Oral exam/Viva with preparation and aids

The student draws a question/topic and then prepares and presents an answer for it. The preparation time is usually similar to the time spent in an exam. This type of test is best suited for testing the student’s ability to generate hypotheses, to explain, to apply principles in different contexts by describing a case, etc.

The opportunity for students to prepare their answers using notes and textbooks makes it obvious that this type of exam can test the student’s ability to use, sort and prioritise information, and helps to emphasise to students the need to be able to reflect on and apply their knowledge. Obviously, however, the time factor constrains the depth of reflection that can be expected here.

This assessment method is also suited for group examination.

Learning objective that can be addressed using this assessment method
Knowledge of theory, method and practice  
Understanding and reflecting on theory, method and practice X
Applying methods and tools X
Assessing problem definitions and selecting solution models (X)
Communicate and discuss academic issues  
Dealing with complex situations – in the context of studying or work  
Ability to independently initiate collaboration  
Taking responsibility for personal learning and development  

X indicates that this assessment method is suitable for testing the learning outcome. (X) indicates that this assessment method is of only limited use for this.

Evaluating the method of assessment

Assessment Criteria
Validity This type of exam can achieve relatively high content validity in cases where the questions are formulated in such a way as to test the student’s ability to generate hypotheses, to explain and to apply principles, as this will typically refer to broad-based learning targets.

The opportunity to ask individual, follow-up questions allows for high construct validity.
Reliability In an oral exam situation, a lot depends on the individual examiner’s empathy and improvisation in terms of asking probing questions and following up on the student’s answers; as a result, reliability depends greatly on the individual. Also, the entire student group is rarely asked exactly the same questions, which can further diminish reliability.

Consideration should be given to how “evaluation fatigue” can affect the internal and external examiner’s assessments in the course of a working day.
Backwash effect from testing to teaching This type of exam traditionally generates anxiety and nervousness in many students, which will affect students’ learning behaviour. For this reason, it is particularly important for the teaching prior to the exam to draw attention to the specifics of the examination process and the criteria on which the oral presentation will be judged.

Holding a mock exam during the teaching period could help to visualise and clarify the process and marking criteria further.
Resources As regards the outlay in terms of time and logistics, 30 minutes will usually be allowed for each student, including marking and feedback. On the other hand, hardly any post-exam time is involved.
Digitisation Allows the possibility of basing the exam on, or including, electronic elements, e.g. audio files, images, video clips or having the student prepare a digital presentation using PowerPoint, for example.
Acceptance Within some academic circles, e.g. in many health sciences study programmes, oral exams have not been chosen for many years due to their low reliability and higher costs. Instead, an oral Objective Structured Clinical Examination (OSCE) is used to ensure a high level of reliability.

This type of exam is generally accepted as an authentic type of exam which in many cases also serves to prepare students for subsequent work situations.