Post Classifieds

Please don't murder me

By Mike Hills
On October 19, 2012

Students, don't murder me for arguing this.
On the heels of midterm
exams I thought about educational
assessment. Have you ever taken a test and knew you were going to get a good grade, and yet you also knew you didn't know the material in depth? Or the opposite, you felt you had a good grasp of the class material, and yet the test did not accurately assess your proficiency?
Maybe I'm crazy, but something I'd like to see at Xavier is a bigger emphasis on oral exams.
This method of assessment
has multiple advantageous
qualities. To start, there's no hiding during an in-person, dialogue-based exam. You either know the answers to the professor's
questions or you don't, much like President Obama in the first presidential
The other benefit is you can demonstrate just how much you know. College classes aren't meant to be like high school; college
classes are meant to deal with complex ideas that require higher-level thinking and critical analysis. Therefore, a multiple choice or short answer does not always accurately
reflect your true knowledge
and understanding of said complex ideas.
A question and answer response
allows for individualized,
on-the-spot refinement of course-specific questions that can cut to the heart of what the college
education should be - in-depth examination of intricate ideas, whether that be Descartes' theory of knowledge, how the Roman Empire actually fell or how greenhouse gasses affect the environment.
Some full disclosure - I've taken these tests before and I've worked in an office that deals with the press, so these types of on-the-spot interactions are more natural for me than they may be for other students.
But even people who do not like being put on the spot, or others who are not good public speakers, will benefit from more oral exams.
The benefits of oral exams are practical as much as they are theoretical.
Not only is it easier to elaborate on your understanding of complex ideas, but you gain valuable experience in graded question and answer sessions. Experience from these oral exams
could prove useful later in job interviews, Foreign Service exams or grad school interviews.
Many post-baccalaureate
programs require in-person interviews
that are very similar in structure to the format of an oral exam.
In essence, simply changing the method of assessment
can kill two birds with one stone; increase the ability of the professor to accurately grade your knowledge of course material and give students the structure to both fully articulate their knowledge and gain useful experience in real life settings.
I'm not saying
every class should use this method. I'm not saying all midterms and finals should be oral.
I suggest all core classes include
at least one oral exam as either the midterm or the final exam, with the exception of math classes. This way all students
would be exposed
to this style of assessment.
Maybe I am crazy.
Maybe I suspect my writing hand is developing early onset arthritis
from in-class essays.
But I think more oral exams would do wonders both for professors
to get a more intuitive feel for what their class has learned, as well as prepare students for the real world after college.

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