Oral examinations

How to get a compre­hen­sive picture of your students’ competen­cies through dia­logue 

Oral examinations are most commonly under­stood as some­thing like an inter­view in which students are posed a series of open questions based on learning objec­tives and requiring a range of knowledge from purely factual infor­mation to practical applica­tion, such as offering a solution for a case study. But there are a variety of other forms of oral examina­tion with which you might not be familiar … 

There is a broad spectrum of forms of oral examina­tion, from the typical forms of indivi­dual test, such as oral reports and presen­tations, through to group exams. Regard­less which form they take, oral examina­tions and their results must be documen­ted in writing, for example, in the form of a proto­col.  In evaluating group examina­tions, it is also impor­tant that the perfor­mance and score of each indivi­dual member of the group is reflected in the documen­tation. Be sure to reference the examina­tion regu­lations when selecting the form of oral examina­tion you want to administered. 

To administer the oral exam as fairly as possible and reduce the fear factor in student perfor­mance, students should be made aware of exam require­ments and conditions as early as possible. You might consider making sample questions available before the exam or explaining grading criteria (see also “Tips and tricks” below). 

To ensure objectivity, it is important that you, as the exam adminis­trator, make clear ahead of time what your evaluation criteria will be and what kind of model answer you would like to see. Especially for oral examina­tions in the form of reports and presen­tations, it is important to inform students which factors, other than the content, will be taken into considera­tion, such as elo­quence, form and scope of presen­tation, etc. It is also helpful to reflect about your own expect­ations before and during the examina­tion and to care­fully con­sider which criteria best reflect the student’s perfor­mance and which more closely reflect the personal preferen­ces of the examiner. 

The advan­tage of oral examina­tions over written exams is the opportunity to create a more com­prehen­sive picture of the student’s capa­bilities. They also allow for more flexi­bility in dealing with special factors of the exam situation or student, such as exam fear or perfor­mance stress. 


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