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Oral Final Exams

On this page you will find information on how to prepare and conduct oral midterm or final exams.

Preparing for an oral final exam (component) from Day One

If deep learning is your goal, students need to learn how to “do” deep learning.

If an oral final exam (component) is one of the most important tests of deep learning you need to effectively communicate this to your students.  You also need to let them know that deep learning is something they can learn, and that you are committed to teach them to learn this. 

Scaffolding - the key to this teaching and learning process

Scaffolding comfort zones of feedback

From the start of the semester make students audio-record themselves and make them reflect and comment on their recordings.  Then gradually make them share recordings in ever wider circles and let them get comfortable receiving feedback from within ever less immediate comfort zones: from a trusted friend or family member to a classmate to a small group, to the whole class. 

Scaffolding challenges

In this process, let students perform increasingly challenging tasks: from defining words, to summarizing, to outlining procedures, to explaining concepts, to making comparisons, …

Scaffolding instructor feedback

Let your students understand how you are planning your point of entry and participation in the ever-widening comfort zones.  For example, that, unless they give your permission or ask for it, you are not going to listen to their three first recordings and will only read their reflection on the comments they received. 

How does it work?

In your syllabus

First tell your students that the midterm and final exams, or any other summative assessments will be conducted in oral format, and describe how it operates. For example, each of the students will draw 3 questions in a pool at the scheduled time and has 15 min to prepare (open book.) Then each student will present their response in a 15 (or so)-minute conversation with the instructor.  If it is online, state the technology tool that will be used, e.g. Blackboard Collaborate, and provide a practice room where students can test it out.

Next, tell students that there will be scaffold assignments to prepare them for the oral exams. Explain why it is important to be able to express what they learn orally.

Preparing from day one

Develop assignments that require students to answer questions related to course topics orally and be recorded using their phones.

At the beginning, ask students to respond to questions at the knowledge and comprehension levels and use the first two criteria of the following rubric to assess their responses by themselves, their peers or/and the instructor. Gradually ask students to respond to questions that require critical thinking and higher order learning, and use all three criteria in the rubric to assess their responses.

Sample scaffold rubrics





Understanding of the concepts

Do not have grasp of the concepts.

Can answer questions partially with some explanations.

Demonstrate full understanding of the concepts with explanations.

Communication of ideas

Uncomfortable to express ideas, the responses are difficult to understand.

Express ideas comfortably, but need more work to make the ideas clearer.

Express ideas comfortably in a logical way and it is easy to understand.

Critical thinking

Cannot make connections among ideas, concepts; lack of ability to compare or contrast, synthesize, or analyze issues or points of views.

Make connections among ideas, concepts in a limited way; some ability to compare or contrast, synthesize, or analyze issues or points of views.

Demonstrate the ability to make connections among different concepts, ideas; compare or contrast, synthesize, or analyze issues or points of views

Commenting on recordings

You can use either Discussion Board or Blog in Bb for students to post their audios with their answers to questions. You and students can listen to and comment on the audios based on a standard rubric.

Technically, how to do it?

Preparing an oral exam

Technically, preparing an oral exam involve the following steps.

Setting up questions

Blackboard Tests tool has a feature called random block that enables you to create a pool of questions students can draw in an exam.  To be fair, you add exam questions about the same concepts and at similar difficult level to one random block. Depending on the number of concepts/topics you want to include in an exam and how you want to integrate some concepts into one exam question, you will create a few random blocks, each is for the same concept(s).  Next, you create the exam and set it to take questions from the random blocks, with one question from each of the blocks.  This will provide possibility that students get different questions but for the same concepts and at the same difficult level. 

Follow the steps in the tutorial to set up random blocks and the exam for your course.

Scheduling the exam

You can set up the exam schedule using Bb Wiki tool.

  1. Create a wiki called Exam Schedule Sign-up in Blackboard.
  2. Add a table on the wiki page with two columns and as many rows as needed to hold the possible exam time slots.
  3. On the left column fill in the possible time slots based on your schedule.
  4. Inform students to pick a time slot by filling in their names on the right column. Each time slot can only have one student.

Tutorial on how to create a wiki

Tutorial on how to add content and edit a wiki page

Making the exam available

When setting up the exam options, you should turn on the timer, set “Auto-Submit” ON and do not Force Completion. Set appropriate time in which students can see questions and think about their responses. Then make the exam available to different students in different time slots based on the time slots they chose using “Text Availability Exceptions.”

Tutorial on how to set up test availability exceptions

Creating online meeting sessions for the exam

Send an email to to request a Bb site for your oral exams. We'll create one Bb site for each department whose faculty want to conduct oral exams. 

After the Bb site is created and you are enrolled, you can create as many Bb Collaborate sessions as necessary, each session could be for several students whose exam times are near one another. Do not enroll students in the course. Do not make the course available to students. You will send the guest links to the exam sessions to your students.

Tutorials on how to create Bb Collaborate Ultra sessions and how to use it

At the time of the exam

If all goes right

  1. Students will click the exam link at their chosen time. Review and think about their answers to the questions within your pre-defined time interval. When the time is over, Bb will submit their exam automatically.
  2. They will then join the Bb Collaborate session individually and talk with you. You should record the session in case you want to review later. 
  3. Based on students’ responses, assign a grade and record it in your course Grade Center.  

What can go wrong - Mishaps and Solutions

  • Plan ahead – give enough time for students to schedule the exam.
  • If the audio on the Bb Collaborate session doesn't work, use the dial-in phone number for audio.