Lab Corner – Test your asphalt IQ

By Mike Anderson, P.E.

After reviewing a few of my recent articles, I’ve come to realize that I’m starting to sound like my parents with the “when I was younger” bit. Most of the time, in my parents’ case, that opening gambit was followed by a proclamation of how much better things were back then or how they had it tougher, but still persevered. That said, it is an effective opening, so… 

When I was younger, I heard about a special society comprised of people with very high IQ called the Mensa society. Not surprisingly I was excited to learn that there was an intellectual society that might be waiting for me to join. All I had to do was take a test, submit it, and await confirmation that I was, indeed, a genius. I even imagined them sending a letter to my mom:

Dear Mrs. Anderson, 

I’m writing to let you know that your son, Mike, has scored off the charts on the intelligence test. It’s, like, really high. Of course he is welcome to join our society. I expect he’ll be my replacement soon. 

The Head Mensa 

It goes without saying that I never got that letter. I’m not even sure that I took the test. Maybe I did and my mom “accidentally” misplaced it on the way to the mailbox to protect my young psyche from probable failure and heartbreak. I imagine that she was concerned that the text of the letter could read “not only are you not a genius, we’re not even sure how you managed to find a Number 2 pencil on your own.”

Nevertheless, I’ve always enjoyed quizzes (fun ones, not school ones). So, when our marketing director asked me if I had ever heard of something called “Asphalt IQ” I was naturally intrigued and decided to create my own short quiz, shown below. Try it and see if you have what it takes to join the AI Society of Really Smart Asphalt People (aka the “SORESAP”).


Q1: Asphalt binder (bitumen) is to crude oil as _________ is to __________: 

(a) nori, a California roll
(b) Nori, Durin’s folk
(c) potatoes, gnocchi
(d) almond milk, almonds
(e) tires, a car

Q2: Place the following in order from largest value to smallest value:

(a) the weight, in pounds, of a gallon of a typical asphalt binder at 15°C
(b) the mass loss, in grams, of an asphalt binder that just meets the AASHTO M320 specification limit after RTFO aging
(c) the AASHTO M320 specification limit for m-value
(d) the AASHTO M332 specification limit for Jnr at 3.2 kPa shear stress for an “H” grade asphalt binder
(e) the airspeed velocity, in meters per second, of an unladen European swallow

Q3: What is meant by the term “Intelligent Compaction”? 

Q4: Complete the equation: %VMA= 100- [(Ps*____)/_____] 

Q5: What is the Fraass test?

Q6: What are the four fractions of asphalt binder as determined from a SARA analysis? 

Q7: Place the following in order from smallest value to largest value: 

(a) the weight, in grams, of a typical volumetric specimen compacted to 4 percent air voids in accordance with AASHTO T312
(b) the minimum required VMA for a 12.5-mm NMAS dense-graded mix in accordance with AASHTO M323
(c) the minimum mix sample size, in grams, to conduct the maximum theoretical specific gravity test (AASHTO T209) for a 25-mm NMAS mix
(d) the short-term mixture conditioning temperature, in degrees Celsius, for producing performance test specimens in AASHTO R30
(e) the best number according to Dr. Sheldon Cooper (“The Big Bang Theory”)

Q8: What is a gigot bitumen? 

(a) a traditional French dish composed of leg of lamb wrapped in brown paper and cooked in asphalt to celebrate the end of structural work on a construction site
(b) a bitumen that has reached the glassy modulus in shear
(c) the original term used for a gel-type asphalt
(d) a bitumen where the BBR Stiffness exceeds 1000 MPa at 60 seconds loading
(e) a modified bitumen made from the shredded film stock of the 1962 movie Gigot

Q9: What is the minimum recommended lift thickness for a 12.5-mm NMAS mixture? 

Q10: In what year was the Asphalt Institute founded? 

(answers below)

Scoring: All questions are worth 2 points. For Q2 and Q7, partial credit (1 point) is permitted if the order is correct in each question except for item (e). 

17-20 You are a long-lost SORESAP member! Feel free to tell your friends.
13-16 You are gifted, no doubt, but not quite SORESAP material.
8-12 Tough quiz, but a strong showing. A little more studying might help.
0-7 Hey, I heard there’s a good movie showing at the theater tonight! 






SORESAP Quiz Answers:

Q1  d (almond milk, almonds)

Q2  e, a, d, b, c  (11, 8.55, 2.00, 0.35, 0.300). Note that (a) is dependent on the specific gravity of the asphalt binder, but is typically in the range of 8.5-8.6 lbs/gal.

Q3 “Intelligent Compaction (IC) refers to the compaction of road materials using modern vibratory rollers equipped with an integrated measurement system, an onboard computer reporting system, Global Positioning System (GPS) based mapping, and optional feedback control.” (

Q4 Gmb, Gsb

Q5 A test to determine the temperature at which bitumen first becomes brittle and cracks.

Q6 Saturates, Aromatics, Resins, and Asphaltenes

Q7  b, e, d, c, a (14, 73, 135, 2500, 5000). Note that (a) is dependent on a number of factors including the combined aggregate gradation, combined aggregate specific gravity, asphalt binder content, and compactive effort, but should not be less than the next lower value in this list (2500).

Q8 (a traditional French dish composed of leg of lamb wrapped in brown paper and cooked in asphalt to celebrate the end of structural work on a construction site)

Q9  3-4 times the nominal maximum aggregate size, or 37.5-50 mm

Q10 1919