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.