In group exams, several students are examined at the same time, but each student is assessed individually. At CBS, group exams are mainly practiced in connection with a written problem-oriented project produced by the group. The assessment is therefore based on an overall assessment of the individual student’s written (which is here part of group work) and oral performance. This is an especially challenging exam type both in terms of the examination and assessment.
The challenge consists in the fact that assessors have to establish a basis for assessing the overall performance of each individual group member. First of all, it is not easy to make an overall assessment. It would be more simple if the written and oral performances were assessed separately, and if the final mark were determined according to a previously indicated weighting of the two performances. However, indicating a particular weighting in advance is not permitted in the context of overall assessments. The thought behind the overall assessment is that working with the written product should preferably result in the development of competencies, which the student should be able to communicate in the oral exam. This means that determining the level of the individual student’s understanding of the written work is central to the examination. This understanding is related to the question of why students have done what they have done as well as how – i.e., how they have carried out the work and which challenges they have faced.
In addition to the challenge of making an overall assessment, the assessment must be made for each individual student. Here, the examiners inevitably face a dilemma. The student’s written product is procedurally based on the students collectively drawing on each other’s strengths. At the oral examination, however, the examiners face the task of measuring the individual student’s knowledge and competencies (and lack thereof) in relation to the indicated learning objectives. The assessors’ dilemma consists in whether they should mainly take into consideration an alignment perspective where the working method is fully reflected in the method of examination, or whether they should take into consideration the requirement of individual assessment which will be reflected as an opposite movement in the examination method. The goal is that the assessment is actually capable of balancing these perspectives. The more students in a group the harder and more important this balance becomes.
When the oral performance is not as expected
Especially in connection with written group work, you often see cases where one or more students’ oral performances differs greatly from the written performance. A student can for example show a lack of basic knowledge and understanding of important problems within the project’s theme whereas the project itself may appear convincing. However, the reverse can also be the case. You can experience remarkably good academic performances from the individual student on the basis of a less convincing project. In such cases, it will make sense and be well reasoned to let the oral performance have a greater impact on the mark for the overall performance than what was previously expressed.
Questioning techniques in oral group exams
The most practicable way of balancing group synergy and individual assessment is to focus on the group at the beginning of and well into the exam. The examiner asks questions, the students decide who answers, the examiner lets students comment on and discuss each other’s answers, and the examination can grow as a many-to-many dialogue if this is possible. To keep a good organization of the communication it is a good idea if the students show their hands when they want to speak.
Rarely do all students contribute equally and with the same quality. The former can pose the greatest problem. Some students are more withdrawn and need to feel more secure before answering, so they let others answer, just as more forward students can block the more withdrawn students’ opportunities to participate in the dialogue. At one point in the process, it can therefore be wise for the examiner to change his/her strategy. It is important that this change is indicated to the students.
Examples of marking the balance between group and individual:
- At the beginning of the exam, the examiner can say: “The exam will take place in the following way: I will start by primarily examining you as a group. This means you can decide who answers, and you can elaborate on and discuss each other’s answers. When we get further into the exam, I will control the process more and examine you as individuals.
- When the examination has reached the point where the examiner will focus more on individual students, the examiner can for example say: “Up until now I have heard what each of you has contributed in a group context. Not everyone has spoken equally, and it is important that everyone gets a chance to speak. Therefore I will now start asking questions to individual students. You can still comment and discuss each other’s answers, but you may experience that I’ll interrupt you faster than previously and ask new questions”
It is important that the examiner is aware of not just addressing students that have not spoken out voluntarily or joined in the discussion, but that he/she also addresses the more active students directly. The latter can have the “tactic” of being very forward at the beginning, potentially to avoid having to answer questions in areas that are not their areas of strength.
As mentioned above, making an overall assessment of a written assignment and a subsequent oral exam performance is not simple. There is no unequivocal quantitative answer as to how you should weigh the written performance in comparison to the oral. The reason – stipulated in the exam order regulation – is that grading in this type of exam should be based on a comprehensive assessment of comprehensive performance, rather than any set criteria regarding the written and oral elements respectively being included in the final mark with fixed weighting or percentages. The written product is not given a separate mark, but it cannot avoid determining the level of the oral exam, since the student workload in preparing the written project is much greater than for the oral exam. It must be noted that the examiner’s preparation for the exam is crucial for the quality of the examination and assessment. By carefully reading students’ written products and by preparing exam questions and themes, the examiner can gain a sense of how the exam will develop in advance. From a purely practical perspective, it can also be an advantage if the external examiner and the examiner each have a form for taking notes about each student during the exam. Especially when examining larger groups it can be hard to remember who said what. Consider using one column per student with the questions asked in the far left column. This provides for an easy overview over, which student answered which question and has the added benefit of providing a ‘map’ of an individual student’s answering frequency.
When, for example, assessing a master’s thesis it is recommendable that the examiner exchange views about their evaluation of the written assignment to know to which degree they agree about the quality of the written work before the oral examination. This preliminary assessment could occur prior to the exam date and time, e.g. over the telephone the day before the exam, but the time spent on this should be included in the time allocated for the entire exam function.