Oral Exams as a Testing Option

Decorative: A student looking at a lap top with an instructors head on it


"Revitalizing Classes Through Oral Exams" (post) explains the benefits of oral exams in an online-teaching/virtual classroom context and outlines strategies for using oral exam online.

A. The Benefits of Oral Exams

1. Basic Problems Addressed

  • "[S]tudents can gain a false sense of security about content" when "solutions and other resources [are] readily available online."
  • "[F]aculty members can have a difficult time assessing what a student knows."
  • "Oral exams provide a way to deal with both issues simultaneously." 

2. Other Benefits of Oral Exams

  • They "hel[p] students improve their communication, conquer anxiety, solve problems quickly and think creatively."
  • They help students develop "presentation skills" and give students "real-time feedback."
  • "They also give students an opportunity to articulate layers of sophisticated thinking in an organized fashion, a skill they can take with them to any workplace."

B. Strategies for Effective Virtual Oral Exams (each elaborated in the post)

1. "Basics for Conducting Effective Oral Examinations"

  • Remember "[l]ess is more. Set specific, discrete content for each oral assessment." 
  • Provide "[s]ample exams" to build student confidence through familiarity with the format.
  • Allow "[s]tudent scheduling" -- "Create a Google Doc with specified times and make students editors so they can each schedule their exam."
  • Make "[a]n investment in legal pads ... to move from one student to the next with ease ... [and] us[e] the left-hand margin to grade synchronously." 

2. "Benefits for Faculty Members"

  • "Oral exams provide an accurate assessment of what a student knows -- and does not know -- about the material."
  • "[I]t only takes five or 10 minutes to gain insight into a student’s understanding."
  • "Students cannot hide in an oral exam, which also allows faculty members to grade more efficiently."
  • "You can grade on the spot."
  • "[O]ral exams can bring joy to you as the instructor ... An oral exam with each student remind[s] [us] of why [we] got into this business in the first place -- to advance students through scholarly pursuits."
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