Academic journal article Journal of the Academy of Business Education

Are You Talking to Me? on the Use of Oral Examinations in Undergraduate Business Courses

Academic journal article Journal of the Academy of Business Education

Are You Talking to Me? on the Use of Oral Examinations in Undergraduate Business Courses

Article excerpt


In a survey by the National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE), employers ranked verbal communication skills as the top skill they seek in candidates [NACE, 2013]. Furthermore, in another study conducted by the Association of American Colleges and Universities (AACU) [2012], the percentage of employers who want colleges to "place more emphasis on written and oral communication" was 89%-the top intellectual and practical skill [p. 3]. There is no question that employers desire well-developed verbal skills in college graduates.

In the U.S., undergraduate business professors do not dispute the importance of oral communication as a professional competence [Stowe, Parent, Schwarz, & Sendall, 2012], however, their assessment measures tend to focus on writing. In a recent study, the kinds of written assessment in business courses varied between short and long papers, essay exams, in class writing assignments, written homework assignments, and research papers [Parent, Neilson-Dube, Stowe, Schwartz, Sendeil, & Cain, 2011].

The NACE and AAUP survey data, combined with the primary use of written learning assessments in undergraduate business education, should cause professors to ponder the question: What additional assessment methods might be used to promote the development of greater verbal skills and assess content? To answer this question, two undergraduate business professors in the disciplines of Economics and Management at a public institution conducted oral examinations with their students. This research project objectives were: 1) determine an appropriate oral exam structure for undergraduate business courses and 2) develop an understanding of student learning with the oral exam process. This paper highlights these two aspects of the research project.


Oral Assessment Defined

The term "oral assessment" is used to define any review by speaking. Oral assessment was formally defined by Joughin [1998] as, "assessment in which a student's response to the assessment task is verbal, in the sense of being expressed or conveyed by speech instead of writing" (p. 367). Three different forms of oral assessment exist: 1) presentations, 2) examinations, and 3) applications [Joughin, 2010]. These forms allow for students, at any level, to share knowledge and interact with others so that a variety of skills can be assessed. Frequently, the use of oral assessments has been seen as an afterthought to the standard written assessment. Joughin and Collom [n.d.] write, "Oral assessment is sometimes thought of as a form of 'alternative assessment.' Certainly written forms of assessment seem to dominate summative assessment in universities, but oral assessment has a long and honourable history in higher education" [para. 5]. This research paper focuses on oral examinations as a viable assessment measure.

Implementing Oral Examinations as Assessed Events

G. Joughin created a model for implementing oral examinations. This model involves six factors which faculty members need to determine in advance for a successful oral examination process. Joughin's factors include: 1) Primary content type (knowledge and understanding, applied problem solving ability, interpersonal competence, and personal qualities); 2) Interaction (presentation or dialogue); 3) Authenticity (contextualized or decontextualized); 4) Structure (closed or open); 5) Examiners (self-assessment; peer-assessment or authority-based assessment); and 6) Orality (purely oral or orality as secondary) [Joughin, 1998, p. 368].

The first factor includes the professor detailing the competencies required in the oral exam. Joughin [1998] uses the term Primary Content Type [p. 368] for these competencies. Will the oral exam test some key facts about a content area or will the oral exam be used to show an applied problem solving technique? Professors should ask themselves what content is required in the oral exam. …

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