Oral Examinations

Oral examinations are often used in the process of awarding certification, licensure, or credentials for professional settings such as: Medical Board Examinations, Certified Court Interpreters, Ice Skating Instructors, Board Certified Drug and Alcohol Counselors, Health Care Interpreters, Flight Instructors and even Master Bee Keepers. Each of these settings require that the person being examined can demonstrate mastery of concepts, expert communication and the ability to defend their rationale. Oral examinations can be equally effective in an undergraduate or graduate course, when the objectives that you are seeking to assess include:

  • Professional demeanor 
  • Technical communication
  • Analysis
  • Self-reflection


Students who take oral examinations have reported that they benefit from them by helping them prepare for job interviews, giving them a focused opportunity for studying, allowing them to demonstrate problem-solving, and stimulating self-reflection.

Considerations For Implementing an Oral Exam

Presenting students with a case study is often a useful starting point for an oral exam. Ask students how they would respond to the case, or have them offer a concrete solution. Focus on real-life scenarios with complex variables, and ask students to make judgements or offer a solution to a problem. You can then offer follow-up questions to elicit greater reflection, such as:

  1. How did you arrive at this conclusion?
  2. What was the gap in knowledge that you were seeking to fill?
  3. How did your professional knowledge help you as a researcher?


Some students may be nervous in preparing for an oral exam, so it is important to ensure that your course includes some opportunities for students to present thoughts orally, or to participate in graded discussions. Review your student learning outcomes carefully, and decide if this method of assessment is an effective way for students to demonstrate their learning.

In grading oral exams, a rubric is recommended, though there may only be three levels of scoring: Pass, fail, high-pass. 


  • Pearce, Glenn & Lee, Geoffrey. “Viva Voce (Oral Examination) as an Assessment Method: Insights from Marketing Students,” Journal of Marketing Education, Volume 31 Number 2, August 2009, pp. 120-130. Education Source. 
  • Davis, M. H., & Karunathilake, I. (2005). The place of the oral examination in today’s assessment system. Medical Teacher, 27, 294-297. 
  • Wellington, Jerry. “Supporting students’ preparation for the viva: their preconception and implications for practice,” Teaching in Higher Education – Critical Perspectives, Volume 15, Issue 1, 2010, pp. 71-84.