Many of the students I teach do not have English as their first language. Also, my English tends to fall on the British (Australian) side of the divide, and I'm teaching in US institutions. Sometimes, this has led to misunderstandings of exam questions during standard exam conditions.

The pandemic has led me to move my exams to being oral exams (taken online via Zoom, Discord, or Teams). This allows me to correct these misunderstandings at exam time.

However, more recently I've moved to publishing my exam paper before the exam (making it "public" to the class). I generally include far more questions than can adequately be covered in a given oral exam, but I make it clear that only a subset of the stated questions will be asked of the student. I generally release the exam two weeks before the exam period.

This allows me to address any misunderstandings to the whole class well before the exam. My only rule regarding answering student questions about the exam before their oral is that my answers must be in front of the whole class --- either in class or on the class discussion forum.

Does anyone have an educational reference for this approach to exams? Or whether there is a term for "open exam" exams?

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    I can't help you with a name or reference, but I like it. Have you talked about it at any educational conferences?
    – Buffy
    May 20, 2021 at 15:01
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    I certainly have seen a similar scheme when I was a student, though with written rather than oral exams (question list released ahead, actual exam on a subset of them), but don't recall it given any specific name.
    – Bryan Krause
    May 20, 2021 at 18:29
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    @AzorAhai-him- An exam paper is the list of questions asked during the exam. The question(s) is (are) identified by the question marks "?" at the end of the text above.
    – Peter K.
    May 20, 2021 at 18:37
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    @AnonymousPhysicist The bit that is different that I'm doing is publishing the exam well in advance. Most oral exams that I've given or taken in the past did not reveal the questions until exam time. The "problem I'm trying to solve" is to find out if this approach has a specific name / term.
    – Peter K.
    May 21, 2021 at 15:58
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    In my country oral exams are fairly common, and were almost universal in conjunction with written exams when I was a student (some thirty-odd years ago). In a certain sense, almost all oral exams were "open" because students themselves would produce booklets with exam questions for many exams. Sometimes, it was a collaborative effort of a few students who would attend all exam sessions. Other students would then be usually able to buy those booklets from the "black market" or having them given by friends. I wouldn't be surprised to find such a booklet for my classes. May 21, 2021 at 16:19

2 Answers 2


This module specification from Keele University uses the name "oral seen examination" for a procedure that I think fits your description. In particular, 'based on formative development of case scenarios introduced within the module' in the module specification appears to correspond to 'address any misunderstandings to the whole class' in the question; and 'random allocation of case to be discussed' in the module specification appears to correspond to 'only a subset of the stated questions will be asked of the student' in the question.

  • Ooh. Interesting! That Keele example the closest I've seen so far, thank-you!
    – Peter K.
    Jun 11, 2021 at 19:11

(Too long for a comment, but not really an answer…)

I unfortunately do not have a term for this particular practice, but I've seen similar organization in two higher education institutions in the United State. The approach was as follow:

  1. Release a "Homework", containing ~20 small exercises and ~3 longer problems,
  2. Answer any question about it in front of the whole class,
  3. Have a written quiz (1 or 2 weeks later) that contains ~5 of the small exercises (with, at times, small changes),
  4. Later on during the semester, pick longer problems from the homework set and have the students solve them during exam (again, with possible small changes).

The "homework" were not due nor graded, but "smart" students would understand that the incentive to complete them was present nevertheless.

I'm not aware of any term to describe this way of doing, but I find it extremely beneficial, for multiple reasons:

  • it allows to clear any misunderstanding, as you noted,
  • it allows direct and meaningful feedback,
  • it helps soothe students' stress (after all, they "know" what will be on the exam),
  • it is an iterative process (if you missed / did not do too good on the quiz, you can still go back to the homework and practice again for the exam).
  • Excellent info, thank-you!
    – Peter K.
    Jun 11, 2021 at 19:10
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    You're welcome. Good luck with your submission to ASEE conference if you indeed write it :-) Come back and post updates!
    – Clément
    Jun 11, 2021 at 19:17

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