In Support of Memory Retention: A Cooperative Oral Final Exam

Article excerpt

The growing movement recognizing the importance of assessment in education includes emphasis on broadening methods of assessing student learning beyond paper and pencil measures and traditional written examinations (Hill, Ruptic, & Norwick, 1998; Stiggins, 1997). In addition, research on the nature of memory suggests that traditional written individual examinations may not maximize long-term retention of information and concepts (Anderson, 1995; Hill, 1990; Woolfolk, 1998).

The cooperative oral exam described in this article is an assessment format that is applicable in a wide range of disciplines. It was designed to accomplish three goals: 1) to enhance the application and long-term retention of critical course concepts; 2) to model for prospective teachers an alternative method of assessing student learning; and 3) to deepen students' understanding of course material while also fostering group skills. The exam is part of a course titled "Learners and Instruction" which combines psychology of learning with general instructional methods. It is a required course in a Master in Teaching program for students earning a master's degree and initial teaching certification at Seattle University.

In the years we have been teaching this course, we have attempted to analyze and articulate for students factors that support student learning. With this assignment we discuss with students the relationship of the cooperative oral exam to models of assessment, elements of effective cooperative learning and principles of memory.


As an alternative to a traditional written exam, we developed, and have now empirically assessed, a cooperative oral final exam process to help students synthesize course content. Students prepare for and take this exam in the cooperative groups, typically of four people, in which they have worked throughout the course. Three days prior to the exam, students are given a list of questions from which the exam questions are selected, and a description of the process for the exam. Questions require synthesis and application of course content to the analysis of a videotaped teaching episode selected for its rich illustrations. For example, one question asks the students to "analyze the teacher's application of principles of long-term memory". Another question asks "What motivational theories and practices did you see the teacher using in the videotape? Cite specific examples of behavioral, cognitive, humanistic, or social learning theory that you saw in the lesson. Comment on the effectiveness with which you think these approaches were or could be applied. What additional motivation techniques might have been used?" Groups view the teaching episode early one afternoon, have time to discuss the questions, view the video tape again the following morning, and then have it available over the remainder of that day and the next if they choose to view it again. These 2 1/2 days are built into the course schedule as exam preparation time. Group members work to help each other master course material so that each member of the group may respond to any question asked of him/her on the exam day.

On the third day following the video viewing each group meets with the two instructors for 15 minutes. Individual accountability, identified as a critical element in cooperative group learning (Johnson, Johnson, & Holubec, 1994), results from the fact that students are called on randomly, and each must be prepared to offer the group's analysis of any of the questions. Giving a single group grade for the exam provides positive interdependence, another essential element. The instructors plan five minutes between groups to discuss the group's performance, determine the group grade, and write comments for the group. The grade and comments are available at the end of the exam day.

Students work on several cooperative group assignments prior to the cooperative oral final exam. …