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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Evaluating the quality of student-written software tests with curated mutation analysis Hall, Braxton


An important learning outcome in software engineering education is the ability to write an effective test suite that rigorously tests a target application. The standard approach for assessing test suites is to check coverage which can be problematic because coverage rewards code invocation, without checking test assertion correctness. Mutation Analysis (injecting a small fault into a clone of a codebase) has been used in both industry and academia to check test suite quality. A mutant is killed if any tests in the test suite fail on the clone. More mutants killed indicates a stronger suite, as it is more sensitive to defects. Mutation Analysis has been limited in an educational setting because of the prohibitive cost in both time and compute power to run the students' suites over all generated clones. We employed Mutation Analysis to assess test suite quality in our upper-year Software Engineering course at a large research intensive university. This paper makes two contributions: (1) We show that it is feasible and effective to use a small sample of hand-written mutants for grading, and (2) We assess effectiveness for promoting student learning by comparing students graded with coverage to those graded with Mutation Analysis. We found that mutation graded students write more correct tests, check more of the behaviour of invoked code, and more actively seek to understand the project specification.

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