Administering Oral Assessments in Science

Ever since the last scichat on August 17th, I have been receiving a slow and steady stream of requests for more information on how we administer oral examinations. While this is by no means a definitive post, I wanted to provide a brief background and post some samples to get you thinking. As with all things ed related, the ultimate choice is yours and I understand that for many the time constraint is too great of a barrier to overcome. Even if that is the case, I’ll venture that you are crafty enough to find a way to do something similar, all to the benefit of the students in your class. Try, revise, repeat until it works for you and your situation.

I administer oral assessments as a summative evaluation at the end of each term in the conceptual physics course that I currently teach. Students are each scheduled for individual 15 minute sessions that run concurrently throughout the school day for the course of two days at the end of each term during the time the administration has designated for “finals”. Students come in, are briefed on the lab situation, asked a series of seven questions or so, and then are debriefed as to their performance immediately following the conclusion of their exam. I have been fortunate to design these oral exams with colleagues in my department, and we come up with common versions of the oral exam to administer to all students within the same course.

To do this effectively and efficiently, you need to have a rubric which sets certain goals of achievement and understanding based upon the prompts that you ask your students. I generally start everyone off with the same initial question, and then provide additional prompting as needed to try to extract what the student understands about the prompt. It is definitely something that gets easier with practice, so go easy on yourself your first time through.

Enough of me babbling on, here is an example with corresponding sample rubric that was recently administered to junior level physics students. Students were assessed (given grades) in three general areas: concepts and content, problem solving, and critical thinking, and you may see shorthand of CC, PS, and CT designations after the prompts (for clarity).

Please let me know what you think, as well as share additional examples if you have them.

Sample Oral Exam on Kinematics/Dynamics Concepts

GP2 exam

Scoring Guide

GP2 Oral Exam Scoresheet


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