Carnegie Mellon University

Eberly Center

Teaching Excellence & Educational Innovation

Considerations for Oral Assessment Approaches

Instructors who wish to use oral assessment approaches should be mindful of multiple considerations, including students’ lack of familiarity with the format and the added complexity of the remote environment, particularly since students prefer oral assessments face-to-face as opposed to online (Sotiriadou et al., 2019). 

Instructors who are interested in oral assessment formats are encouraged to contact for an individual consultation.

  • This anxiety may be particularly significant for non-native English speakers (Kang et al., 2019).
  • Discuss explicit study and preparation strategies for the oral assessment with students. 
  • Provide detailed information about the norms of the oral assessment format that will be used. Specific considerations might include but are not limited to the following:
    • Can students use pen and paper to jot down ideas before verbalizing? 
    • Are answers expected spontaneously and quickly or is there room to pause and think before answering? 
    • Are students graded on the end point rather than the path that they take to reach the end point? 
    • What happens if the student makes a mistake or says “I don't know?” 
    • Will the instructor provide hints or other prompts?
    • Does the student receive multiple attempts? 
    • What is the role of the instructor during the conversation? 
  • In evaluating students’ responses, emphasize the content or gist of the student’s response rather than how they expressed it. This can reduce communication pressure on all students and especially those who speak multiple languages.
  • An example of an oral exam rubric from a History course in Dietrich College is available here.
  • The instructor should carefully consider how much (if at all) “communication skills” should be evaluated during the oral exam (Joughin, 1998). This is especially important if communication skills are not explicit learning objectives.
    • If there are multiple examiners, it is critical that they discuss the prompts and rubric together and hypothetical student responses and scoring. This is to ensure that there is interrater reliability and one instructor isn't seen as more challenging. Alternatively, each exam can have multiple evaluators (Dicks et al., 2012). 
  • If you have multiple instructors or TAs, consider checking how consistently you are applying the rubric and scoring students by spot-checking each other. This could be done during the practice assessments or by sitting in on a few of each other’s assessments. Alternately, oral assessments could be recorded, thereby providing an artifact of the student work in the event that scoring review is required.
  • Oral assessment formats are particularly useful for assessing higher order dimensions of learning such as application, evaluation, and synthesis. They are also useful for assessing applied problem solving ability and interpersonal competence (e.g. skills exhibited in relation to the exercise) (Joughin, 1998).
  • As with any assessment, content should align directly with learning objectives.

Doing so helps students feel more comfortable with the format (Douglas & Knighten, 2014). 

  • Additional practice might include small and large group discussions, to give students practice verbally articulating concepts.
  • Short writing assignments where students outline how they might respond to a question orally might also provide opportunities for practice and feedback.

As previously noted, much of the scholarship pertaining to oral assessment approaches has been conducted at institutions outside of the U.S. Many of these institutions provide online resources to help inform design and delivery of these approaches. A subset of these resources is outlined below with relevant links.

As always, please know that Eberly consultants are available to talk with you if you are interested in incorporating oral assessment approaches in your course. Please email to request an individual consultation.


Available resource(s)


Designing oral assessments

Considerations for instructors who wish to consider oral assessment approaches

KTH Royal Institute of Technology Stockholm  (Sweden)

Designing and delivering oral assessments

Comprehensive overview of considerations related to oral assessment approaches including accommodations for students with disabilities and bias mitigation

Leeds Metropolitan University + University of Wollongong (UK/Australia)

Shifting to oral assessment approaches

Considerations for instructors who wish to convert traditional in-person exams to oral assessments

Ӧrebro University (Sweden)

Testing technology for oral assessment approaches

Checklist to facilitate preparation for oral assessment approaches in remote/hybrid environments.

Karlsruhe Institute of Technology (Germany)

Communicating expectations related to oral assessment approaches

Sample course policy related to oral assessments conducted in remote/hybrid environments

RWTH Aachen University (Germany)

Helping students to prepare for oral assessments

Tips for students as they prepare for oral assessments in both asynchronous and synchronous formats

University College Cork (Ireland)

Conducting an oral assessment

Overview of best practices during the exam session including strategies for how to ease student anxiety

University of South Hampton (UK)



Dicks, A. P., Lautens, M., Koroluk, K. J., & Skonieczny, S. (2012). Undergraduate oral examinations in a university organic chemistry curriculum. Journal of Chemical Education, 89(12), 1506-1510.

Douglas, J., & Knighten, R. (2014). Using oral quizzes in an engineering mechanics course. In 2014 ASEE North Midwest Section Conference, 1-8.

Joughin, G. (1998). Dimensions of oral assessment. Assessment & Evaluation in Higher Education, 23(4), 367-378.

Kang, D., Goico, S., Ghanbari, S., Bennallack, K. C., Pontes, T., O'Brien, D. H., & Hargis, J. (2019). Providing an Oral Examination as an Authentic Assessment in a Large Section, Undergraduate Diversity Class. International Journal for the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning, 13(2), 10.

Sotiriadou, P., Logan, D., Daly, A., & Guest, R. (2019). The role of authentic assessment to preserve academic integrity and promote skill development and employability. Studies in Higher Education, 1-17.