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  • What is an Oral Assessment?
  • Structure of an Oral Assessment
  • Advantages of an Oral Assessment
  • Disadvantages of an Oral Assessment
  • More on an Oral Assessment - Download the full pdf


An oral assessment is a direct means of assessing students’ learning outcomes by questioning them. Unlike interviews which usually have a structured question list, oral assessment does not usually have a structured list of questions; assessors ask questions and request responses depending on the circumstances.


MCQ consists of a stem and a set of options. The stem is usually the first part of the assessment that presents the question as a problem to be solved; the question can be an incomplete statement which requires to be completed and can include a graph, a picture or any other relevant information. The options are the possible answers that the student can choose from, with the correct answer called the key and the incorrect answers called distractors.

There are three typical types of oral assessments
  1. Oral assessment after a direct observation assessment
    An oral assessment is often used as part of a de-briefing session after a practical has been observed. The time duration is usually 3-5 minutes. There is usually no formal structure, assessors usually ask questions as they foresee, however, assessors may plan some general questions in which all students will encounter during the practical.

  2. Oral in the form of a viva voce
    A viva voce is the Latin name for oral examination, often given for a university examination with spoken questions and answers. It is usually used to describe the oral examination at a postgraduate level, conducted after the submission of the thesis for a research degree, to ensure that the candidate knows enough about the subject to make it at least plausible that the dissertation is his own work. Vivas are traditionally conducted by an external and an internal examiner. There is no set time limit for a viva voce, but a full day examination is often normal.

  3. Oral/Aural in a language setting
    Oral in a language setting is a direct speaking test geared at assessing a student's level of speaking proficiency.
    Aural in a language setting is a listening test (often by devices such as tapes) geared at assessing a student's level of hearing proficiency.

  4. Questions ask in classroom setting do not contribute as oral assessments, as not all students have the benefits of being assessed.


The structure of an oral assessment depends on the type of oral assessment, but in general, the followings are used.

  1. Depend on which type of oral assessments, it is sometimes desirable to allow the student to start the oral assessment by giving an account of the analysis of the practice. The sophistication of his spontaneous account can reveal far more than simply his responses to the questions. Questions such as: How do you think you did?
  2. Probing questions – to initiate and engage the student in conversation. Questions such as: How did you know that? What method did you use to arrive with that conclusion?
  3. Prompting questions – to give hints that point the student to the right direction to clarify his response, this however does not mean the assessor answers the questions himself. Questions such as: Remember the experiment on xx? What do you think this relates to?
  4. Challenging questions – to assess the deep understanding - the higher level of Blooms taxonomy. Questions such as: Can you justify why your method is more efficient than Prof. Einstein’s?


  • There can be no plagiarism or false reports.
  • Assessors receive immediate reactions and responses.
  • It complements perfectly with practical assessments.


  • Oral assessment is very time-consuming, it is an expensive way of assessing.
  • Validity is high but reliability is not. Clear assessment criteria and grading are required for all parties so that students and assessors are fully aware of how the performance will be judged to increase reliability.
  • There are rarely any clear guidelines about what is fair to judge at a viva. There have been some contentious cases that the assessor has referred or even failed a dissertation because the assessor is unwilling to accept the results of a candidate due to difference in opinions. Although there will be examiners' reports, there is rarely any record of the process itself to ensure its fairness.
  • Oral assessment may present significant difficulties for international students or students with certain impairments, who may require access to an alternative type of assessment that provides an acceptable test of learning outcomes. Students with some other impairments may be able to undertake oral assessment but may require some adjustments in order to have an equal footing.
  • Immediate feedback is useful, but sometimes that is difficult due to time constraints.
  • Oral assessment is usually ephemeral and dissenting views may later be contested if notes or recordings are not documented clearly.

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