2 replaced http://academia.stackexchange.com/ with https://academia.stackexchange.com/
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One detail I have not seen mentioned in the other excellent answers: oral exams can be especially beneficial in classes where students work on a significant group project. An individual oral exam is a great way to assess

  • each student's role in the group (I have found the oral exam to be much more effective than other assessment methods for detecting freeloadersfreeloaders and making sure that their grade accurately reflects what they did or didn't do),
  • the depth with which they understand the part of the project they were primarily responsible for,
  • the extent to which they understand the rest of the project, and
  • how it all relates to the core course material.

This last item is especially important; an oral exam makes it easy to distinguish between students who just managed to hack together something that works, looks good on paper, and sounds good in a prepared presentation, vs. students who understood the material they were supposed to have been learning, and actually applied it to their project work. This is true of individual projects, too, not only group projects.

I also favor some "unusual" kinds of oral exams which have specific additional benefits. For example, I have used:

  • A poster exam, in which students prepare a poster and present it to peers and faculty in the department at a class poster session. (In this case, the oral exam is conducted during the poster session - the examiner circulates and spends some time at each poster, asking questions.) I like this approach because students get to practice creating a scientific poster, and (as described in Using Poster Sessions as an Alternative to Written Examination—The Poster Exam)

    Students' communication and organizational skills, their depth of knowledge of a particular topic, and their conceptual understanding of the topic are probed by the poster exam. Students report that the poster exam is more enjoyable and a more effective learning tool than traditional exams.

  • An interview exam, in which students have a mock "job interview" with me. In the interview, I ask them questions about the topic of the course and their project work in the course, similar to the kinds of questions they are likely to get in a job interview. I like this because they tell me later that they were more prepared for real job interviews as a result :)

One detail I have not seen mentioned in the other excellent answers: oral exams can be especially beneficial in classes where students work on a significant group project. An individual oral exam is a great way to assess

  • each student's role in the group (I have found the oral exam to be much more effective than other assessment methods for detecting freeloaders and making sure that their grade accurately reflects what they did or didn't do),
  • the depth with which they understand the part of the project they were primarily responsible for,
  • the extent to which they understand the rest of the project, and
  • how it all relates to the core course material.

This last item is especially important; an oral exam makes it easy to distinguish between students who just managed to hack together something that works, looks good on paper, and sounds good in a prepared presentation, vs. students who understood the material they were supposed to have been learning, and actually applied it to their project work. This is true of individual projects, too, not only group projects.

I also favor some "unusual" kinds of oral exams which have specific additional benefits. For example, I have used:

  • A poster exam, in which students prepare a poster and present it to peers and faculty in the department at a class poster session. (In this case, the oral exam is conducted during the poster session - the examiner circulates and spends some time at each poster, asking questions.) I like this approach because students get to practice creating a scientific poster, and (as described in Using Poster Sessions as an Alternative to Written Examination—The Poster Exam)

    Students' communication and organizational skills, their depth of knowledge of a particular topic, and their conceptual understanding of the topic are probed by the poster exam. Students report that the poster exam is more enjoyable and a more effective learning tool than traditional exams.

  • An interview exam, in which students have a mock "job interview" with me. In the interview, I ask them questions about the topic of the course and their project work in the course, similar to the kinds of questions they are likely to get in a job interview. I like this because they tell me later that they were more prepared for real job interviews as a result :)

One detail I have not seen mentioned in the other excellent answers: oral exams can be especially beneficial in classes where students work on a significant group project. An individual oral exam is a great way to assess

  • each student's role in the group (I have found the oral exam to be much more effective than other assessment methods for detecting freeloaders and making sure that their grade accurately reflects what they did or didn't do),
  • the depth with which they understand the part of the project they were primarily responsible for,
  • the extent to which they understand the rest of the project, and
  • how it all relates to the core course material.

This last item is especially important; an oral exam makes it easy to distinguish between students who just managed to hack together something that works, looks good on paper, and sounds good in a prepared presentation, vs. students who understood the material they were supposed to have been learning, and actually applied it to their project work. This is true of individual projects, too, not only group projects.

I also favor some "unusual" kinds of oral exams which have specific additional benefits. For example, I have used:

  • A poster exam, in which students prepare a poster and present it to peers and faculty in the department at a class poster session. (In this case, the oral exam is conducted during the poster session - the examiner circulates and spends some time at each poster, asking questions.) I like this approach because students get to practice creating a scientific poster, and (as described in Using Poster Sessions as an Alternative to Written Examination—The Poster Exam)

    Students' communication and organizational skills, their depth of knowledge of a particular topic, and their conceptual understanding of the topic are probed by the poster exam. Students report that the poster exam is more enjoyable and a more effective learning tool than traditional exams.

  • An interview exam, in which students have a mock "job interview" with me. In the interview, I ask them questions about the topic of the course and their project work in the course, similar to the kinds of questions they are likely to get in a job interview. I like this because they tell me later that they were more prepared for real job interviews as a result :)

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One detail I have not seen mentioned in the other excellent answers: oral exams can be especially beneficial in classes where students work on a significant group project. An individual oral exam is a great way to assess

  • each student's role in the group (I have found the oral exam to be much more effective than other assessment methods for detecting freeloaders and making sure that their grade accurately reflects what they did or didn't do),
  • the depth with which they understand the part of the project they were primarily responsible for,
  • the extent to which they understand the rest of the project, and
  • how it all relates to the core course material.

This last item is especially important; an oral exam makes it easy to distinguish between students who just managed to hack together something that works, looks good on paper, and sounds good in a prepared presentation, vs. students who understood the material they were supposed to have been learning, and actually applied it to their project work. This is true of individual projects, too, not only group projects.

I also favor some "unusual" kinds of oral exams which have specific additional benefits. For example, I have used:

  • A poster exam, in which students prepare a poster and present it to peers and faculty in the department at a class poster session. (In this case, the oral exam is conducted during the poster session - the examiner circulates and spends some time at each poster, asking questions.) I like this approach because students get to practice creating a scientific poster, and (as described in Using Poster Sessions as an Alternative to Written Examination—The Poster Exam)

    Students' communication and organizational skills, their depth of knowledge of a particular topic, and their conceptual understanding of the topic are probed by the poster exam. Students report that the poster exam is more enjoyable and a more effective learning tool than traditional exams.

  • An interview exam, in which students have a mock "job interview" with me. In the interview, I ask them questions about the topic of the course and their project work in the course, similar to the kinds of questions they are likely to get in a job interview. I like this because they tell me later that they were more prepared for real job interviews as a result :)