Oral exams – definitely worth it!

Oral examinations might be seen as especially demanding  not only in time but also regarding the  procedures and the awareness they require in order to ensure objectivity and fairness in grading. But they are worth it! Oral examinations are usually closer to real world situations. They allow for a closer interaction between examiner and examinee, which in turn makes it easier to know and to evaluate students’ competencies. Skills needed in oral exams are highly valuable for later professional development. We therefor want to talk in this Refresh Teaching event that consists of two sessions about the merits, the joy and the surmountable challenges they present.

Zoom Meeting room: https://ethz.zoom.us/j/577441230

Time: Thursday February 25th 2021 , 12:15-13:15

Presenters:

  • Prof. Sarah Springman (Rector ETH Zuerich) discovered the potential (and joys) of oral examination, for exploring the extent of a student’s learning, when she came to ETH in 1997. Understanding the benefits of this type of interlocution can lead to opportunities for students to demonstrate what they have understood and learnt as well as to prove their ability to solve problems. In turn, the examiner has many options to adjust the questioning according to the level and performance of the student, so that an appropriate (the correct) mark can be awarded. Partnering with a fellow examiner, and being supported by a note-taking witness, helps both to uphold the consistency and quality of the marking. Sarah Springman will also share thoughts about preparing the questions, the use of different media, the art of assembling the pathway through the exam, the ongoing ‘thin slicing’ of the performance in response to the questions, and how to guarantee sustainability through several 0800-1800 days of oral examinations. 
  • Prof. Markus Aebi (D-BIOL). an emeritus professor, as taught and examined different areas in the broad field of biology. He views the oral examination as an essential cornerstone in the academic education process. In contrast to the written exams, where the focus is on the evaluation of factual knowledge, oral exams provide the ideal platform to explore the student’s competence of conceptual thinking, to assess its ability to connect the factual knowledge. They represent an educational step towards the scientific discourse where there are no longer candidates and examiners but rather discussion partner. Therefore, oral exams are better suited at a later stage of the academic education.

  • Prof. Antonio Togni (D-CHAB) is a just-retired professor at D-CHAB. For more than 25 years he taught general chemistry, organometallic chemistry, and has been involved in educating high school chemistry teachers (Lehrdiplom). He has always appreciated oral exams because they reflect a real-life situation, much more than written exams. In such a face-to-face setting it is easier to recognize to which extent the student has internalized the way of thinking of the subject matter (or discipline). An oral exam, he argues, is not meant to merely demonstrate how much the student specifically knows (or doesn’t), but to test her/his ability to engage in a competent discussion on topics conveyed by the course, but not necessarily treated explicitly.

Recording

Recording of the event

Slides

Slides Prof. Sarah M. Springman

Impressions