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Orals (was: Re: Feedback)

Sabine Dippel sabine at hlrz28.zam.kfa-juelich.de
Fri Nov 21 04:55:02 EST 1997


I think Michael made many valuable comments here. Though I have always 
been on the other side of the fence (in my universities, all relevant grades
were given through oral exams) I have noticed that very seldom you stumble
upon a professor who is trying to "trip you up". They might try to see how 
far they can go, but that usually means that you already secured a good grade.
However, if people have only very few oral exams, with long time intervals 
between them, they tend to forget about this, they tend to forget that they
do not need to get the answers right. They forget that it is better to say 
whatever comes to their mind if they think they don't know the answer - this
gives the examiner the chance to (a) see if the student really understood the
question (I have known people come out of exams that went completely wrong 
because they kept misunderstanding the examiner and vice versa) or (b) help
the student to get on the right track. This is a possibility that does not
exist in written exams. But people without experience in orals often make 
the mistake of remaining silent if they think they do not know the correct 
answer.

Still, I always feared orals, because you never know - you might stumble
upon someone who is really having a bad day (they're only humans) and because
it is such a dynamic process, it can go so completely wrong. I think a combination
of written and oral exams would be perfect, because they test different skills,
and in such a case not EVERYTHING depends on this single hour or so in the orals.

Well, I guess this was pretty much what Michael said, I just wanted to add that
I can second all his comments from the perspective of a student, who has had 
her good and bad experiences in many orals.

Sabine

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