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So what are oral exams like?

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Re: So what are oral exams like?

Postby EdoardoTB » Tue Feb 10, 2015 9:27 am

Dear Steven,

very good question indeed :)

On the one hand, the preparation needed for an oral exam is much greater. Conversely to what might happen in a written session, you don't have time to think: the examiner posts you the question and you are expected to reply within seconds. This means that you have to practice a lot on presenting the topics. Ad-libitum is not recommended, as it might give the idea that you haven't studied enough. Furthermore, you need to watch what you say, because what you do or don't say might give your examiner some hints for the next question.

On the other hand, oral exams are inevitably biased and the marking criteria are ambiguous. When you sit face-to-face with your examiner, your first impression counts. We are humans after all and there is little you can do to avoid that. However, the biggest flaw of our examination system is that official marking criteria do not exist. If you have ever written an official foreign language examination, you know that for both the writing and speaking sections, your grade will be determined according to standardised marking criteria (vocabulary range, coherence and cohesion, grammar, etc...). In Italy, as far as I know, there are currently no guidelines whatsoever, neither at University, nor in high school. Stated differently, each Professor and Teacher throughout the country use their own.
Let me give you an example. Keep in mind that we use a 31-points scale, with 18 being the passing grade and 31 being "cum laude". Even though it might be evident the difference between 31 and 24, how do you precisely discriminate between a 27 and 28 in an oral exam?

In summary, I believe that oral examinations oblige you to study harder (and this is what really matters for your career), but if you like to compare yourself with your peers, you won't like our system.

Technical details: oral examinations involve one examiner or more and they usually last 20 minutes. You are usually posted 3 main questions.

I bumped into this pdf on the Internet. It is from Trinity College, Dublin: ... Tables.pdf

Edoardo, 4th medical student (now spending my 4th year abroad!)

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