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Glossary of Construction Materials Testing Terms

Construction materials testing terms glossary

From testing protocols and standards to types of materials and supplies, there are many terms to know in the world of construction materials testing.

In this glossary, you can find definitions for the most common construction materials testing terms used in the industry.

A | B | C | F | G | H | I | L | M | N | O | P | R | S | T | U | V | W


AASHTO (the American Association of State Highway Transportation Officials)
A nonprofit association representing highway and transportation departments in the 50 states, the District of Columbia, and Puerto Rico. The Association is a standards-setting body that publishes specifications, test protocols, and guidelines used in highway design and construction throughout the United States.

ACI (American Concrete Institute)
A non-profit technical society and standards developing organization.

Additives blended into concrete during the mixing process to enhance certain characteristics of the concrete. There are many different admixtures that can make concrete set faster or slower, make it easier to pour, enhance its durability, and more.

A granular material – like crushed stone, gravel, sand, or recycled materials – combined with cement and water to form concrete or used as a component in asphalt mixtures.

Aggregate Gradation
The distribution of particle size within an aggregate sample, indicating how well the aggregate will work as a paving material. Aggregate gradation can be used to analyze many different properties of the material, including permeability, durability, stability, workability, stiffness, frictional resistance, moisture levels, fatigue resistance, and more.

Air Entrainment
The intentional introduction of air pockets into a concrete mixture to increases the concrete’s ability to resists freezing and thawing as well as reduce the frequency and severity of cracking and splitting, producing a more durable concrete structure.

Air Permeability / Blaine
A test that measures the airflow rate and determine how fine the cement material is. A Blaine apparatus is used to conduct the air permeability test for a cement sample by drawing a known quantity of air through the sample.

Asphalt Binder Testing
Determines the binder content of hot mix asphalt. The multiple stress creep recovery (MSCR) test analyzes the asphalt’s ability to resist deformation.

ASR Detection
A non-destructive test method used to analyze existing concrete structures for alkali-silica reactivity (ASR). 

ASTM International
A globally recognized leader in the development and delivery of voluntary consensus standards. Important construction materials testing related ASTM standards include ASTM C39, C78, and C109.


Bleed Retention
Bleeding is the process in which water in the cement mix “bleeds” upward through the cement as a result of heavy particles sinking or settling. A cement bleeding apparatus determines the bleed level in a cement mix by analyzing the rate and capacity of bleeding in cement paste and mortar.


California Bearing Ratio (CBR) Test
One of the most important soil penetration tests used to evaluate how strong roads and pavement are at the subgrade level. The results can help paving companies determine how thick a layer of pavement is and help them design and implement flexible pavement applications.

Cement Testing
The process of evaluating properties of cement, the primary binding agent in concrete, to ensure its quality, consistency, and compliance with industry standards and specifications.

Compression Testing
Determines a material’s behavior under applied crushing loads. Compression tests are typically conducted by applying compressive pressure to a test specimen (usually of either a cuboid or cylindrical geometry) using platens or specialized fixtures on a compression machine.

Concrete Coring
The process of testing concrete’s properties – like carbonation, permeability, strength, and chemical makeup – in an existing building or structure.

Concrete Molds
A form used to prepare concrete samples in various shapes and sizes until it sets at the desired strength.

Concrete Penetration
A test that determines the consistency of a concrete paste material.

Concrete Testing
The process of evaluating the properties of concrete to validate its quality, strength, durability, and compliance with industry standards.

Construction Materials Testing Software
A platform that connects the entire construction testing workflow, leaving no gaps or room for human intervention from the moment field data is captured in the system, to specimen curing and identification, to validation and testing, to sign off and next steps.

Crack Monitors
Used to monitor the movement of cracks and joints in concrete, brick or cement block structures.

The process of providing the necessary moisture and temperature conditions over a specified period of time to ensure concrete achieves its desired strength, durability, volume stability, and freeze/thaw resistance.

Cylinder Testing
The process of casting cylindrical specimens from fresh concrete, curing, and testing them to determine compressive strength and other values.


