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I'm teaching a 1st year math course. I have to give a one-hour test about the content of the past three weeks during one of my two-hours sessions.

Usually I give such tests at the end (i.e. during the second hour), as I don't want the test to be disturbed by the invariably late students, and I think the students will only be thinking and talking among themselves about the test during the second hour. But now I'm also thinking that if I do this, then students will have their brains already a bit "fried" by the first hour of lecture/exercises, and will have trouble focusing during the second hour on a test that is about what they learned the previous weeks. Besides, my session is from 11h15 to 13h15, so I expect everyone to be hungry during the second hour.

In either case it's not really optimal... but there isn't much choice. What are the other pros and cons?

  • Is there any way you could devote the entire session to the exam? Like Buffy said, students will find it hard to concentrate on your lecture before an exam, and imo, after the exam will be even more difficult, as the students minds are in post-exam mode. – Jamie Clinton Oct 4 '18 at 17:08
  • As a student I would not pay attention to to the first hour of the class at all if there was an exam during the second hour. I'd spend the whole time doing last minute studying – Collin Oct 4 '18 at 21:24
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For all the reasons you give, the first hour is much better. Just make sure that they are told beforehand (previous day) there won't be an adjustment made for late comers. They will likely be coming to class "psyched" for the exam. The intervening lecture will get in the way of that. The material discussed might even, being the most recent, be what sticks in their heads during the exam, rather than the material tested. They will also be more likely to ignore or forget the material in the lecture. But you say something similar yourself.

But why do you have to give a one hour test every three weeks. Is that a rule imposed on you? Suppose you start each class with a 15 minute quiz that covers recent material (not just the previous day). Would that be acceptable? It makes each exam less consequential overall and gives you better up to date information about what they have learned. If you end the previous session with a five minute review, perhaps led by the students themselves, on what are the "big ideas" today, and then base the quiz on those ideas (primarily), you may turn out to be more effective.

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    Yes, it is a rule imposed on me. We are talking about a class that is given to a dozen groups of students by a dozen instructors (~400 students in total). University-wide regulations impose three tests before the final exam. Schedules and rooms are packed to the brim, so it's impossible to organize a test during the workweek. This leaves the weekend. The midterm is during the weekend (and final exams have a dedicated week), but this means that we must organize for 400 students to come in, book rooms, make instructors come in to watch the exams... on a Saturday. This leaves one viable solution. – user9646 Oct 4 '18 at 13:09
  • And since some homogeneity is needed (otherwise we are looking at a lawsuit for breach of equality), the compromise was two one-hour tests after 3 and 9 weeks, and a midterm after 6 weeks, in addition to the final exam after 12 weeks. – user9646 Oct 4 '18 at 13:13
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    @NajibIdrissi, I guess revolt isn't especially viable. But there are better ways to teach as I'm sure you realize. But before the lecture is clearly better. As are shorter, more frequent exams. – Buffy Oct 4 '18 at 13:15
  • That's what I did in the end, test at the beginning of class. I was pleasantly surprised to see that after a short break they were ready to work on new topics. – user9646 Oct 5 '18 at 14:38
  • @NajibIdrissi, yes, the short break is a good thing. – Buffy Oct 5 '18 at 14:42

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