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Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Oral versus written assessments

Lips At our monthly PedR meeting yesterday we discussed the following paper:

Mark Huxham, Fiona Campbell, Jenny Westwood (2011) Oral versus written assessments: a test of student performance and attitudes. Assessment and Evaluation in Higher Education 37(1): 125-136
Student performance in and attitudes towards oral and written assessments were compared using quantitative and qualitative methods. Two separate cohorts of students were examined. The first larger cohort of students (n=99) was randomly divided into ‘oral’ and ‘written’ groups, and the marks that they achieved in the same biology questions were compared. Students in the second smaller cohort (n=29) were all examined using both written and oral questions concerning both ‘scientific’ and ‘personal development’ topics. Both cohorts showed highly significant differences in the mean marks achieved, with better performance in the oral assessment. There was no evidence of particular groups of students being disadvantaged in the oral tests. These students and also an additional cohort were asked about their attitudes to the two different assessment approaches. Although they tended to be more nervous in the face of oral assessments, many students thought oral assessments were more useful than written assessments. An important theme involved the perceived authenticity or ‘professionalism’ of an oral examination. This study suggests that oral assessments may be more inclusive than written ones and that they can act as powerful tools in helping students establish a ‘professional identity’.


I enjoyed reading the paper and was happy to see oral assessment "winning out" over writing as the sole means of assessment. Nevertheless, I was disappointed not to see any accounting comparing time taken for oral and written tests - in reality, this is the factor likely to scupper any back to the future return to the Socratic method.
Our discussion at the PedR meeting pulled out a number of statistical errors and other possible confounding factors not discussed, but overall we agreed this is a good paper worthy of note. What a shame the authors did not subject the manuscript to open peer review to make it an even better paper.


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