Explore potential strategies.
Students don’t have enough time to thoughtfully complete the exam.
Students are not as familiar or facile with the material as we are, and need more time than we do to carefully read and think about the question and construct an answer or solution strategy. Whereas we can quickly identify and classify questions, access the relevant knowledge and skills, and then accurately apply them to construct a solution, students may need more time to do each of these steps.
A good heuristic is to at least double the time it takes you or a grad student to complete the exam and use that as an estimate for how long it will take students. This estimate will vary depending on the year of the students, with freshmen taking as much as 3 or 4 times longer than you would to complete the exam. Also, if the exam contains a lot of textual material, remember that non-native English speakers will take longer to process the questions, as well as to formulate a written response.
Collecting data on how long it takes students to complete homework problems or questions that are similar to those that will appear on the exam will help you determine appropriate exam length. If a learning goal is for students to be able to solve these problems quickly, then design homework that requires them to practice until they can solve the problems within time limits. Alternatively, provide students with time guidelines for completing assignments and tell them to talk to you if they are taking considerably longer so that you can help them develop effective strategies for learning and engaging with the material.
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