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Recommendations for oral examination

Examiners who plan to oral examination in their course are recommended to follow the following guidelines and read more in the references below.

Assessing the risks of a subjective evaluation

Oral exams require a high level of planning and a well thought out strategy in order for students to have a fair and correct assessment. Some teachers have moved away from oral exams as a result of being affected by the way a student presents (for example, body language, or that they find themselves answering for the student because they find the student's silence uncomfortable). Teachers should therefore consider the following two questions before they choose to convert to oral examinations:

  • Is there risk that I will be subjective in my assessment of the student?
  • If the student cannot answer, is there a risk that I will help the student with the answer?

If you have answered yes to either of those questions you should probably not choose to use an oral examination.

Practical aspects of oral examinations

It needs to be clear what content is included in the oral examination and what the process of the examination is. Students must be informed of the amount of time allotted and the level of presentation that will be expected of them. A reasonable amount of time must be allotted so that the students are able to complete all of the exercises. Certain questions require a higher level of thought and time for deliberation. The time required for an examiner delivering oral examinations will depend on how many students will be examined as well as the amount of time allotted per student. It is recommended that the teacher schedules time slots in Canvas during the exam period so that each student can choose a suitable time.

Here you can (in the Canvas community) read more about how scheduling appointments is done with the help of Canvas.

Clearly specified assessment criteria

The assessment criteria or grading criteria for an oral examination must be clearly stated and students should be informed about them well in advance of the examination. If the criteria for assessment is clearly stated in advance the risk for arbitrary judgments are minimized. This is particularly important if there are multiple examiners conducting the oral examination. Similar to how there are often grading rubrics for written exams there should also be clear assessment criteria for oral exams as this will make it easier for the teacher to fail a student face to face if their answer doesn’t meet the criteria. The majority of students will be well prepared but there will be a few that take a chance and hope that they will pass because the teacher won’t dare to fail them.

When designing the oral examination, it is important to think about the purpose of the examination. Oral examination can have two different main focuses: to assess what the student has learned, or to evaluate whether it is the student's own work. Read more about what is good to think about for each focus on the following pages. 

Scheduled practice exams

Many students are familiar with written examinations and oral presentations for projects, but few have experience with oral examinations either alone or in small groups. In order to minimize possible anxiety, students should be prepared through teaching and multiple examples of exam questions in advance of the oral examination. A practice session can be designed so that it gives both the students and the teacher an opportunity to practice the oral examination. The students need to see several examples of questions that will be asked at the oral examination. Schedlue a practice session where the teacher and students can discuss the example questions and reflect on what is considered a good or just a satisfactory presentation based on the grading criteria and the learning objectives. For example, a few students can volunteer to present their solutions to the example questions.

Documenting the examination

A student has the right to request a re-evaluation of their grade and for this to be possible there must be documentation (e.g. sound recording with Zoom, photographs of the student’s sketches on the whiteboard etc. The students should be informed well in advance of how the examination will be documented/recorded. UKÄ [1] states that an alternative to recording is that two teachers participate in the oral examination, but sound recording is highly recommended. Students should also be informed that the documentation will be saved locally by the university and not in a cloud service. Please note that UKÄ [1] states that universities are not permitted to set a time limit for when a student can request a re-evaluation.

More information regarding the praxis of fair oral examinations can be found in 1] (s. 106–107), [2] (s. 8–11) och [3] (s. 75–79). Teacher’s experiences from oral examinations in mathematics are described in [4].

References

[1] UKÄ, Rättssäker examination, fjärde upplaga, 2020. 

[2] NSHU, Examination – en exempelsamling, 2010. 

[3] S. Eriksson, Utveckling av muntlig examination med fokus på studenters rättssäkerhet – exempel från en ingenjörskurs, Högre utbildning, Vol. 4, Nr. 1, s. 75–82, 2014. 

[4] A. Axelsson, Muntlig tentamen i matematik vid Stockholms universitet. 

Teacher stories - Experiences about Oral examination

Presenter: Göran Manneberg (Docent and Associate professor at KTH), 2020-10-07. This webinar was held in Swedish.

In this Lunch 'n' Learn webinar, Göran Manneberg talks about his many years of experience in oral examination, what it is like to have oral examinations digitally and how they are evaluated by students. He compares which abilities and intended learning outcomes that are best examined with an oral examination compared to what is examined in a traditional exam. Göran also gives some tips on, among other things, how you can help the student with nervousness.

Go to KTH Play for access to presentation material:
Teacher stories - Experiences about Oral examination (KTH Play)

Contact about examination

Do you have questions or wish to receive guidance about conducting examination?

E-mail: e-learning@kth.se , mark your mail: examination guidance

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Last changed: Aug 16, 2021