In defense of the oral examination | Science

In defense of the oral examination | Science

From the current cluster of pedagogical philosophy we can draw the conclusion that we can not, nor should we, restrict the learning procedures in only one, since each teacher always responds, inescapably, to their particular conditions and their own experience. But there is something that can be considered a common denominator compatible with the so-called academic freedom: what always requires good learning is to be active, that is, to put into play creative mental processes, processes that are not limited to a mere perceptive reception of the information received. The more the student elaborates and reworks the information received in his own mind, and the more the information he receives compels him to do so, the more active he is in learning and the more lasting and profitable the memories he forms in his brain.

The prospect of an oral examination forces that mental elaboration. Who knows that he has to answer verbally to what they ask him, and that he can be asked for more details about what he explains, strives to understand in depth the information that works, rather than to memorize it, when he prepares his exam. Thus, the oral examination forces the student to a form of active learning that involves not only understanding the information he receives but also comparing it with the one he already knows, linking it to the schemas stored in his brain and discovering the weaknesses, weaknesses or gaps that this information may contain. This leads, in turn, to try to conceive own explanations, complementary or alternatives to the analyzed, to be able to fit the pieces that still do not. The activity is thus creative, reinforcing itself by the motivation generated both by feeling in possession of new knowledge and by reinforcing intellectual self-esteem.

In an oral examination the student can make mistakes and correct, which is not possible in a written exam. The teacher, by the way in which the student expresses himself and asking complementary questions, can evaluate with great precision the knowledge that this student has assimilated, to what extent they have strengthened their training and motivation for the subject and how much they have developed their capacity to to be able to instruct others about their own knowledge, a skill that, once developed, will be very useful when, after completing their studies, practice a profession.

The oral examination has another extraordinary advantage over traditional written exams: it allows an agreed and shared evaluation between both actors, examiner and examiner. Thus, when in the course of the exam the teacher believes that he already has a result of the evaluation, he may submit it to the consideration of the student himself, or alternatively, he may request his opinion on the qualification to be granted. If you both agree to it, the exam is over. If they are not, the exam can continue until the teacher with his new questions convinces the student of the grade that he thinks he deserves, or until the student with his new answers convinces the teacher that he deserves a better grade than the one offers. This mutual behavior reinforces the sense of justice and the personal relationship between both.

The more the student elaborates and reworks the received information in his own mind, and the more the information he receives compels him to do so, the more active is the learning and the more lasting and profitable are the memories that form in his brain

The oral exam also has drawbacks, both for the student and the teacher. The main one for the student is usually fear, the emotional tension that the oral performance generates. But that fear can be reduced considerably if the teacher assures the student that before answering his questions in the oral examination he will be able to consult his own notes or notes on the subject at will. Something like if in an exam they let you consult your "chops" without having to do it quickly and secretly, but openly and without problems. It matters little that the student takes notes or "chops" to the exam, because, in addition, having done them trying to synthesize the evaluable information is also a form of active learning and, of what is treated in the exam is to convince the teacher of that one understands and has assimilated his own notes, so it does not matter to review them. If this is not the case, even his improvised reading will be enough to affirm his knowledge.

Another difficulty that students usually manifest in front of an oral exam is that of expressing oneself badly because of the emotional situation, that is, because of the "nerves" that this type of examination generates. This problem is also overcome effectively because when the teacher suspects that the student does not answer a question correctly because he is very nervous he can repeat that same question at different times of the exam and in a different way until he is convinced that it is the lack of knowledge and not the emotional tension that caused the failure. That is another advantage that the traditional written exam does not have either. In the oral examination one can make mistakes without being prejudiced in the evaluation, in the writing, no.

It goes without saying that in oral exams there is never a lack of the student who affirms that he is not already expressing himself badly because of the particular situation of the oral examination, but because he considers himself an untrained individual verbally, that is, to speak ("is that I I express myself very badly ") and attributing that personal lack to his lack of performance in the exam rather than the ignorance about what he is asked. Curiously, in these cases, it is usually verified that the student explains with verbal fluency any history of his personal life, which confirms his self-denounced linguistic ability in an interested way. In these cases it is always appropriate to remind the student how common is the clarification of the language when the mind is clear, because not always the problems we have when speaking are of a linguistic nature.

The oral examination has another extraordinary advantage over traditional written exams: it allows an agreed and shared evaluation between both actors, examiner and examiner

More difficult to solve is the problem of time that is presented to the teacher when he has to examine orally a high number of students, which often happens in the different university degrees and also in secondary education in our country. Those who find room in their academic planning to, despite everything, be able to do so will receive a good number of compensations for doing so. The first is the higher performance of its students and the reduced number of failures. Personally, since I have been applying this formula in my university classes in Physiological Psychology at the Autonomous University of Barcelona, ​​the percentage of failures has never exceeded 5% of the total number of students in my classes and, in addition, suspended students tend to be fully compliant with their qualification, because many times they have assigned it to themselves at the teacher's request.

Another unquestionable advantage of oral exams is to verify that the type of active learning they induce generates consistent and verifiable memories even years after the exam, which is more difficult when the system is traditional written exams due to the different way of preparing them. But perhaps the main advantage of the oral examination is the satisfaction that finally has and expresses the student to prove to himself after having done that is able to reach levels of understanding and expression of knowledge that before had never imagined.

Ignacio Morgado Bernal is cprofessor of Psychobiology and director of the Neuroscience Institute of the Autonomous University of Barcelona. He is the author of Learning, remembering and forgetting: brain keys of memory and education (Ariel, 2014)


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