I am working on some research on implementation of oral assessment in mathematics classroom, and I was wondering are there any questions/problems/concepts in mathematics that can be only assessed through Oral Examination (or types of questions where oral assessment would be more sufficient than written)?

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    $\begingroup$ What level are you interested in? (For pre-school, oral exams might be more appropriate than written exams.) $\endgroup$ – Joel Reyes Noche Nov 20 '15 at 12:27

I worked with elementary school and preferred oral assessment with the following types of questions.

  1. Students had to explain their thinking. Very often students had an easier time explaining what they thought when they could say it, then when they had to write it.
  2. Doing mental math - It doesn't make sense to give them a pencil and paper and tell them to do mental math.

I also found oral assessment easier for student who have test anxiety and for those who had trouble writing (perhaps because of a learning disability or because they hurt their hand).

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    $\begingroup$ Oral assessment will likely be more difficult for students on the autism spectrum, students with social anxiety, introverts, language learners, and students with other verbal disabilities. $\endgroup$ – shoover Nov 20 '15 at 17:04

I teach calculus at a community college. I've decided to give my students at least two chances on each test. It's hard to make up multiple ways of asking them to explain the definition of the derivative. Because I think that's a vital thing for them to truly understand, I allow them to do an oral exam if they haven't quite gotten that on the two written test attempts.

I tell them they must pretend I'm an algebra student, and they must explain how the definition of derivative is connected to the definition of slope, and draw diagrams to help me understand. (They cannot use any notes.)

Many of them do well. Many don't. If they don't, I explain it all to them, and tell them they can come back next week to try again.


In some circumstances, oral exams have the advantage that you can adjust the later questions on the basis of the answers to earlier ones. If a student has trouble with a question, you can follow up with questions that either serve as hints for the student or enable you to isolate what exactly is causing the trouble. On the other hand, if the answers to the first few questions make it obvious that the student has completely mastered the material, you might just omit later questions on the same material (or you might replace them with more difficult questions, to see just how much the student actually knows).


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