Tag Archives: Exam

Read as if You’re Presenting: A Backdoor Argument for Oral Exams

In my experience, the best way to retain the material you’re reading is to be giving a presentation on said material. That might sound a little odd, but consider it for a moment. If you have to present on a topic, when you’re reading about that topic, you (should be) reading just a little bit closer and maybe a little bit harder such that when you’re up in front of a crowd, you’ll be more inclined to remember what you read.

It turns out, this anecdotal experience has been studied:

A recent study in the journal Memory & Cognition showed the effect that reading with intention and purpose can have. Two groups were given the same material to read—one was told they’d have a test at the end, while the others were told they’d have to teach someone the material.

In the end, both groups were given the same test. Surprisingly, the group that was told they’d have to teach the material (rather than be tested on it) performed much better:

When compared to learners expecting a test, learners expecting to teach recalled more material correctly, they organized their recall more effectively and they had better memory for especially important information.

Having a clear question in mind or a topic you’re focusing on can make all the difference in helping you to remember and recall information.

Intuitively, this should make sense. When some folks read “for the test,” they’re not necessarily reading with the intention that they’re going to remember the information after the test. Put differently, they’re almost always not reading the material for an oral exam. This reminds me of something I wrote a few years ago:

Presumably, the students could get through the entire semester and finish with an “A” in the class without having to say anything. I realize that a great deal of communication in today’s world is completed online and through writing, but isn’t our ability to communicating orally important, too? At least, shouldn’t there at least be some time spent on it?

In that post, I was suggesting that there be a rebalance from written exams to oral exams — in part — because in my experience, there’s a deficit in the oratory skills of students in university. Even if we ignore the epidemic of fear of public speaking, most students don’t get nearly as much time practicing their oratory skills as they do their writing skills.

As luck (?) would have it, should there be this shift from written exams to oral exams, not only would the education system be strengthening people’s ability to communicate, but there would also be an effect in having people better remember some of the things that they’re learning.

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To be honest, when I sat down to write this post, I had no idea that I was going to be strengthening my argument for having more oral exams in university and that’s — in part — one of the arguments from the article I initially referenced:

Association is a peg upon which you hang a new idea, fact, or figure. When you know where the peg is located, it’s a lot easier to find what you’ve hung upon it. As you read and come across new ideas and thoughts, you’ll want to connect and associate these with familiar memories as a means of creating a bond between old and new. There are many different ways to create associations in your mind, from pairing new thoughts with familiar objects, to creating acronyms.

So, next time you sit down to read your saved article on Pocket, catch up on a book on your Kindle, or read the Sunday Times, consider that the best way to retain some of the things you’re about to read might be if you were to pretend you were going to be giving a presentation on the material.

Musings on Improving Tests in Education: Less Writing, More Orating?

After having been in education settings for more than half of my life, I was thinking about ways to improve education. More specifically, I was thinking about ways to improve testing. Let’s take one of the classes that I’ve recently taught. In the class, there are two case assignments and two exams. The case assignments can be written at on one’s own time, so a great deal of time and effort can go into perfecting the structure, etc. The exams are taken during classtime, so there is a time limit. The students have until the end of class to finish the exam.

Presumably, the students could get through the entire semester and finish with an “A” in the class without having to say anything. I realize that a great deal of communication in today’s world is completed online and through writing, but isn’t our ability to communicating orally important, too? At least, shouldn’t there at least be some time spent on it?

I understand that some departments and professors are hampered by their ability to fidget too much with the deliverables of their courses (as certain standards and gates have to be met), but I was thinking about what it might be like to have an oral “meeting” at the end of the semester (instead of a final exam). I’d specifically call it a “meeting” to remove some of the stigma that some students place on “exam” or “test.” In this “meeting,” the student would have 3 (or maybe more, depending on the class size) minutes to convince the professor that they learned something during the semester (about the course material). The “meeting” could be recorded, in case the professor wanted to go back and watch the meeting, but presumably, they wouldn’t have to (they could just be grading as they went).

Some students would perform better as they would be used to public speaking, but the grade wouldn’t hinge on one’s ability to be a brilliant public speaker. Part of me thinks that having to convince the professor through speech, that one would have to know the material a bit better than they would for simply regurgitating answers on a test. To add another layer to this, there could be an option for students to record their “meeting” and send a link to the video. One of the stipulations would be that they couldn’t read a speech. Part of the purpose of this “meeting” would be for the students to know the material so well that they could speak about it conversationally. That is, speak about the material in a way that they could convince someone that they knew about it (or maybe teach someone something about what they know).

I’m sure that there are some professors out there who do this sort of test (especially at the graduate level), but I’d be interested to see it implemented at the undergraduate level. I think it’d be a great way to help develop the oratory skills of those who *think* they have less than stellar oratory skills. Plus, I think that the material would stay with the students a little longer than the length of the exam.