Flexural Testing
Bending a specimen to produce tensile stress on the outside of the bend (convex face) and compressive stress on the inside of the bend (concave face) until it breaks.

Fresh Concrete Testing
The process of testing properties of freshly poured, or wet, concrete, including slump, air, unit weigh (density), and temperature.



A substance that provides a pourable consistency for cement material.

Grout Flow Testing
The process of ensuring grout consistency allows it to completely fill an empty space without causing any of the concrete’s ingredients to segregate.


Hot Mix Design
Involves choosing the aggregate you’ll use in your asphalt and which type of asphalt binder you’ll need, then combining these materials in an ideal manner.


Impact Echo Test
A test that measures concrete thickness, determines the location of cracks, locates voids beneath slabs and pavement, and more. The impact echo test device conducts non-destructive evaluations of concrete and masonry based on impact-generated sound waves.

ISO (International Organization for Standardization)
An independent, non-governmental international organization with a membership of 164 national standards bodies.


Load Frames
Versatile tools used for soil testing, capable of conducting many different tests, including CBR, unconfined compression, triaxial, Marshall, and soil cement tests.


Marshall Stability Test
Determines an asphalt sample’s flow, density, and void content.

Maturity Meter
A tool used to predict the earliest safe time for the removal of onsite concrete forms and to determine proper time for loading and post-tensioning and termination of cold weather protection.

Modulus of Elasticity
Measures a specimen’s resistance to deformation. In other words, how much it stretches or compresses in response to a given force.

Mohs Mineral Hardness Test
Analyzes a mineral’s resistance to scratching effects from ten different mineral samples, allowing testers to determine the relative aggregate hardness by comparing it to the other specimens.

Mortar Penetration
Determines the setting time of a cement sample to analyze material’s temperature, the proportions of different materials in the cement mixture, the hardening speed of the cement, and more.


NPCA (National Precast Concrete Association)
A non-profit trade association representing manufacturers of plant-produced precast concrete products and companies that provide equipment, supplies and services to the industry. The NPCA has a number of committees, including the QA/QC Committee, which reviews the NPCA Quality Control Manual for Precast Concrete Plants to ensure high standards of production and quality control.

Non-Destructive Testing
Used to inspect and evaluate materials, components, or assemblies without destroying their serviceability.


Organic Impurities Test
Detects the presence of organic compounds in fine aggregate samples. A positive test result indicates need for further tests prior to using source material in cement or mortar formulations.


Penetrometer (Soils)
Determines the shear strength or compressive strength of a soil sample by driving the rod into the ground at a consistent, steady rate and taking note of the depth where the pressure exceeds 300 PSI and the level where the pressure falls beneath 300 PSI.

Poisson’s Ratio
Similar to Modulus of Elasticity, measures the resistance to deformation perpendicular to the direction of the load.

Proctor Test
Determines the optimal moisture content and maximum dry density of a soil sample. Also known as a moisture-density relationship test or an ordinary compaction test.

Proppant Crush Resistance
Measures the ability of proppant concrete to withstand applied pressure and maintain structural integrity without breaking or crushing.


Resistivity of Concrete
The method for measuring the flow of electrical currents that may have opposing materials within concrete or rock. By accurately measuring the flow of electricity, resistivity testing detects the possibility of reinforcing steel corrosion and the diffusion rates of chloride within the concrete.

Rice Tests
Determines how much air void there is in an asphalt sample and indicates the absorption levels of an aggregate bitumen material.


Sample Splitting
The process of cutting a sample of aggregate into two identical portions, testing the aggregate’s quality or determining which properties it needs to produce an ideal concrete or cement mixture.

SCC (Self Consolidating Concrete)
A medium-viscosity concrete mix with low levels of yield stress and high levels of segregation resistance. Self-consolidating concrete can spread itself to fill a formwork with no mechanical assistance.

Scratch Hardness Test
Determines the quality of soft particles in coarse aggregate.

