Oral exam/Viva without preparation

The student is given the opportunity to select an unseen question/topic and immediately present an answer for it. This type of exam is designed to test the student’s rote knowledge, but it can also – if the formulation of the questions so allows – be used to pursue the student’s thought processes (i.e. if the questions/examiner require the student to “think out loud”, e.g. in the application of methods and tools).

The student’s stress level is very high in this type of exam, and it should be noted that this can affect the student’s academic achievement.

Learning objective that can be addressed using this assessment method
Knowledge of theory, method and practice X
Understanding and reflecting on theory, method and practice (X)
Applying methods and tools (X)
Assessing problem definitions and selecting solution models  
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 The content validity in this type of exam is low. The lack of preparation means that questions are often formulated to test factual knowledge and, often a sufficient number of questions to ensure high content validity cannot be asked.

The construct validity of this type of exam can be increased, however, if individual and follow-up questions are asked for example to test the application of methods and tools, as this will usually refer to learning targets that cover the subject more broadly.
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; this 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.

Opting out of preparation time encourages students to memorise.
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 Option of “remote examination” via Adobe Connect, Skype or similar. In these cases, however, local invigilation has to be in place.
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.