith contributed questions having to do with six areas of organic
chemistry, including “green chemistry” and nomenclature. As its name
suggests, green chemistry has to do
with conducting experiments in an
environmentally friendly manner.
“In organic laboratory, there’s a
push to find cheaper, more easily
disposable, greener processes,” said
Smith. He noted that interest in green
chemistry seems to be growing, and
questions about that domain have
begun appearing on the ACS exams
in the last five years or so.
Nomenclature, or naming, is of
special interest to a chemist, said
Smith, because with a potentially
exponential combination of elements,
there’s an urgent need to name those
combinations in a way that others can
“If you start with 10 carbon atoms
and 22 hydrogen atoms, there are at least 75 molecules that can be
formed from these atoms,” Smith explained. “If you start with 20 carbon
atoms and 42 hydrogen atoms, there are around 62 trillion molecules
that can be formed. … It can get out of control unless there are rules
to govern how molecules are named.”
And while the questions for the new version of the ACS test have been
written, Smith’s work is far from done. There are two more meetings
scheduled, one to create two mock tests that will be given to students,
and another to review the students’ performance on the tests.
Smith, meanwhile, said he’s already reaped benefits from participation
in the test-crafting process.
“One of the benefits has been seeing howmultiple choice questions are
designed,” he said. “There’s actually a lot of thought and philosophy that
other people have put into what makes a good multiple choice question.
…Seeing the effort that goes into these questions has been very good
for me pedagogically.”
Lt. Col. Stan Smith instructs David Warriner ’13 on the
operation of the nuclear magnetic resonance spectrometer, a
device used to study substances’ molecular structures.
Photo by John Robertson IV.
Keydets Compete at Big South Championships
Avion Jones ’16 won the high jump title, Andrey Dmitriev ’14 had All-
Big South finishes in the 800- and 1,500-meter runs, and Antonio Wood
’13 scored in three individual events to lead VMI men’s track and field at
the Big South Outdoor Track and Field Championships, contested April
18-20 at Liberty University in Lynchburg, Va. VMI finished in fifth place
with 73 points.
Jones cleared the bar at 2.15 meters (7’, ½”) to tie the facility record.
He had three chances to close to less than two inches shy of Dale Davis
’83’s school record, but narrowly missed on his second try at 2.18 meters
(7’, 1¾”) and could not clear on his final try.
Dmitriev was part of a 14-point team performance in the 800, finishing
in second place with a 1:52.38 clocking, and in the 1,500, he finished
second in 3:58.22. It marked the third consecutive year he had finished
second in the 1,500 at this meet, and the two efforts give him seven
career all-conference honors on the track.
Wood, meanwhile, was second in the decathlon (6,638), fourth in
the long jump (7.22 meters/23’, 8¼”), and fifth in the high jump (1.99
meters/6’, 6¼”) to accumulate 17 individual points.
On the women's side, the Keydets wound up ninth, scoring 38 points.
That was just four markers shy of the team’s record total at an outdoor
meet. The team was led by 1st Class Cadet Kate Collins’ title in the pole
vault, her second career victory in the event. Mary Grace Lemon ’14
(hammer) and Renee Reives ’15 (discus) set school records in the
throws while Reives also posted a runner-up finish in the shot put.