Shear Test
Determines the shear strength of a soil sample to analyze the stability of slopes or cuts, find the bearing capacity for foundations, and calculate the pressure exerted by soil on a retaining wall.

A device with a meshed or perforated surface used for separating particles of different sizes across all aspects of construction material sample preparation, mix design, QC and general particle analysis.

Sieve Test (Aggregate)
Determines how different sizes of aggregate particles are distributed within a sample to ensure the aggregates perform as expected.

Measures the consistency of fresh concrete before it sets to verify that the batch has been mixed properly.

Soil Density Test
Involves the evaluation and monitoring of a soil sample’s compaction and density characteristics to determine whether the backfill material used on a construction project has compaction readings that are sufficient to support foundations, highways, and much more.

Soil Classification
A range of tests and methods for determining several important characteristics of a soil sample – vital for ensuring the safety of workers in a trench.

Soil Consolidation
Determines how much soil compresses when soaked with water and subjected to pressure, indicating how quickly and to what extent the soil settles.

Soil Permeability
Analyzes how quickly water moves through a soil sample. Water is introduced to the soil at a known pressure, and the flow is measured to determine how permeable the soil is. For the most part, sandy or rocky soil will be highly permeable, while soils with high quantities of clay will have much lower permeability.

Soil Resistivity
Measures the volume of a soil sample to evaluate how conductive it is. Soil resistivity can vary significantly as you get deeper beneath the surface, and there can be major differences across lateral spans as well.

Specific Gravity Testing
Determines the specific gravity of sand or aggregates, evaluating the density of an aggregate compared to water.

Strain Gauge
Used to analyze the level of strain in concrete. Strain gauges have a tensioned wire running between flanges on either end. Electromagnets vibrate the wire, and you can take a strain gauge measurement based on how much vibration occurs.

Strength Testing
A series of tests that occur after 3, 7, and 28 days of curing to measure concrete’s durability. Strength tests include compression, flexural, and tension.

Sulfate Soundness Test
Determines how an aggregate will hold up against disintegration due to freeze-thaw cycles. By submerging an aggregate sample into water that’s saturated with either magnesium sulfate or sodium, analyzing how much salt forms in the aggregate’s porous openings, and determining the weight loss for the sample, you can assess its freeze-thaw resistance.

A type of mix design that has become increasingly popular ever since the U.S. Transportation Research Board urged the development of more durable paving materials for highways in 1984. Superpave involves classifying different kinds of asphalt binders based on the effects of temperature and age on the material. It is tailored to maintain excellent performance under high traffic loads and a wide variety of environmental effects.

Swell Test
Evaluates the degree to which a soil sample shrinks and swells due to a change in moisture content. Especially when dealing with soil that has a high degree of clay material in it, soil that swells too much can cause significant damage to foundations and footings.


Tension Testing
Increasing the weight on one end of a sample of a material – which is clamped between two fixtures called “grips” – to measure the change in the length of the sample. The material has known dimensions, like length and cross-sectional area. The tension test applies weight to the material gripped at one end while the other end is fixed.

Tensile Splitting
Loading a test specimen cylinder lying on its side and splitting its diameter vertically as an indirect method of determining its tensile strength.

Triaxial Soil Testing
Measures a soil or rock sample’s shear strength by placing the sample in a pressurized chamber and shearing it until the sample fails. When the sample fails, the machine collects data regarding the sample’s stress and strain characteristics. This data can be used to determine how stable soil is for construction purposes and figure out whether it will collapse or support the structure. 


Unit Weight / Density
Measures the weight of a sample of concrete to verify the mix of concrete for a specific setting. 


An apparatus that measures a cement paste’s consistency level and setting times, allowing testers to perform penetration tests.

Void Content (Aggregate)
The space between particles in aggregate mass not occupied by solid minerals. A void content apparatus analyzes the uncompacted void content of a fine aggregate sample and indicates the angularity, sphericality, and workability of the material.


Windsor Probe Test
The most common non-destructive concrete testing method available, in which the probe is driven into the concrete using a small powder charge. How deep the probe goes into the concrete indicates its compressive qualities. 

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