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Recently I've moved to another university and next semester I will have my first class there. The problem is that I don't know the level of the students that will be attending my class. Of course, I've asked other faculty members, but I'm afraid that their previous performance might not be indicative of how will they do in my class. In particular, because it will be their first really theoretical subject (except some basic math course) in a rather applied-oriented curriculum.

Thus, I'm looking for a way to asses their level and their knowledge of things I will depend on (probably I will need to make a recap if they forgot some material along the way). Of course, I don't expect such an assessment to be precise, however, I would like to at least to have a ballpark of what I could do with them (esp. useful when planning future lectures).

I could make a non-graded exam during their first class, but I doubt it will be representative, and it might feel like a bad start (I would like them to like my class). Do you have any other suggestions?

My class will be directed to masters-students, but general-approach answers will also be useful to me.

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  • $\begingroup$ "I could make a non-graded exam during their first class, but I doubt it will be representative, and it might feel like a bad start (I would like them to like my class)." Students usually like a class when they feel that the teacher takes into account their level and cares to adapt to their particularities. Administering a diagnostic quiz communicates to the students that the teacher cares that they learn, and students typically react well to that sensation. $\endgroup$ – Dan Fox Jun 2 '16 at 8:35
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My approach currently is to give a diagnostic test in the first week online via my school's learning-management system (LMS, i.e., Blackboard). I make it count as a quiz grade so there's some amount of motivation for students to try their best (also: it's timed unlike my other online quizzes). Depending on the class, I may use either a research-based diagnostic or a simulacrum of the prerequisite course's final exam, or portion thereof.

Pros: This gets the diagnostic information I want in the first week without sucking up the first class meeting for that purpose. The first class meeting can still actually set the tone for the major topics and how the course will normally be run (i.e., seriously and efficiently). I can scan the results for any outliers who need counseling or skipped the prerequisite course. Having the questions in digital form allow me to easily use it for in-house research and correlations.

Cons: Being done out-of-class, there's no way to prevent students potentially working together, sharing answers or materials, or using a calculator if that's otherwise unwanted (but I think the time limit makes most of that less feasible). The first week of class students may be unfamiliar with the LMS or not have access accounts in some cases; I almost always have to reset a few accidental blank submissions, and be on the lookout for technical outliers that need to be dropped from summary statistics. Occasionally a student takes offense or unusual anxiety at the exercise, complaining that they're unfairly rusty or were never taught certain items (I drop a few quiz scores, including possibly the diagnostic, partly to alleviate this). In your case you may or may not have time right now to learn your new school's LMS and spend time constructing/uploading a diagnostic quiz to it.

Good luck.

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    $\begingroup$ Thanks for your suggestion. Getting replies on paper and checking them by hand is also viable for me. Making a diagnostic quiz an extended homework might be a nice solution, since then each student will have to review only the part he/she does not remember. $\endgroup$ – dtldarek May 27 '16 at 11:58

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