Written paper with oral defence

A written paper with oral defence is a combined written and oral exam. First, the student completes an assignment unsupervised, within a timeframe of various durations (usually between 24 hours and 14 days) – for more details, see under Written paper. Then the student takes an oral exam based on the assignment.

The combination of the written and oral exam offers greater scope to ensure that the student personally wrote the assignment already submitted. At the same time, this does not favour students who prefer to express themselves either in writing or orally, and it offers the examiners a more detailed way of assessing whether any defects in a presentation are due to difficulties with expression and/or academic difficulties.

It is important to make clear how the overall marking of the student’s performance will be allocated between the written paper and the oral performance.

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 (X)
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 X
Dealing with complex situations – in the context of studying or work X
Ability to independently initiate collaboration  
Taking responsibility for personal learning and development (X)

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 As a written paper usually only deals with part of the syllabus, the content validity for the written element is not usually very high. This can be partially compensated for in the oral exam, however, when there is the opportunity to ask detailed questions about the rest of the syllabus.

Question-based exam types help to determine whether the exam tests the classificatory level demanded via the description of learning targets. Thus, there is scope for relatively high construct validity.
Reliability As a general rule, the more questions asked, the greater the reliability. Thus, the written paper with its traditional focus on a simple, relatively open question (possibly with sub-questions) makes achieving reliability difficult.

In the effort to make the type of written paper consistent in order to distinguish between good assessments and poor assessments basically the same question/problem must be put to all students. If the question/problem is formulated independently by the student or if students are set various questions, e.g. on the basis of different interests or at random, the actual question also needs to be included in the marking in order to ensure reliability.
Backwash effect from testing to teaching The written paper sets the scene for deep reflection and in-depth understanding in general. This can motivate students to be highly active throughout the course.

Openly-formulated questions/problems can give students a sense of ownership of the assignment, and this can stimulate and boost their learning. Throughout the teaching process, it is important to discuss/go over the quality criteria on which the written paper will be examined. See Rubrics as an example of a tool to obtain this (1).

If students formulate their own problem, there is a risk that they will opt out of dealing with content that is not directly relevant to their problem definition. Thus, they can choose to avoid reading texts outside their chosen topic area or cease to turn up for teaching altogether.
Resources This type of exam is resource-intensive. The wording of the assignment may not take very long to produce; however, the assignment takes a long time to correct.
Digitisation Opting out of invigilation paves the way for plagiarism. In this context, electronic solutions can be used to check the originality of the assignments retrospectively, for example via the SafeAssign function in e-learn.sdu.dk.
Acceptance The written paper is regarded as an authentic type of exam closely resembling a real-life work situation. The combination of an oral defence increases its acceptance, as both students and examiners are of the opinion that it gives students a fair chance to demonstrate what they can do without giving preference to either form of communication. In addition, the oral defence is regarded as a fair feedback situation for students, allowing students to experience their work being taken seriously.


Additional reading


  • Andrade, H. G. (2005). Teaching with rubrics. The good , the bad and the ugly. College teaching, 53 (1), 27-30.
  • Reddy, Y. M., Andrade, H. (2010). A review of rubric use in higher education. Assessment and Evaluation in Higher Education, 35 (4), 435-448.