On the Frequency of Words Used in Answers to Explain in Plain English Questions by Novice Programmers

Publication Type:
Conference Proceeding
ACM International Conference Proceeding Series, 2019, pp. 11 - 20
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© 2019 Association for Computing Machinery. Most previous research studies using Explain in Plain English questions have focussed on categorising the answers of novice programmers according to the SOLO taxonomy, and/or the relationship between explaining code and writing code. In this paper, we study the words used in the explanations of novice programmers. Our data is from twelve Explain in plain English questions presented to over three hundred students in an exam at the end of the students' first semester of programming. For each question, we compare the frequency of certain words used in correct answers, between students who scored a perfect twelve on all the Explain in plain English questions and students with lower scores. We report a number of statistically significant differences in word frequency between the students who answered all questions correctly and students who did not. The students who answered all twelve questions correctly tended to be more precise, more comprehensive, and more likely to choose words not explicitly in the code, but instead words that are an abstraction beyond the code.
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