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Test prep for students, faculty gets boost with Brainslicer.com, developed by Case dental teacher

Photo: Tim Whittingham and his brainchildBrainslicer.com has the potential to send the old fraternity test files to the recycling bin. Now finding out what might be on an upcoming test got a little easier for students around the country with the advent of www.brainslicer.com. Developed by Tim Whittingham, who teaches physiology and biochemistry at the Case Western Reserve University’s School of Dental Medicine, the database of practice exams, glossary, questions with answers and search tools also benefits faculty members who are tired of old test questions and want to offer new ones.

This teacher hopes to beat the students at their own test-mining schemes by organizing and putting the test questions out there as a learning tool and study guide. “Educators have known for years that students have been collecting test questions. We can shred old tests, lock them in file cabinets or try to secure them, but well-organized students can take the test and memorize what is on it, leave the room and write down the questions,” said Whittingham. “Brainslicer.com, by sharing questions with all students, puts everyone on equal footing.”

The new Web site currently offers 1,623 biochemistry test questions, 1,444 on physiology and 1,353 in the module on the National Dental Boards-Part I Biochemistry/Physiology. The site, designed in cooperation with Virtual Horizons of Akron, has the potential to expand by adding new modules for other college subjects.

Whittingham thinks Brainslicer.com has advantages over other competitors in the test preparation field with more questions, more user friendly functions and at a significantly lower price. Test prep for dental students has often involves the use of dental flash cards of approximately 2,000 questions that might appear on the National Dental Boards and Kaplan has a National Dental Board prep program that has approximately 1,300 questions for the four-part exam—or as Whittingham points out approximately 300 questions per test section.

Whittingham concentrated on the three subjects for Brainslicer.com (biochemistry, physiology/Neurobiology and the National Dental Board—Part I—Biochemistry/Physiology), because these are the ones he teaches at Case and the Ohio School of Podiatric Medicine in Cleveland. The question base is built from tests he has given over the past 15 years and questions submitted by other professors. His experience serving on the National Dental Board Construction Committee in the early 1990s aided him in designing practice board exams.

Brainslicer.com works by having students pay $25 for six-month access or about a semester’s length to one of the site’s three main modules. Students can search for test material through a number of web layers that refines the student’s search down to specific test topics that students are studying. For example, in the biochemistry module a search for questions on vitamins and minerals will bring up 84 potential questions. The field can be narrowed by searching for specific information on a particular vitamin like Vitamin A.

Faculty members have free, unlimited use of the website by submitting 100 questions they have used on their tests. The agreement is that faculty members will not sell each other’s questions to other sources. Whittingham offers faculty members the option of coding their questions to let students know which faculty member has posed the question and alerts students to look for those questions. Faculty can also design their tests by pulling questions from the website and then securely store them where no one else has access to the test.

Each question in the system gives information about the right and wrong answers to expand information about each topic. At the end of practice tests, a student can be graded on percentage of questions answered correctly and overall performance as a guide to how well they did and how much more studying is needed, according to Whittingham.

Since Whittingham’s days at Case’s Weatherhead School of Management where he earned the M.B.A. (with an emphasis on management information systems), he’s mulled the idea of test preparation around. For the teacher, who earned his doctorate degree in physiology from the University of Wisconsin—and where the Web site got its name from his doctoral dissertation on hippocampal brain slices—the management classes gave him a new perspective on business opportunities.

The idea for some form of test preparation came in 1990 when he learned that 400 people had paid $1,000 for a weekend test prep class. “It kept haunting me and lurked in the back of my mind all these years,” said Whittingham.

The idea evolved from a board preparation course for local dental school graduates, then a book with a collection of questions with answers and related information, followed by an electronic book on CD to its current form.

Whittingham estimates that he has the potential to reach thousands of students, because almost every college or university in the country offers some introductory biochemistry and physiology courses. The board preparation has appeal to students in the country’s 56 dental schools, as well as any student taking a biochemistry, physiology or neurobiology course.

After years of thinking about it, “I finally said I’ll either do it now or never and then wonder in 10 years whether it would have been a success,” said Whittingham.

If student use is an indicator of success, Whittingham said he had 154,000 page hits before a recent biochemistry exam for 94 students in the class. “Students are using the site to study, and Brainslicer.com has had visits from every continent but Antarctica and Africa,” he said.

 

About Case Western Reserve University

Case is among the nation's leading research institutions. Founded in 1826 and shaped by the unique merger of the Case Institute of Technology and Western Reserve University, Case is distinguished by its strengths in education, research, service, and experiential learning. Located in Cleveland, Case offers nationally recognized programs in the Arts and Sciences, Dental Medicine, Engineering, Law, Management, Medicine, Nursing, and Social Work. http://www.case.edu.