When the clock is going TICK TICK TICK, it can be hard to think clearly, because you’re anxious about the clock.
Math anxiety is well understood, and no small part of this comes from the pressure of timed tests. Ultimately, some people take tests faster than other people. I would hope that you want your tests to measure how much students have learned, not their ability to take tests under pressure. If this is the case, then everybody taking the test needs to feel that they have adequate time.
Time anxiety isn’t just about math, but can happen in any test when students don’t feel they have enough time to do the work expected of them. In the long run, the pressure of timed assessments takes the joy away from learning, and also hinders the ability to learn effectively by affecting how a perceives their ow ability. The anxiety of testing is amplified when the stakes of the exam are higher, when the cost of not doing well is steep.
I can think of two substantial ways we can design our assessments to cut back on test anxiety.
First, we can work to avoid high-stakes exams. Research has shown that having more assessments, each worth a smaller fraction of the grade, results in more learning. (I’m interested in running a class with no midterms, just 20-minute mini-tests every week, or 30-minute mini-tests every two weeks. But I haven’t done this yet.) By letting students drop the lowest test score, this also can decrease the stakes that are felt for any individual exam.
Second, we can write our tests so that all of our students have enough time to take them. Just because we think a test isn’t too long doesn’t mean it isn’t too long. It’s the students who get to decide this, and it’s the clock that decides this. Keep in mind that if you feel like you have to cram a ton of things into your test, maybe you’re expecting students to learn too much material rather than learn in depth?
Regardless, there is always going to be a small fraction of students who will want to milk out the greatest possible amount of time for an exam. They’ll be just about finished, but sit around hoping for inspiration for a particular question or two. (We don’t need to wait for these folks to finish, as this might take all day.) But if students are actively working on their exams or quizzes when we collect them, then either not enough time was budgeted for the exam, or it was too long.
Students who have a diagnosed need for extra time can request this service through the campus disability office. But there are a lot of students have not been diagnosed, and others who are not comfortable with making such a request. Ideally, we should make our exams accessible from the start. Which might mean that a lot of students will be done rather early. That’s not so horrible, is it?