How can a course assessment be structured to ensure that it accurately assess whether or not students learned the things the course aimed to teach? The timing of assessment can impact on this question in at least two ways; first, if students perceive the time for assessment to be short, then assessment anxiety may impact negatively on their performance. Second, where students have to perform under time pressure this may assess their fluency with content rather than their understanding of the material, and – since fluency will normally not be developed over the period a semester – time-limited examinations may actually end up assessing the prior knowledge of students (knowledge students had before starting the semester) more than assessing the understanding they developed during the semester.
We present a comparison on the exam attainment in the Falls of 2018 and 2019 in Linear Algebra, whose exam was shortened between the two years, without shortening the contents. Overall, the grades became better, as expected; however we also noted that students with a lower background in maths and physics were able to catch up with those with a stronger one.