20 Minute Assessments

Last year, I decided to make all of my assessments 20 minutes or less, even in my AP Calculus classes.

My school created a post covid schedule, to reduce stress for students and teachers. In this schedule, students had three 70-minute periods a day. Since we had 6 total periods and a “drop day” each rotation, some weeks I saw my students three days, and some weeks I only was able to see them twice for class. The schedule was wonderful for everyone’s mental health, but it did significantly cut down class days. As an AP Calculus teacher, this was concerning. Because, excluding the month of April for review, I only had 58, 70-minute class periods to teach 126 days of AP content!

This meant that I needed to teach two lessons every single class period to teach all of the required AP material in. In order to not waste a single class day, I decided to make all of my assessments 20 minutes or less. I had been doing this in my non-honors classes for years, but I had been afraid to try it with AP Calculus. However, our schedule left me no choice.

I am so glad that I tried it, as 20 minute assessments changed my classroom. Shorter assessments took me less time to make and to grade, so my students got my feedback much more quickly after an assessment. Students who needed extra time could finish their entire assessment in less than one class period. This was so helpful for these students, who often have to schedule finishing multiple assessments during lunch and after school.

Giving shorter assessments meant that I never lost an entire day of instruction due to testing. Instead, I gained back time for my students to practice mathematics during class time! In addition to practice, we also had extra time to learn and even experience more mathematics together.

I spent less time on assessments, and more time teaching students effective study strategies for math. One of their favorites was working together to create One Sheets.

Additionally, with short assessments I had time to give immediate feedback during class time! After all students were finished, I had them put away their pencils and I gave them colored pens. I then went over all of the answers with them, while they took notes right on their test paper. Not only did they get immediate feedback in their own handwriting, but this saved me time grading, as I did not have to write as many comments and corrections on their papers. I did not do this for every assessment, but students really liked this, and often asked to do “colored pen corrections”.

I have always heard that long exams prepare students for the rigor of the AP test at the end of the year. So, I was a bit concerned that my AP students would not be prepared to take a four hour exam after having only 20 minute assessments all year. But my AP students pass rate actually increased by almost 15% from the previous year! In order to prepare them, after a year of 20 minute assessments, I gave them a timed, full length practice test a few weeks before the AP test. I broke this exam down into three days, so that students who were taking too much time on one day would be able to realize that and adjust for subsequent days. I had a couple of students who went over time on the first day, but were able to be aware of that and adjust on subsequent practice assessment days. I checked in with these students after the exam, and they told me they were all able to finish. I truly feel that they did better because we spend more time learning math and less time taking assessments.